This simple and relatively inexpensive test can be carried out at home to provide a basic indication of whether the parietal cells lining your stomach are producing enough stomach acid (hydrochloric acid or HCl).
Adequate production of stomach acid is essential for the digestion of protein, the liberation of minerals from food and for killing bacteria and other microbes ingested with food (as well as suppressing growth of normal microbial residents in the upper small intestine). Hypochlohydria (low stomach acid) or achlorhydria (absence of stomach acid) can lead to problems including:
- Bloating, belching, burning or flatulence shortly after eating
- Rectal itching
- Smelly gas (due to putrefaction of undigested protein)
- Skin rashes (psoriasis, acne, eczema, rosacea)
- Mineral deficiencies: calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, chromium, etc.
- Weak nails and osteoporosis (due to poor mineral absorption)
- B12 deficiency (adequate stomach acid is required for the proper release of vitamin B12 from food)
- Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
- Chronic intestinal Candida overgrowth
The Stomach Acid Test (Betaine HCl Challenge)
You will need to purchase a Betaine HCl supplement, preferably with each tablet/capsule providing 600mg. These are widely available and relatively inexpensive.
1. Day 1: take 1 Betaine HCl tablet (usually 600mg) with each meal
2. Day 2: take 2 HCl tablet with each meal
3. Continue increasing by 1 tablet per day until you feel a warmth in your stomach or until you reach seven tablets per meal
4. Reduce the warm stomach dose by 1 tablet per meal
5. Discomfort may develop later, as your body begins producing more HCl reduce dose by 1 tablet at a time
IMPORTANT: this test should not be undertaken if there is gastritis or any recent history of gastric ulceration (stomach ulcers).
The rationale of the test is that excessive acid produces a sensation of warmth in the stomach. If you require a large number of Betaine HCl supplements to experience this it is an indication that you are perhaps not producing enough stomach acid of your own. Experiencing warmth or burning with low doses of Betaine HCl indicates you are probably producing enough stomach acid and don't require ongoing supplementation.
This test is helpful but by no means 100% accurate. Other tests that can more accurately assess stomach acid production are the Heidelberg pH Test and the Stomach Acid Test using gastrin injection and analysis of stomach acid secretion.