Stomach acid plays many very important roles beyond digestion. Some of these very important roles include:
- The first line of defense against infection
- Stimulating the production of the stomach’s protective lining
- Stimulating the proper closure of the doorways between the stomach and the esophagus.
Contrary to popular belief, many people have too little acid in their stomach which prevents them from being able to properly digest their food. In addition, this low stomach acid results in a number of conditions including: acid reflux disease (heartburn/GERD), food allergies, ulcers, infection and nutrient deficiency syndromes.
So how do we know if there is enough acid in the stomach? Well, there is not a simple answer. The gold standard test is to swallow an electronic capsule that tests the pH of the acid in the stomach. Unfortunately, this test is rarely done due to its cost and complexity. Generally, people rely on their symptoms as a means of assessing possible acid deficiency and then follow this assessment with a trial of betaine HCl supplementation. Seniors and people who have suffered with a lot of stress in their lives may be at risk of having low stomach acid.
Betain HCl is an encapsulated form of hydrochloric acid, the acid that is found in the stomach. By taking stomach acid with each meal, you are adding the acid back to the stomach and allowing initial digestion to occur again. Here is how you test yourself.
Just before your next meal take one 500 mg capsule of betaine HCl . If you notice improved digestion then continue with this dose. If you notice no improvement and you feel no warmth or irritation in the stomach then increase the dose to two capsules before each meal on the following day. Again, look for improvements in your symptoms. If nothing is noticed and you feel no stomach warmth or irritation then proceed to increase the dose to 3 capsules before each main meal and then to four if needed. If you notice a warmth or irritation in the stomach then cut the dose back by one capsule and continue with this dose.
When you are trying this method, keep some Tums or other antacid on hand to neutralize some of the acid in case you overshoot your mark.
Once you find the dose that works well for you then you can continue to take the betaine HCl as long as needed. Some practitioners recommend stopping the acid after a couple of months to see if the stomach is able to begin producing more acid on its own. They believe that the capsules reset the pH thermostat in the stomach and once the betaine is stopped then the body kicks up acid production in a positive way.