Jessica Budgellby Jessica Budgell, Holistic Nutritionist

“I’m fine. It’s just a little heartburn. I’ll take an antacid.”

Heartburn, like all other discomforts and pains, is a signal from your body that something is wrong and needs attention.

Taking an antacid doesn’t deal with the problem, it simply mutes the message.

In the case of heartburn, the message might be that you have low stomach acid.
Yes, you read that right: low.

Most people think their stomach acid – hydrochloric acid or HCl for short – is too high, however, more often than not, sensations of burning, bloating, belching, and flatulence after a meal is due to too little stomach acid, not too much.

When there is insufficient HCl, your body cannot properly break down and digest foods. As a result, your body will begin fermentation to help the process, which can produce the unpleasant symptoms mentioned above. Taking an antacid only temporarily reduces the discomfort and actually makes it harder and harder for your body to produce HCl on its own.

Beyond heartburn, there are a host of other problems that chronically low HCl can lead to. Some of which include:

  •  Nutritional deficiencies
  •  Bacterial overgrowth (H.Pylori)
  •  Bad Breath
  •  Food Sensitivities
  •  Adrenal Fatigue
  •  Ulcers
  •  Protein deficiencies
  •  Indigestion
  •  Low Immunity
  •  Iron Deficiency
  •  Others…

Here at Northshore Naturopathic Clinic, we commonly see people with low stomach acid. In fact, I am one of them! I mentioned to one of the doctors that I envy women with thick, flowing, long hair, as mine is fine, thin and floppy. Her suggestion was to see if my HCl was low because hair is made of proteins and adequate HCl in the stomach is needed for proper digestion and absorption. Following the doctor’s advice, I took the “HCl Challenge” and discovered that she was right – I have low HCl!

It’s very easy to test your HCl level and here’s how:

  •  HCl Challenge: We offer this at the clinic. By strategically taking HCl supplementation (betaine hydrochloride) you can determine how low your stomach acid is and then use this supplement to subsequently help increase it.

If you determine that your HCl is low, here are my tips and tricks to help get your stomach acid back in action.

  • Relax: Our nervous system can only ever be in one of two states – either “Fight or Flight” or “Rest and Digest”. As you can likely guess, we need to be in the “Rest and Digest” to properly get the benefits of digestion. Ensure that you are in a relaxed state prior to eating – sitting and taking some deep breathes before a meal is a recommended practice.
  •  Eat Bitter Foods First: Starting your meal with bitter foods (ex: dandelion greens, arugula) activate your saliva glands and instigates the digestive process.
  •  Herbal Tinctures: Taking a few drops of ”digestive bitters” – an extraction of bitter herbs – before meals will also send the signal to start firing up your HCl in preparation for a meal. Caution against those formulas containing wormwood and senna as these are not intended for long-term usage. Gentian is an excellent option.
  •  Betaine Hydrochloride: If you’ve taken the HCl Challenge (discussed above) than you will know how many of the capsules to take prior to each meal.
  • Stay Hydrated: Your body needs water to make HCl. Drink water throughout the day, avoiding large amounts prior to, during or directly after a meal.
  •  Don’t Over Eat: Large meals put extra strain on the digestive process and dilute the efforts of HCl.
  •  Nutrients: Sea salt and zinc are both required nutrients for HCl production.