Testing for Low Stomach Acid (DIY Bicarbonate Test)

Photo credit: Olliss

Photo credit: Olliss

HCl (hydrochloric acid) is absolutely necessary for healthy digestion and is produced in your stomach. There are a range of reasons why your HCl production may be low or sub-optimal. Low or sub-optimal levels of HCl are referred to as hypochlorhydria.

Some of the primary reasons for hypochlorhydria include age (many people over 60 have hypochlorhydria), use of acid blocking medications, chronic bacterial infections, and autoimmune gastritis (stomach inflammation).

Without enough stomach acid, you can't digest protein and absorb minerals and certain vitamins like B12. You are also at increased risk for food poisoning and other infections.

Please Note: Administration of HCl/pepsin is contraindicated in peptic ulcer disease. HCl can irritate sensitive tissue and can be corrosive to teeth; therefore, capsules should not be emptied into food or dissolved in beverages. 

Common Symptoms of Hypochlorhydria:

●      Bloating, belching, burning and excessive gas immediately after meals

●      A sense of fullness even with even smaller meals

●      Indigestion, diarrhea or constipation

●      Food reactions

●      Weak, peeling and cracked fingernails

●      Dilated blood vessels in the cheeks and nose

●      Acne

●      Iron deficiency

●      Chronic intestinal parasites and dysbiosis (abnormal gut flora)

●      Undigested food in the stool

●      Chronic yeast infections

 Self-testing for low HCl/ hypochlorhydria:

 You can determine if you need HCl by a simple home test, called the bicarb test.

 Instructions:

 Mix 1/4 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) in water (about 6 ounces) and drink on an empty stomach, first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking. If you have sufficient levels of stomach acid, the bicarbonate will be converted into carbon dioxide gas, which should cause belching within less than 5 minutes. If you have not belched within 5 minutes, stop timing.

If you have enough stomach acid, belching should occur within 2 - 3 minutes. Early and repeated belches might be due to excessive stomach acid, but they also could be due to swallowing air when drinking the solution (this sort of belching tends to be smaller belches). If 'normal' belching doesn't occur until after 3 minutes, stomach acid is low.

Results: 

Low stomach acid → no belching

Sufficient stomach acid → belching

Now what?

There are simple interventions you can try if your stomach acid is low:

  1. Chew your food appropriately

  2. Eliminate processed foods from your diet

  3. Eat fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles are examples)

  4. Dilute a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in water and drink it 5 minutes before meals

  5. Eat ginger

  6. You can try a supplement

    • Digestzymes by Designs for Health is my go-to and you can find it in my online dispensary. Click here to set up a free account, and then search for Digestzymes

Questions? Contact me.

Resources:

SCD Lifestyle, 3 Tests for Low Stomach Acid

Fugo, J. Gluten Free School

If you need guidance on what to eat, The JCB Nutrition Food Pyramid and Diet Plan will help. The program will:

  • Help you understand which foods to avoid if you are embarking on an elimination diet

  • Teach you which healthy foods contain natural chemicals that can trigger symptoms including skin and gut issues, among MANY others

  • Show you what those natural food chemicals are

  • Teach you what foods are common allergens

  • Guide you in choosing what foods to eat and in what amounts