Symptoms like bloating, heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion may signal high stomach acid and get you a prescription for antacids, histamine type 2 receptor agonists (H2 blockers), Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), or even surgery.
However for many people they fail to target the root cause and may cause more harm than good.
Antacids may reduce stomach acid in the short term, but then the stomach produces more to meet the necessary pH level.
H2 blockers discourage acid production in the stomach and work more slowly than antacids and last longer. However, they stop pepsin production necessary for breaking down protein.
Proton pump inhibitors block an enzyme that tells your stomach to produce acid.
All of these methods can cause serious side effects and continued chronic low stomach acid and other health conditions.
5 methods to test stomach acid levels
Because most people don’t know about low stomach acid, or hypochlorhydria, they may never connect it to their chronic health condition.
Fortunately, there are many options to test stomach acid levels to help you address the situation at its foundation.
1. Gastric acid secretion test. This is a highly invasive and expensive test done if you are diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. It can track if anti-ulcer drugs are working and to see if contents from the intestines are backwashing into the stomach.
2. The Heidelberg Stomach Acid Test. This is the gold standard test for hypochlorhydria. The patient swallows a radio transmitter to measure the acidity of the stomach as you drink a baking soda solution to neutralize the stomach acid. Not returning to normal is a sign of hypochlorhydria.
At a cost of about $350, this test is not covered by most insurance plans.
3. CBC and CMP. These markers on a blood panel can point to hypochlorhydria
4. Betaine hydrochloric (HCl) challenge. This at-home test costs about $20:
- Buy Betaine HCl with pepsin.
- Eat at least 6 ounces of meat.
- In the middle of the meal take one betaine HCl pill.
- Finish the meal and observe what happens.
1. No symptoms is a sign of low stomach acid.
2. Indigestion, burning, heat, or heaviness in your chest indicate adequate stomach acid levels.
Repeat the betaine HCl challenge three times. Three positive tests indicate low stomach acid.
False positives are possible if:
- You consume too little protein.
- You took the capsule before the meal, which can cause indigestion.
- You have esophageal sphincter dysfunction. A hiatal hernia or poor esophageal sphincter tone can cause increased indigestion symptoms.
5. Baking soda stomach acid test. The results can vary from person to person depending on interpretation of the results. First thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything:
- Mix ¼ tsp baking soda in 4 to 6 ounces of cold water.
- Drink the baking soda solution.
- Time how long it takes for a burp to occur in 5 minutes:
Not burping within five minutes may be a sign of low stomach acid. Early and repeated burping may indicate to too much stomach acid (do not to confuse this with small burps from swallowing air when drinking the solution). Burping after 3 minutes indicates low stomach acid.
If you suspect low stomach acid, ask our office about testing for the following:
B12 levels: Intrinsic factor in the stomach is necessary to absorb vitamin B12. When stomach acid is too low, intrinsic factor can’t do its job causing vitamin B12 deficiency, which is a serious health concern.
Homocysteine levels: Stomach acid is necessary to absorb vitamin B12, necessary for methylation that keeps inflammatory homocysteine at the right levels. Low B12 raises homocysteine.
Supporting healthy stomach acid
Eat protein at the beginning of your meal to trigger the secretions to digest protein.
Chew thoroughly. Food proteins need to be broken down to be properly digested.
Limit liquid intake during meals until at least 30 minutes after a meal to allow for proper stomach acid production, pathogen sterilization, and protein metabolism.
Hydrate between meals to support gut motility to push the contents of the intestines out of the body instead of back into the stomach.
Betaine hydrochloride supplements safely restore normal stomach acid.
Take the betaine HCL half-way through or right at the end of the meal. Taking it before a meal may create a false experience of heartburn and can turn off stomach acid production for this meal. Do not take HCL if you are taking any NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, Tylenol or aspirin.
HCl with pepsin. Add these to your diet when you consume protein. When you feel warmth in your stomach, that means you are taking enough. Then back it down a notch and monitor your response. Some people need one capsule, others need more as everyone is unique.
Pepsin. Typically used in conjunction with HCl, pepsin is considered very safe when administered to assist digestion.
Digestive enzymes help to break down food proteins. Make sure to get a high-quality blend.
Apple cider vinegar. One tablespoon in a bit of water right before a meal can help with digestion.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, pickled ginger, and water kefir contain organic acids, enzymes and probiotics to assist with proper digestion. They are also anti-microbial and fight H. pylori, arch enemy of stomach acid production.
Taking the time to improve your stomach acid levels will make a huge difference in your symptoms and quality of life. Please contact my office for more help.
How to learn if you have Hashimoto’s low thyroid
Many patients are not diagnosed with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s until after several years and going through several doctors. It is a demoralizing journey richly illustrated in my book The Truth About Low Thyroid: Stories of Hope and Healing for Those Suffering With Hashimoto’s Low Thyroid Disease, through real-life stories from patients in my practice. Managing Hashimoto’s goes far beyond using thyroid medication as you must work to stop the immune system from attacking the thyroid. For more information on identifying and managing Hashimoto’s low thyroid, contact my office.
About Dr. Josh Redd, Chiropractic Physician — Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, and New Mexico functional medicine
Dr. Joshua J. Redd, DC, MS, DABFM, DAAIM, author of The Truth About Low Thyroid: Stories of Hope and Healing for Those Suffering With Hashimoto’s Low Thyroid Disease, is a chiropractic physician and the founder of RedRiver Health and Wellness Center with practices in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. He sees patients from around the world who suffer from challenging thyroid disorders, Hashimoto’s disease, and other autoimmune conditions. In addition to his chiropractic degree, Dr. Redd has a BS in Health and Wellness, a BS in Anatomy, and a MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. He speaks across the nation, teaching physicians about functional blood chemistry, low thyroid, Hashimoto’s, and autoimmunity. You can join his Facebook page here.