Healthy Drinks

‘I’m a Gastroenterologist, and Here’s Why That Baking Soda Burp Test To Check Your Stomach Acid Levels Is a Huge Scam’

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If you're like us and you love nothing more than scrolling around on gut health TikTok, you've definitely seen the infamous "baking soda burp test" video that claims you can test the acidity of your stomach by seeing how long it takes to burp after drinking baking soda diluted in water.

If your (ahem) gut was telling you that the science backing the accuracy of this test might be a little sparse, you were spot on. According to gut health expert Will Bulsiewicz, MD, gastroenterologist and New York Times bestselling author of the books Fiber Fueled and The Fiber Fueled Cookbook, the baking soda burp test is yet another reminder not to believe everything you see on the internet—especially when it comes to the microbiome. Here's why he says that this test shouldn't be used as an accurate assessment of a patient’s stomach acid levels.

@reclaimedhealthjayde Low stomach acid? Try this test. If you burp after 5 minutes, you may have low stomach acid. #lowstomachacid #guthealth #heartburn #gerd #ibs #digestiontip #digestiveproblems #digestiveissues #guthealthnutritionist #guthealthtiktok #guthealthiskey #stomachacid ♬ original sound - Jayde MacLean

Why the baking soda burp test isn't a thing

If you're new to GutTok and this viral video, no sweat. “The basic idea is that when we consume baking soda, it will mix with the acid in our stomach to set off a chemical reaction that produces carbon dioxide and therefore prompts us to burp,” Dr. Bulsiewicz says. “If we burp quickly, then it suggests there is an adequate amount of stomach acid. If it takes longer, then it suggests we are deficient in stomach acid."

To clear the air, Dr. Bulsiewicz says that though the concept sounds great in theory, it simply isn’t an accurate assessment for measuring stomach acid levels. “I like the idea; it makes sense. But it is not valid." This, he says, is because the test has not actually been scientifically proven to work effectively. “In order to be considered valid, we have to actually demonstrate that it works by comparing it to a ‘gold standard test,’ such as a gastric pH monitor. This is why if you search for this test on the internet, you will find different cut-offs for how to perform and interpret it because there is no research to show us how to do the test and to prove that the test works,” Dr. Bulsiewicz says.

In short, this test is misleading and will lead to varied outcomes without true benchmarks for analyzing results. “If we don't really know what we're getting from the test, then it should not be used clinically as it could be wrong and misguide our choices,” Dr. Bulsiewicz says. That being said, he confirms that consuming the baking soda in water is not considered harmful.

What does low stomach acid actually even mean?

So, what’s all of the hype regarding stomach acid levels, and does it matter? According to Dr. Bulsiewicz, it depends on who you ask and how the medical professional defines hypochlorhydria, aka low stomach acid. “Both traditional—allopathic—medical doctors and alternative healthcare practitioners agree that there is such a thing as hypochlorhydria. But that's about all they agree on. There are significant differences in what constitutes low stomach acid, how to diagnose it, and how to treat it,” he says.

“In the alternative health space, it’s commonly believed that low stomach acid is the actual cause of acid reflux, dyspepsia, and other digestive issues. By contrast, the traditional medical community has a different take on acid reflux, citing esophageal motility disturbance, the competence of the esophageal sphincter, stomach emptying rate, and the frequency of events called transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxations, or TLESRs,” Dr. Bulsiewicz says.

The key point of divergence to note, according to Dr. Bulsiewicz, is that the traditional medical community "definitely does not" believe that acid reflux is caused by low stomach acid, which means that the course of treatment for it can vary greatly. “My take is based on the balance of the evidence. We have multiple clinical trials with medicines that actually lower our stomach acid levels through different mechanisms—H2 receptor antagonists, like Pepcid or Tagamet; and proton pump inhibitors, like Prilosec or Nexium. If low stomach acid is the cause of acid reflux or dyspepsia, then we should see a worsening of these conditions when people use these acid-lowering medicines. We don't. We actually see the opposite,” says Dr. Bulsiewicz. Meaning that a baking soda burp test that indicates low stomach acid levels might not really mean too much.

How to keep stomach acid levels in check, according to science

Dr. Bulsiewicz says that thought the aforementioned acid-reducing medications can effectively lower stomach acid levels, they should not be overused. “To be clear, I'm not actually arguing for indiscriminate and widespread use of acid-reducing medicine. My preference is to use diet and lifestyle, whenever possible, instead of these medicines. When people do require acid-reducing medicines, it should always be at the lowest dose possible, for the shortest duration possible, and with a plan in place to transition off the medicine,” he says.

Instead, Dr. Bulsiewicz recommends trying a few other methods to manage symptoms. “If your goal is to improve your symptoms of acid reflux, then I recommend moderating intake of spicy, acidic, and high-fat foods, reducing caffeine, and eliminating alcohol and tobacco use,” he says. He also recommends a high-fiber, plant-predominant diet, as well as having an early dinner and avoiding all food and alcohol for at least three hours before bedtime.

Meanwhile, Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, CPT, a registered dietitian based in Charleston, says that low zinc levels can also cause stomach acid issues. "So eating more foods with zinc, like oysters, beef, and beans, may help support healthy stomach acid levels,” she says.

An RD explains how to support a healthy gut:

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