The stomach produces hydrochloric acid, or HCL, as an aid to digestion. HCL is needed to break down proteins into essential amino acids, motivate the pancreas and prevent disease by killing harmful bacteria. Low HCL can cause a variety of gastric problems including heartburn, indigestion, constipation and bloating. To test your stomach acid levels, there are methods you can try at home. The most accurate methods, however, involve laboratory tests ordered by your physician.
Take the Heidelberg test at your physician's office. According Dr. Joseph Debe, a board certified nutritionist, the Heidelberg test is the most accurate test for checking levels of stomach acid. The Heidelberg test involves swallowing a capsule that measures acid levels and transmits the information back to a computer.
Schedule an appointment for a laboratory test. If you have low HCL levels, you will likely have a deficiency in a number of minerals and vitamins. Your physician can read the laboratory test results and let you know if you need further testing of your HCL levels.
Conduct an at-home test to see if your HCL is low. Mix 1/4 tsp. of baking soda in an 8 oz. glass of cold water. Drink the baking soda and water mixture first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything. Time how long it takes to belch after drinking the mixture. You should belch within 2 to 3 minutes if your HCL is adequate.
Purchase supplemental HCL tablets from a health food or nutrition store. Take one 10 grain HCL capsule at the beginning of a substantial meal with protein. Take two capsules at the beginning of the next meal. Continue adding a capsule at every each meal until you feel a burning sensation in your chest. Note how many capsules you took before you felt the irritation and inform your physician. Generally, the higher the number of capsules you take, the lower your HCL is.