Health Wellness

The Digestion Challenge

Indigestion – we’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives. That full, bloated feeling in our stomach which may be accompanied by some acid reflux or heartburn, making us feel uncomfortable and unable to focus for the afternoon on work.

If you’ve experienced this then I have some good news for you – there is a way to eliminate indigestion and the annoying symptoms that accompany it, while simultaneously increasing your energy and focus. The key to eliminating symptoms of indigestion is not necessarily what you eat, but how you eat. Let me explain.

The Digestive Process

Our stomach needs to be able to create hydrochloric acid (aka, stomach acid or HCl) so that we can break down and digest our food when we eat. If we are eating in a hurry, not chewing our food thoroughly, or are eating during a moment of heightened stress, our stomach is not able to make enough HCl to digest the food. This means our digestion is going to take longer and require more energy from the body. This is one of the reasons we feel tired after a heavy meal. If the food cannot be properly digested, it is passed through to the small intestine for further processing in its undigested format. This food now becomes an irritant causing inflammation and allows bacteria or yeast to ferment the undigested food, resulting in the uncomfortable symptoms we experience such as bloating, gas. Additionally, the bacteria and yeast start to overgrow creating ongoing digestive problems.

As our energy starts to drop, so does our focus and productivity. So what is the popular quick fix for low energy in the afternoon? You guessed it – coffee time! However, drinking liquids after a meal only serves to dilute any acid in our stomach, further compromising the effectiveness of our HCl.

At this point you may start to experience acid reflux, aka heartburn (the sensation of undigested food and acid travelling up your esophagus). This burning sensation after a meal is the result of the stomach overcompensating and making too much acid. So why would the stomach overcompensate like this? It is because the stomach initially had insufficient HCl to digest the meal. So when we eat meals when our stomach acid is low the body over compensates with acid production that then causes a reflux up our esophagus. As stated above, there are many reasons why we may have low stomach acid such as stress, over-eating, using antacids, and age (the production of HCl naturally slows down as we age).

Aside from digestion, our stomach acid has many other important functions such as being a line of defence for the body, helping us to digest proteins, and aiding in the absorption of our minerals. The best way to check if your stomach is producing adequate amounts of HCl is by doing a stomach acid challenge.

The Stomach Acid Challenge

Before I describe the test process one word of caution: if you have ever experienced an intense burning in your stomach area, been diagnosed with H. Pylori, or suffer from an ulcer (whether past or present), you should not attempt this test.

You will need to buy betaine HCl pills. This test should be done on an empty stomach, preferably first thing in the morning before you eat. Start by taking 1 HCl pill. If you have sufficient stomach acid you should feel a warming sensation in your stomach within a few minutes. If so, you do not need to proceed further with the test.

If you do not feel a warming sensation after waiting 5 minutes then take another HCl pill. Repeat this process until you either experience a warming sensation in your stomach, or you reach 8 HCl pills (I don’t recommend anyone to use more than 8 HCl pills). The more HCl pills that you need to experience a warming sensation, the less stomach acid you have. For example, a person who needed 6 pills has less baseline stomach acid for digestion then a person who needs only 2 pills.   If you needed more than 2 HCl pills then make sure you read next month’s article where I share my tips for improving digestion and naturally building up your stomach acid production.

About the author

Michelle Heighington

I am a registered holistic nutritionist (RNCP and ROHP) who also holds a degree in medical anthropology. Having worked in the legal industry for 15 years I became familiar with the corporate lifestyle and culture, and how the dedication to work – and the addiction to caffeine and sugar cravings that come with it – can get in the way of achieving a desired work/life balance. Through corporate workshops, articles and providing customized nutrition advice tailored to busy lifestyles, I help people to stay healthy at work without losing billable hours or precious time after work. You can reach me at or visit my website

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