Our stomach expands when we consume food. This triggers the release of hydrochloric acid, pepsinogen and intrinsic factor. Pepsinogen is an inactive enzyme that is converted into the active form of pepsin in the presence of sufficient hydrochloric acid. Pepsin is necessary for the digestion of protein and absorption of amino acids.
Hydrochloric acid liquefies and sterilizes food and softens connective tissues. This sterilizing component is key to our immune system because it kills any potential microorganisms in our food. If levels of HCl are low, a cascade of actions takes place. When there is less digestion taking place, minerals are not ionized, pathogens are not sterilized/killed, enzymes are not activated, which leads to fermentation, gas, bloating and reflux (which is usually interpreted as too much acid!) Undigested food particles feed bad bacteria and lead to internal toxicity and a weakened liver. This can also further lead to autoimmune conditions when bacteria become systemic and settle in your weakest organ. Leaky gut syndrome, anemia, osteoporosis are just some of the other possible consequences of having low stomach acid.
Intrinsic factor is a protein necessary for the absorption of vitamin B-12 that is bound to animal protein and the complete digestion of it requires adequate levels of HCl. You can start to see how much having adequate HCl levels is important to overall health.
The HCL test
It is therefore important to make sure you have sufficient levels and there is a simple test you can do at home.
Purchase Betaine HCl in the supplement section of your health store (I like Now brand) and take one at the start of your biggest meal of the day that includes fat and protein. With each subsequent meal, increase by one capsule until a burning or warming sensation occurs after which time you should decrease by 1 capsule for your particular dose.
The burning/warming sensation is a signal that you have too much HCl and that is why it is necessary to drop the dose by one. When you don’t feel any warming sensation, that is because your HCl levels are low.
Continue to take with each meal until such time as you experience a burning/warming sensation with only 1 capsule. At that time, your stomach is producing enough HCl on its own to warrant discontinuing use of this supplement. HCl production naturally declines with age, so some might be taking this supplement long term.
It is also important to be aware of the differences in your meals as lighter meals may require less supplementation. That means if you need 4 capsules with your dinner, you might need only 3 with lunch and/or breakfast.
CONTRAINDICATION: DO NOT TAKE HCl IF YOU SUSPECT OR KNOW THAT YOU HAVE A STOMACH OR DUODENAL ULCER!
Causes of Hypochloridria
- Diets high in meat, dairy, processed foods
- Chlorinated water, iced beverages, carbonation
- Age (generally over 40 years)
- Caffeine and nicotine
- Zinc deficiency
- Use of acid blocking medications/proton pump inhibitors