By the time I started learning how important digestive health was, I began getting several tests done to assess my digestive organs. A couple of my tests showed that I had low stomach acid (hydrochloric acid or HCl). HCl is produced in the stomach, helps your stomach break down food, and kills food-borne pathogens. If you don’t have enough HCl, you can experience a variety of digestive issues. Studies show that HCl decreases with age, but I don’t really believe that. I think stomach acid decreases when we become mineral deficient (more on this another time).
A Hot Mess
OK, here’s the thing…when I first began addressing my digestive health, my entire digestive system was a hot mess. Everything from my ability to chew to my stomach, intestines, gallbladder, liver and pancreas were challenged. Some of you have asked how to tell if it’s emotions we are dealing with or physical symptoms. I think it’s always both. However, one thing I learned is that once a symptom is deeply lodged in the physical body, we need a full-scale emotional and physical protocol to heal body, mind and spirit.
The good news? It’s a deep, miraculous, humbling, compassionate journey of healing, if you are willing to take one step at a time.
I always felt like it was important to be strong and not to need anything. Not to take up too much space. Not to ask for help. I felt it was important to be responsible to my to do list, my job and everything in my life. I wasn’t trying to be “perfect” — that wasn’t my aim. However, by being the one who needed nothing, I put off the vibe that everything was perfect and maybe that I was perfect too. I was the one who didn’t need anything from anyone because I had it all together…and that was so far from the truth!
Part of my healing process was to get down on my knees and thank God, Goddess, Source, my Higher Power, Life (whatever you want to call it) for each little bit of healing that came and within the healing, the opportunity to be OK with NOT having it all together. For me, this meant not having to do everything and be everything at work and at home. To be a mess if I needed to. To ask for help. To say no and disappoint people. To be more of who I am (all of the weird, oddball parts… my inner child-gypsy-flapper-hippie who walked the halls of the suit-wearing conservative companies where I worked).
This process healed my digestion — how I digested and metabolized life — just as much as all of the practical steps I took toward my health. Part of healing is looking at this. It will often happen naturally — because guess what? Healing means we have to take TIME for ourselves. Eating well means we have to go out of our way a bit. It’s not convenient. It’s not readily available. It’s frustrating that way. And the only way we can do it is to say, I’m worth the time it takes. And the only way to embrace that is to start your emotional healing journey.
OK, so let’s turn back to the stomach and HCl. Your stomach is the organ (after the mouth and chewing thoroughly!) that first receives the food you consume…Here are some tips.
Improving Stomach Acid & Easy at-Home HCl Testing
One easy way to test whether you have enough stomach acid is to do a test first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking. Mix ¼ teaspoon baking soda in six ounces of water and drink the whole glass.
- If you belch within two or three minutes, you likely have enough stomach acid.
- If you have not belched within five minutes, your stomach acid is likely low.
- If you start belching quickly and continue belching often, you may have too much acid.
Options for Low Stomach Acid
- Drink four ounces of water with half of a fresh-squeezed lemon about 15 minutes before eating a meal. This can boost stomach acid gently and naturally.
- Put one tablespoon of raw, unfiltered organic apple cider vinegar (such as those made by Bragg or Spectrum—you’ll see debris floating at the bottom of the bottle) into eight ounces of water. Drink this about 15 minutes before eating a meal. Some people gradually add another tablespoon or two if they need more support. This is another natural, gentle way to boost stomach acid production.
- Take digestive bitters. Digestive or Swedish bitters have been used as a remedy in Europe for quite some time and are a natural way for stimulating HCl to aid digestion.You can put ¼ teaspoon in water, or some come in a spray bottle. Most digestive bitters are made of a combination of herbs, such as: aloe, angelica root, manna, myrrh, saffron, rhubarb root, zedoary root, senna leaves, camphor, and others. I love the organic citrus bitters made by Urban Moonshine—you can get them online or in health-food stores in a glass bottle or purse-sized spray bottle.The ingredients are slightly different from Swedish bitters, and they are a little easier on the taste buds. They include: dandelion root and leaf, burdock root, orange peel, fennel seed, yellow dock root, angelica root, gentian root, and ginger root.
- Take an HCl supplement. Two gentle options are the HCl by Premier Research Labs and the Betain HCl with Pepsin and Gentian Bitters by Doctor’s Best (this one has some fillers).
While there are other supplements on the market, if you are very sensitive to HCl, you may get a burning reaction when you take it. Premier Research Labs HCl tends to work gently for even the most sensitive people.
If you’re uncertain about how to start, check with with a healthcare practitioner who can guide you. If you’re not working with a practitioner, make sure to start gently, with just one capsule of HCl after each meal and build gradually.
If, as you add more HCl, you begin to feel a warm burning that is uncomfortable, make sure to take one less than the amount that caused the burning. A little baking soda in water can stop the burning feeling.
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