Low Stomach Acid: The Real Reason for Your Indigestion
It is estimated that up to 60% of the adult population suffers from some form of gastrointestinal reflux symptoms such as heartburn, chest pain and bad breath.
Thanks to extremely aggressive marketing from antacid companies, it is widely assumed that these symptoms are due to high stomach acid levels. However, the reality is that most cases of heartburn, indigestion and reflux are caused by low stomach acid. Not only this, but chronic levels of low stomach acid, if left untreated, can cause chronic and systemic problems throughout the body, including autoimmune conditions such as vitiligo1; skin conditions such as psoriasis and rosacea2; digestive problems such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS); and general symptoms of gastric discomfort3.
Hypochloric acid (HCL) is a gastric secretion that enables the proteins in food to be broken down. It also activates certain digestive enzymes and hormones, and protects the gut against bacterial overgrowth.
Low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria), or no stomach acid (achlorhydria), is usually confused with high stomach acid because they produce exactly the same symptoms. When the levels of acid in the stomach are not optimal (either too high, or too low), the lower oesophageal sphincter at the top of the stomach fails to close properly. When this happens, acidic stomach fluid escapes into the lower section of the oesophagus, causing a burning sensation. This happens even if you have much lower stomach acid level than usual. The escape of acid causes the familiar symptoms of heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux.
The immediate response of most people to heartburn or indigestion is to take antacids, which exacerbates the problem, further reducing the acid levels in the stomach and creating a vicious cycle. Low stomach acid means that the body is unable to properly break down the food in the stomach, and this leads to a wide range of chronic health disorders.
Chronic low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) can cause:
NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES as a result of improper breakdown of proteins into amino acids. These may be seen in symptoms such as weak, cracked nails, poor gum health or a swollen tongue.
DYSBIOSIS (bacterial imbalance in the gut) due to imbalanced gut flora, because harmful bacterial growth is normally impaired by a low stomach acidity. In particular, low stomach acid has been indicated in H.Pylori infections4.
LEAKY GUT in which bacteria and large, undigested food particles leak through the gut wall into the blood stream, triggering food allergies, intolerances and autoimmune conditions.
DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS such as belching, bloating, gas and constipation.
Natural remedies for low stomach acid
Severe cases of indigestion and reflux must always be discussed with your doctor. If you do have genuinely high levels of stomach acid, this can cause serious problems if left untreated. Unfortunately, if you have hypochlorhydria, doctors, who are often not aware of the issues surrounding low stomach acid, may still try to prescribe antacids. If your doctor is not helpful, and you suspect you have low stomach acid, you could try to find a reputable natural nutritionist to help you.
The following recommendations in your daily diet can help to naturally boost your stomach acid:
– Restrict beverages half an hour before you eat and half an hour after, to prevent dilution of any acids present in the stomach.
– Drink hot water with freshly squeezed lemon, or raw apple cider vinegar to help supplement the acid in the stomach.
– Take probiotics to help to restore the natural gut flora in the stomach.
– Take HCL with pepsin supplements with meals containing protein (if taking these tablets with your meal causes a warming or burning sensation in the stomach then you must reduce the dose accordingly). HCL supplements are best taken on the advice of a trained nutritionist.
Low stomach acid and diet summary
If you are experiencing symptoms of indigestion such as belching, bloating, reflux or heartburn, it is likely that you suffer from low stomach acid rather than high stomach acid. In cases of hypochlorhydria, taking antacids only exacerbates the problem and creates a vicious cycle. When left untreated, low stomach acid can be the root cause of autoimmune conditions, skin problems, digestive issues, poor gum health and many other systemic health problems.
Medical disclaimer – the studies in this article are provided for information only and the article is not intended to be used as medical advice. If you have any symptoms of severe indigestion, or any other medical complaints then you must discuss these with your doctor. Always discuss significant dietary changes with a medical professional.