Why is stomach acid so important?
Stomach acid is extremely important, as it is necessary for the proper digestion of the proteins we eat. When foods are not digested properly, this can lead to a whole range of unwanted symptoms such as reflux, bloating, cramping and gas.
It is also needed for the efficient absorption of important nutrients such as iron, calcium, and B12. Without good levels of these, a raft of health issues can emerge.
In addition, without adequate stomach acid, your body can't properly defend you against potentially harmful microorganisms, and it can also cause partially digested food to stay in the stomach longer than it should. This can cause food to ferment and produce gases, resulting in an array of symptoms including those described above.
If you suffer from some of these symptoms, it may be worth considering the possibility that the amount of acid you produce is insufficient for proper digestion.
There is a simple test you can carry out at home which can help determine if you aren't producing enough stomach acid. This test is not absolute and it is best to get low stomach acid diagnosed by your doctor – but it can be a useful indicator. This test is called the bicarbonate of soda test.
Bicarbonate of soda test - how to take the test
Dissolve a quarter teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in a little water and drink this on an empty stomach. If you have adequate levels of stomach acid, the bicarbonate of soda is neutralised and converted into gas – this means you should experience belching within 3 – 5 minutes after drinking the solution. If no belching occurs, this suggests there may be insufficient acid present.
How it works
The bicarbonate of soda and stomach acid create a chemical reaction in your stomach. The result of this reaction is carbon dioxide gas, which causes belching. So, a belch within 3-5 minutes may indicate an adequate level of stomach acid. A belch after this time (or not at all) may highlight a low level of stomach acid.
How accurate is it?
While this test can give insight into stomach acid levels, it is not the most scientific method and, therefore, is not one hundred percent accurate in some cases. To increase the accuracy of the test, it is advisable to take the test on 5 consecutive mornings and pull all this data together to get a better understanding of your stomach acid levels.
Are there other methods?
If you think you have low stomach acid, you can help yourself by ensuring that you eat slowly, chewing your food well, rather than eating on the run.
Another strategy for increasing your stomach acid naturally is to use digestive bitters. Bitters are made from bitter herbs and can normalise the body's secretion of stomach acid. This can help to aid the digestion process and ease symptoms of indigestion, such as abdominal discomfort, flatulence and feelings of fullness.
You may like to try our Digestisan, which contains extracts of freshly harvested artichoke, dandelion, peppermint and dried boldo leaves.
Originally written 14 February 2019 (updated 20 June 2020).