HOW TO DO THE
Hydrochloric Acid Challenge
In order to be able to digest your food properly, your stomach "juices" need to be at a pH of about 1-2. This low pH helps activate the enzymes made by your pancreas so you can digest your food, especially proteins. HCL keeps the pH of the intestinal tract acidic thereby preventing parasite infections and bacterial or fungal infections. HCL is also needed to absorb nutrients such as vitamin B12 and minerals like calcium and iron. The purpose of the hydrochloric acid challenge is to see if your stomach pH is too high for optimal digestion and treat the problem at the same time.
Many people do not have a sufficiently low stomach pH for optimal digestion. This insufficient level of stomach acid (also called "hypochlorhydria") can lead to a variety of health problems including:
- chronic digestive issues including indigestion, nausea, acid reflux / heartburn
- malnutrition and nutrient deficiencies
- skin issues like acne and skin rashes
- osteoporosis and osteopenia
- leaky gut syndrome and subsequent food sensitivities
- rheumatoid arthritis
- small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and intestinal yeast overgrowth
It is fairly simple to assess whether your stomach's pH is optimal for digestion. First, if you haven't already done so, start by completing the Baking Soda Test. If you only have 0-1 burps, then it's time to follow up with this second assessment. For this test, you'll need to purchase a bottle of Betaine Hydrochloric acid. There are several good options available:
- Betaine HCL Pepsin (Pure Encapsulations) ** this one is a professional grade product available only through my office or Fullscript
- Betaine HCL (NOW foods)
- Betaine HCL 500 mg (Prairie Naturals)
- HCL with Pepsin (Solaray)
There are a few products available that contain Fenugreek. I prefer you avoid this herb for the purpose of this assessment. HCL products typically provide 500-750 mg per capsule - anywhere in that dose range is fine. You should be able to find at least one of these last 3 options at local health food stores or elsewhere online or contact me to purchase the Pure Encapsulations product.
How to do the Hydrochloric Acid Challenge
Take one HCL capsule before each meal (i.e. one capsule with breakfast, one capsule with lunch, and one capsule with dinner). Make a note of how you feel after each meal, especially if you feel any discomfort such as bloating, burning, feeling of fullness, etc. If you experience any discomfort with one capsule, you are not deficient and should not continue the test.
If you do not experience new or unusual discomfort during Day 1, please increase the number of capsules to 2 capsules with each meal. Again, note any discomfort as described above. If you experience discomfort, skip to ** below.
Assuming you have not yet experienced any new discomfort, continue to increase the number of HCL capsules to 3 capsules with each meal. If you experience discomfort, go to ** below.
Continue to take the with the maximum tolerated capsules with each meal (ie. 1-3 capsules with each meal) OR continue to proceed with the challenge as indicated below in Day 4. This additional step can be illuminating for people but it is not required.
If you still have not experienced any discomfort, you have the option to increase the number of HCL capsules taken with each meal by one per day until you experience discomfort. It may take several days to reach your upper limit. For example, take 4 capsules per meal on day 4; take 5 capsules per meal on day 5, etc. until you experience discomfort, at which point you have reached your max tolerated dose. Some people can take 10-15 capsules with a meal and not notice anything! However, this is not a sustainable treatment strategy -- but it can be interesting!
** Once you have experienced discomfort, reduce the number of HCL capsules by one capsule per meal. This would be your dose. If even 1 capsule causes discomfort, then you do not need this therapy.
Once you have been taking your therapeutic dose with meals for weeks or months, you may eventually start to feel discomfort. If this happens, slowly wean down your dose by 1 capsule (ex. 3 capsules with each meal to 2 capsules to each meal) as needed until the discomfort is gone. It may be that you can discontinue entirely. You are gradually weaning yourself off the HCL capsules as your stomach begins producing more HCL on its own. By taking HCL you are allowing your stomach to rest and better digest nutrients, allowing the necessary building blocks to make HCL.
Please contact me or schedule an appointment if you have any questions or concerns throughout the challenge.