Do you suffer from acid reflux? Do you feel like you have no other option but to take over the counter antacids or stomach acid medications? I'm about to say something that might seem a little backwards to you. The majority of acid reflux comes from too LITTLE stomach acid! Yes, you read that right.
All of the organs in our digestive system work together. If one area is out of balance, the other areas compensate and make shifts. Eventually, the entire digestive system is out of whack, and it can be hard to pinpoint the true driving issue behind it all.
We have something called an "esophageal sphincter", AKA a valve of sorts that opens and closes at the bottom of our throats, right before it meets the stomach. This valve stays open until our stomach acid rises to meet a certain level, where it automatically shuts to prevent acid from splashing back into our throats, causing the dreaded acid reflux.
Normally, when we eat, our stomach acid rises to meet this level. Stomach acid is necessary in helping to break down and absorb food, along with killing off pathogens (bacteria, mold, yeast, parasites, etc) that may be ingested with our food. IF we have low stomach acid, when we eat, this level is never met. This means the valve stays open, and the little stomach acid that we DO produce will splash back up the throat.
Low stomach acid can be from many things. For example:
- prescription medications
- PPIs, antacids, H2 blockers
- parasites in the digestive tract
- microbial imbalance in the gut
- vitamin/mineral deficiencies
- hypothyroidism or Hashimotos
- H.pylori (stomach infection)
- autoimmune diseases
How the Stomach Acid Test works:
Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) create a chemical reaction in your stomach. The result of this reaction is carbon dioxide gas, which causes burping. We can use this "burp" test to figure out if you have adequate levels of stomach acid. If you drink the baking soda solution (explained in detail below). and you burp within 3 minutes, you have normal levels of stomach acid. If the burp takes longer than 3 minutes, or doesn't ever come at all, this indicates low levels of acid.
While this test is great for gaining insight into stomach acid levels, it is not the most scientific method and cannot be accurate enough to rule out low stomach acid completely. Since there are many variables to control, it is important to take the test as soon as you wake up in the morning and for at least three (ideally five) consecutive mornings to get the most accurate data possible.
Stomach Acid Test instructions:
First thing in the morning (before eating or drinking), mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 4 ounces of cold water.
Drink the baking soda solution.
Set a timer and see how long it takes you to burp. If you have not burped within five minutes, stop timing.
In theory, if your stomach is producing adequate amounts of stomach acid you’ll likely burp within two to three minutes. Any burping after three minutes may indicate a low acid level.
What to do if you have low stomach acid:
There are a few ways to increase stomach acid naturally.
The gentlest way that may help stimulate acid production is to drink a glass of warm or room temperature lemon water upon waking (squeeze 1/2-1 organic lemon into a glass of water). Alternatively, use a capful of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in the same way.
My preferred, most effective way to increase stomach acid naturally is to use digestive bitters. Bitters, made from bitter herbs, naturally enhance the body’s secretion of HCl. Take 1/4 teaspoon before meals. If you have no gallbladder, I suggest taking TUDCA right before each meal.
The third and most powerful way to increase HCl is to take Betaine HCl, a naturally occurring amino acid compound usually derived from beets. While this can be done safely on your own with care, it is best to work with a healthcare professional to determine appropriateness and correct dosage.
*Betaine HCl should not be taken by anyone who has ulcers, gastric inflammation, and/or is on medications, especially anti-inflammatory medication (e.g. corticosteroids, aspirin, ibuprofen, or other NSAIDs. In general, I recommend herbal digestive bitters over Betaine HCl.
As always, this is NOT to be considered medical advice. Consult your healthcare practitioner for any specific needs. If you want to dive into YOUR root causes, then check out my Integrative Health Bundle, where I start working with new clients!