Stomach acid is critical for breaking down your foods and aiding in digestion of nutrients.
But how do you know if your stomach acid is at the right level?
Fear not, the HCL challenge is a super easy and safe way of finding out the status and gusto of your stomach acid! If your acid is out of balance, this simple test may alleviate a number of your symptoms and help you in digesting your food!
The HCL Challenge
The HCL challenge is a test involving capsules that contain HCL (Hydrocloric Acid - I used this brand) with your meals and noticing when burning or warming sensations occur.
You start by taking one pill the first day with your largest meal (I recommend lunch or dinner), and take note of how you feel. If you do not have a burning, indigestion type sensation, the next day, you’ll want to take two pills with your largest meal. You’ll continue increasing the number of capsules you take every day by one (i.e. on day three, take three capsules with dinner, on day four, take four) until you DO feel that burning sensation when eating your largest meal of the day.
Taking more than 2 pills without feeling any response is an indicator that your stomach acid is low.
The maximum number of HCL pills you should take at one time is 18. If you are able to take 18 HCL pills with no burning sensation, I would recommend speaking to your healthcare practitioner about your stomach acid imbalance, as that is definitely contributing to your gut issues. However, don’t be alarmed to take a large amount of these pills with your meals - when I first started my SIBO journey and did the HCL challenge, I found my stomach acid to be incredibly weak, and was taking 14 HCL pills with each meal.
Ready to take the challenge? Follow these steps:
1. Purchase Betaine HCL (with pepsin preferably). I recommend and used: Vital Nutrients - Betaine HCL Pepsin & Gentain Root Extract
2. Eat your largest meal of the day, one with protein (~4-6+ ounces)
3. After your first few bites, take the Betaine HCL pill(s)
4. Finish your meal
5. Take note of your body - does your stomach feel perfectly normal or do you feel a burning sensation? You should feel a burning or warming sensation in your stomach or upper abdomen. You may also feel slightly “acidic,” or as though you have indigestion. (Usually this can be felt within 30 minutes of your meal, if not sooner)
If, after doing the challenge with just 1 Betaine HCL pill you feel a burning sensation, you likely have enough stomach acid.
If you did not experience any burning at all, at the next meal, increase from 1 Betaine HCL pill to 2 Betaine HCL pills and make note of how you feel.
Continue this process daily until you hit the level of pills that does allow you to feel the burning sensation.
Once you hit the number where you experience the warming or burning sensation, don’t stop taking the HCL capsules.
Simply take one less pill the next day and remain at this number of pills daily until the warming sensation returns. Continue to decrease in this manner by one pill each time you feel the warming sensation. This weaning down process helps your body to not only start producing stomach acid, but over time should fully restore your stomach acid levels.
It’s time consuming, but stick with it. It will be worth the reward in the end and your intestines will thank you!
Once the challenge is complete, you should have worked your way down to one pill. You may choose to continue supplementing at each meal (3 times a day) with a digestive enzyme that contains HCL along with enzymes, but stop if you feel the burning sensation, as that means your body is producing the right amount of stomach acid
When I did the challenge
As I shared above, when I did the HCL challenge, I started at one pill and ended up working myself up to fourteen total pills per meal. It was difficult to comprehend how low my stomach acid must have been, but I was happy to have discovered it, because as I incorporated the HCL into my diet, my symptoms did seem to alleviate and my bowels reflected improvement, as well. It was as if my body was finally able to start digesting the food I was eating properly!
Over the next few months, I was able to work myself down to thirteen pills, and then twelve, eventually just taking two with each meal.
Now, I don’t take any HCL with my meals, but I do take the occasional pill just to ensure that I still feel the burning sensation and my stomach acid is still on track! I can be the HCL challenge success story to encourage you to give it a try - I’d highly recommend it!
Before Starting the HCL Challenge
Consult your doctor before starting this challenge. If you take NSAIDs and/or Corticosteroids, please be sure to consult your doctor prior to doing this, as the two together increases your risk of gastritis. If you reach 6 or more Betaine HCL pills with no effects, it’s best to reach out to your doctor or naturopath then as well to let them know what’s happening for you and notify them of your low stomach acid.