From: Modern Herbalist
Individuals suffering with stomach and intestinal problems most frequently assume that heartburn, indigestion, gas, and reflux are caused by overproduction of stomach acid. This common misconception has been strongly re-enforced by our conventional medical profession, whose practitioners routinely prescribe stomach acid blocking medications at the slightest sign of stomach dysfunction, failing to properly diagnose the digestive problem by first monitoring the stomach’s acid producing function, using scientific methods and neglecting to provide patients with common sense dietary recommendations.
The Symptoms of Over and Under-Production Are The Same
Strangely enough, the symptoms of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid, HCL) over-production and under production are virtually identical. It is therefore unwise to jump to conclusions regarding what’s occurring in the stomach without actual testing.
Medical Misdiagnosis Is Very Common
The pharmaceutical firms with their considerable influence on the medical profession have, through advertising, incentives to doctors and various other forms of indoctrination, made it an almost reflex reaction on the part of most physicians, even many gastro-enterologists, to jump to the conclusion that a majority of gastric problems can be easily treated by the use of acid blocking medications. Because the American public over-consumes unhealthy food at an alarming rate, the routine use of acid blockers is highly profitable for pharmaceutical firms, provides instant relief for many sufferers, but can bring about long-term health problems for many misdiagnosed users.
Functions of Hydrochloric Acid
Hydrochloric acid serves many functions, the three most important are:
1. It is the primary digestive juice responsible for breaking down proteins, preparing them for assimilation.
2. It acts as a protective barrier, killing many potentially harmful micro-organisms in our food.
3. It acts as a venting mechanism for the build-up of excessive concentrations of hydrogen ions in our blood and interstitial fluids. In other words, we consume acid forming foods and / or engage in acid forming activity, the production of stomach acid uses up considerable amounts of the acid forming material (hydrogen ions) thereby assisting in the elimination of excessive tissue acidity. The stomach acid once combined with food is eventually neutralized further down the alimentary canal by alkaline pancreatic secretions.
Underproduction Of Stomach Acid Is A Common Problem
Based upon the testing of sample groups, it has been theorized that well over half of the U.S. population beyond the age of fifty years is under-producing hydrochloric acid on a constant basis, leading to a host of digestive and immune disturbances. One need not be of middle age to have this problem, nowadays it’s not uncommon in younger persons as well. The demineralized, devitalized diet that so many are consuming greatly contributes to this problem, which can be significantly compounded by many individuals’ preference for extremely low salt intake.
A test, the “Heidelberg Capsule Test” is available (unfortunately few physicians have the equipment in their offices to provide it) that is capable of scientifically determining the stomach’s ability to produce adequate concentrations of acid (HCL). If this test is not available to you, another “low tech” method of making a correct determination is available. This involves the use of a Betaine Hydrochloride supplement that is used as a challenge substance, when eating, to see if digestive function improves with its use.
Directions For Use of Betaine HCL
When using Betaine HCL with Pepsin for the first few times, please be sure to follow the directions carefully. Always take Betaine HCL at the start of the meal! If taken without food, stomach burning may result.
1. At the very start of the meal, take one capsule of Betaine HCL. Monitor how your stomach feels during and after eating. Should any burning or heaviness occur, or if burning has been present previously (before taking the supplement) and is now worsened with the use of the Betaine HCL, do not continue using this supplement!!! This is an indication that your stomach is overproducing acid, or that your stomach lining may be damaged. In such cases, please consider the use of Alkabase, Gastric Complex-HP and/or Mastica, to normalize excess acid production and heal the stomach lining.
2. If the first dose of Betaine HCL produced no noticeable stomach discomfort, try taking two capsules at the start of your next meal, again monitor for burning and or heaviness during and after eating. If taking two capsules produces some discomfort, but one capsule does not, restrict yourself to one capsule at the start of each meal. If the two capsule dose produced no discomfort, try three capsules at the start of your next meal.
3. If all goes well when taking three capsules at the start of each meal, stay with that dosage, most individuals will not require increasing the dosage to four capsules. Regular use of supplemental hydrochloric acid will in most cases “re-train” the stomach to produce higher concentrations of acid on its own. This process may take anywhere from several weeks to several months, depending on the individual. The most significant indication that acid production is improving is that Betaine HCL supplementation can no longer be comfortably tolerated.
After having used the Betaine HCL for eleven weeks, at a dosage of two capsules per meal, without any discomfort, Joan now notices that she feels a burning sensation when taking the two capsules. She therefore reduces her dosage to one capsule at mealtime. After several more weeks, even one capsule per meal produces burning and Joan discontinues altogether. This is a sign that the stomach has been re-trained to produce adequate concentrations of hydrochloric acid without the further need for supplementation.
When consuming meals that contain little or no protein, much less hydrochloric acid is needed by the stomach to process its contents. Please keep this in mind when using Betaine HCL as a supplement and modify your usage accordingly.
Salt Consumption And HCL Production
Unfortunately, much misinformation regarding the use of salt in the diet has been circulating for the last three decades or so. The body needs salt (NaCl) and cannot function adequately without it. Low salt diets can make it very difficult if not impossible for stomach to produce adequate amounts of hydrochloric acid. The problem is not salt per se, but the quality of the salt. Using unrefined, highly mineralized sea salt is perfectly safe and healthful to the system. This type of salt is grayish in color and is produced by traditional methods in use for many hundreds of years. Available in most good natural food stores it comes from Brittany and goes by names such as “Celtic Sea Salt” and “Star of the Sea”. The more common white sea salt sold in most stores does not have the same healthful properties. Individuals with high blood pressure need not necessarily avoid salt. Salt over-consumption is only implicated in about twenty percent of hypertensive individuals (kidney related hypertension).