Hydrochloric Acid – The GOOD Stomach Acid

November 11, 2020
Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS

Award-winning nutritionist and New York Times bestselling author.

For years, we talked about “acid stomach” being a bad thing. People would drink milk or chug Pepto-Bismol to tame a burning belly, and everyone would blame the fire on too much stomach acid. But rather than needing to decrease the amount of acid in our stomach, we actually need to increase it. It turns out that HCl is a potent sterilizer of all kinds of contaminants, due to its highly acidic pH. Outside your body, HCl is actually strong enough to burn a hole in your carpet!

HCl’s Role in the Body

HCl is your body’s front line of defense against hostile gas-producing bacteria and parasites, so low levels of HCl make us more susceptible to infection from Salmonella and other bugs in food and water. In addition, a lowered level of HCl leads to malabsorption, poor assimilation, and ineffective distribution of essential nutrients, such as sodium, iron, calcium, and magnesium. Fifteen minerals, eight essential amino acids, and numerous vitamins depend on HCl for absorption. For example, no matter how much calcium you take in supplement form, if your stomach acid drops too low, those supplements won’t help you prevent osteoporosis. Similarly, supplements with iron won’t help strengthen your blood without stomach acid to help you absorb this crucial mineral. Lowered levels of HCl can also lead to an under-functioning liver and pancreas, a deficit of potassium (essential for the heart), and the formation of boils, abscesses, and puss. Not good!

Sadly, because of several factors in our environment, our levels of HCl may be declining at the very moment when we need HCl most. Medical professionals have long believed that stomach acid production declines by half after you reach age forty. But based on the work I’ve done with thousands of people; I think we need to revise that thinking. A lack of stomach acid has become much more widespread, and these days, almost everyone, at every age, suffers from this condition.

One overriding factor in our national HCl shortage is stress. We are all gulping down our food, eating much too quickly, eating irregularly, drinking large amounts of fluids with meals, swallowing air when we are eating, and crowding in way too much food at one time. These kinds of stressors conspire to slow down our secretion of stomach acid. The popularity of low-carbohydrate Keto diets has also made the stomach acid problem much worse. That’s because the large amount of protein in such a diet overwhelms your HCl production. Your body can’t produce enough HCl to break down the protein. Consequently, you end up with undigested food, indigestion, and constipation.

In addition, if you drink too much water, especially cold water, while you eat or within two hours of eating, you disrupt your stomach acid function. Or if you don’t chew your food enough. Or if your diet lacks A and B vitamins or zinc or iodine or salt. Or if you have medical X-rays, drink chlorinated water … the list goes on and on. Dozens of factors in our environment steal your valuable stomach acid and can leave you with gas, bloating, acid reflux, heartburn, constipation, and diarrhea – and sometimes even worse.

Is your HCl low?

Are you experiencing any of the following signs of low HCl?

  • A sense of feeling full, almost as soon as you start eating
  • Belching and bloating
  • Gassiness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Losing your taste for meat
  • Heartburn and burning in your stomach
  • Sour taste in your mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Chronic yeast infections
  • Weak nails
  • Rectal itching
  • Hoarseness and laryngitis
  • Rosacea

If you’re curious about the level of HCl in your system, you can try the HCL Stomach Acid Test:

To find out if you have adequate stomach acid, try this home test. (Do not do this test if you have ulcers or a pre-ulcerative condition.)

  • Take an HCl (betaine hydrochloride) supplement of 500-550 milligrams and 150 milligrams of pepsin with your next meal. (Note: HCl should not be taken simultaneously with anti-inflammatory medications like Indocin, Butazolidin, aspirin, or Motrin.) I recommend HCl+2, the supplement I created for my own clients. (It also contains bile acids for healthy fat digestion, so you get a double whammy of digestive help.)
  • Observe how you feel. Extreme warmth signals that you have sufficient stomach acid and means you should discontinue the supplement or cut back amount.
  • If you experience no relief from your digestive problems, or feel no pain or warmth, double your HCl dose at the next meal.
  • Continue adding an extra dose per meal until you feel warmth. Caution: Don’t take more than five tablets at a time.
  • At succeeding meals after you reach your limit, take one less than your maximum with food.
  • After three to six months, try reducing your dosage.

While many if not most of us suffer from a lack of stomach acid, certain people are more susceptible to declining HCl. Your stomach acid may be low if you’ve been told you have:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD)
  • Deficiency in protein, calcium, magnesium, and/or iron
  • Immune disorders
  • Arthritis
  • Hives
  • Osteoporosis
  • Hepatitis
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Lupus
  • Vitiligo

Following a healthy diet like The New Fat Flush Plan or Radical Metabolism is a huge step toward buttressing your lagging HCl production and helping ban your gut grief. To help your system get the HCl it desperately needs, I recommend HCl+2 supplementation as part of your basic daily protocol.

Related Articles and Podcasts

Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, is an award-winning New York Times bestselling author of more than thirty books including The Fat Flush Plan series and her latest book, Radical Metabolism. She’s been rewriting the rules of nutrition for more than 40 years and is internationally recognized as a pioneer in the field of diet, detox and women’s health issues. 

For a FREE daily dose of tips and strategies for maintaining healthy weight, conquering insomnia, and much more…check out my Radical Health Tips.

I’d like to meet and greet you on my Facebook groups, so won’t you check us out at the Radical Metabolism RevolutionFat Flush Nation, or my Inner Circle!


  1. Lydia

    I’ve had hives a few times. I had no idea it was related to low stomach acid.

  2. Catherine

    It seems the opposite of what I I thought, having GERD. If taking more HCL will help I am all in!

  3. Mary B.

    Interesting test to do for stomach acid. Thank you for giving the directions. I’m going to try it.



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