Symptoms of heartburn, reflux, and indigestion are unbelievably common in today’s society. In fact, we spent $25.6 billion worldwide in 2008 to alleviate these uncomfortable symptoms through the use of antacids and other remedies.
Many people eat Tums like it's candy. When that doesn’t work, people often resort to proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), like Nexium or Prilosec, which are now available over-the-counter.
The fact of the matter is that these medications may be adding fuel to the fire, not to mention their potential side effects. The Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings that long-term use and high doses of PPIs can increase the risk of bone fractures and bacterial infections — and may reduce the absorption of key nutrients, including magnesium, calcium and vitamin B12.
The common belief is that heartburn and reflux is caused by an over-production of stomach acid when in fact, that isn't always true.
What you don’t hear much about is a condition called Hypochlorhydria, or low stomach acid, which is actually a very common cause of these same symptoms.
There are many risk factors that indicate impaired gastric acid secretion including gas, bloating, reflux, burping, heartburn, food allergies, diarrhea, constipation, or nausea. Additionally, if you’ve been diagnosed with a digestive issue such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac, or inflammatory bowel disease, you’re at a greater risk of stomach acid problems. Other conditions such as diabetes, autoimmune disorders, lupus, and osteoporosis have been linked to insufficient gastric acid output.
So how do you know if you have low stomach acid? And how do you treat it, if you do?
Well, amazingly, there's one supplement than can both help you figure out if you're suffering from low stomach acid, and help you treat it if you are! This supplement is called betaine HCl.
To determine if you have low stomach acid, you can do a simple test at home using betaine HCl. To do the test:
1. Buy betaine HCl. Chose one that includes pepsin and is 500 to 650mg of HCl per pill.
2. Eat a large protein meal (at least 6oz of meat). Betaine HCl helps break down protein, so you don’t want to take it without protein in your meal.
3. Take one betaine HCl pill halfway through your meal.
4. Finish your meal, and carry on with your day!
One of two things will happen:
1. You won’t notice anything. Nothing will change, and you will feel the same. This likely means you have low stomach acid.
2. You will start to feel stomach discomfort like burning or heaviness. This is a sign that your stomach acid levels are not too low.
If you do get any burning, it will pass in about an hour. You can also mix ½ teaspoon of baking soda with water and drink it to feel better.
Do this test a couple of times if you're unsure of your results and make sure that you're eating plenty of protein each time you repeat the test.
If you experience no discomfort, that could mean you have low stomach acid. To help normalize your stomach acid you can begin taking betaine HCl regularly:
If you experience no discomfort, then you can start increasing your HCl dose by one pill each meal until you feel some discomfort. Then dose down to the previous, lower dose for maintenance. Of course, with smaller protein meals, you can take fewer pills.
Supplementing with HCl will help the rest of the digestive process to work better. betaine HCl is also thought to help restore normal stomach acid levels, so you’ll be able to taper off the supplements in the long term.
If you are currently taking PPIs or medication prescribed by your doctor, be sure to consult your physician before beginning a new supplement regimen.
I would love to hear from you. Do you experience symptoms that could be related to low stomach acid?