I want to share with you some stomach acid know-how essentials. It may surprise you that many health issues, not only digestive ones, are related to low stomach acid. Many people who come to see me have low stomach acid. I used to have it as well, without realizing it. Changing my eating habits and using some of the tips below helped me to restore my gastric acid production and as a result to feel better.
Why do you need stomach acid for?
Gastric acid (hydrochloric acid HCl) found in your stomach facilitates digestive enzyme secretion and protein digestion. Your stomach (muscular sac) acts as a sort of blender breaking your food physically (churning action of the stomach muscle) and enzymatically (the right gastric pH and activity of digestive enzymes). Low pH (1,5-2,5) of gastric acid is essential for digestive enzymes to become active and to digest. Apart from facilitating digestion, we need gastric acid as a first line of defense against food poisoning (Campylobacter, Salmonella), parasitic (Giardia, worms), bacterial (Helicobacter pylori, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), and fungal (Candida) infections. Without adequate acid, we do not digest our food, we are at risk of mineral and vitamin deficiencies, and we are more vulnerable to various infections. Low stomach acid compromises our immunity. Therefore, you need stomach acid and it’s good for you.
Low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) has been associated with many common health problems.
What symptoms to look for in association with low gastric acid?
- Bloating, burning, burping, and flatulence right after meals
- Abdominal fullness after meals
- Poor appetite
- Stomach upsets easily
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Undigested food in stool
- Nausea after taking supplements
- Reactivity to foods (food allergies, food sensitivities)
- Iron deficiency
- Chronic intestinal infections
- Chronic candida infections
What can you do about low gastric acid?
Improve your digestion and restore your gastric acid production.
Imagine that if you are not able to properly digest your food and absorb the nutrients, cells within your body will not get the fuel, the nutrients they need for proper functioning. Because of impaired digestion and absorption you may experience some health issues. Digestion process starts even before you eat. When you see food, smell it, or think about it your senses are triggered, your brain is triggered, your digestive system is triggered. You may start producing saliva, gastric acid, hormones, and other molecules to prepare you for a meal. This is how digestion process begins.
Compare it with a scenario when you sit on a coach in front of TV, and while watching an interesting move you pop something in your mouth without realizing what and without realizing you eat. How well will your digestive system be prepared then to perform the task of digestion? Expectedly, not that well as if you eat mindfully.
It reminds me of something. One of my former colleagues years back, an Indonesian women, was always eating very mindfully. She was eating slowly and chewing her food very well. When she indulged few bites of her meal, my meal had already vanished. I was eating like it was a race and it always stroke me why she was eating so slowly, too slowly I thought then. But she simply knew that to digest well you need to eat well. In cultures where food sources are limited, people tend to eat more mindfully and slowly. They chew every single bite very well simply to extract as much nutrients as possible and to properly switch the digestive machinery on. Sound simple to do, right? Yet, in the current era of constant rush and stress it can be quite a task to do. Let me provide some guidelines that can change how you feel.
How can you digest better?
- Chew your food thoroughly. Proper chewing is essential in order to promote gastric acid production and digestion. Try to chew your foods 20-30 times before swallowing. Eat smaller meals so the body can process your food properly and has possibility to heal. You may consider fasting or intermittent fasting as an additional boost for your general health and stomach. Part of your body healing is letting it recover. If you’re continually eating food from morning to sundown every day, your body doesn’t have the time to recover and heal.
- Eat mindfully and relax. Relaxation promotes digestion whereas stress inhibits digestion.
- Add bitterness to your menu. Include bitter herbs, bitter foods and bitter drinks. Bitterness increases secretion of saliva, gastric acid, pepsin, bile, and digestive enzymes so all we need to digest properly. Check your health-food stores for bitter/digestive herbal teas or bitter tinctures (Swedish bitters).
- Drink adequate amount of (salty) water. Drink water with sea salt/Himalayan/Celtic salt every day to promote healthy gastric lining. You can mix 1-1,5 liter of (purified) water with about 1-1,5 gr of salt and drink it through the day (best after waking up, 30 min before lunch and before dinner, and before going to bed).
- Avoid drinking (large quantities) during meals or shortly after your meals.
- Have Apple cider vinegar (ACV). Some people find that ACV makes wonders for their digestion. Drink about 50-100 ml of water with 1-2 tablespoons of ACV 15-20 min before your (protein) meals. You can also add some ACV to your salads. You may need to gradually increase the amount of vinegar until you get the desired effect. Note: do not use ACV if you have histamine intolerance.
- Take Digestive enzymes. Another help is to take digestive enzymes prior meals, also possible to take them with the apple cider vinegar. Digestive enzymes will help breaking down the nutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrates) you take in. Too high stomach pH does not allow for efficient food (protein) digestion. Take the enzymes until your stomach acid balances out.
- Add betaine HCL (with Pepsin) with protein rich meals. If above tricks do not work, consider taking betaine HCL (with pepsin). Now, the trick with betaine HCL is you want to take the right amount, always start off with one capsule and see how you feel. Gradually increase the dosage from 300-750 mg to 1000-2000 mg per meal. When you get warmness/discomfort in your stomach, cut back by one capsule per every next meal. If you feel discomfort because of too high betaine HCl intake, you can neutralize the acid by drinking water or milk with 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Some people need one capsule; other people may need to take up to few capsules of betaine HCl. Once you have established a dose, continue this dose. It may however change over time as your digestion is improving, so stay vigilant and decrease the dosage when needed. With smaller meals, you may require less betaine HCl. Take betaine HCl only if you’re eating protein dense meals (with meat). Important: if you feel discomfort (heartburn) at the lowest dose of betaine HCl, it suggests you have a healthy response, no issue with low stomach acid and no need to take betaine HCl.
- Try umeboshi plums. Umeboshi plums are salted and pickled plums helpful to relief indigestion. You can get them in Asian food stores, use them as umeboshi vinegar, as the base for tea or add as a salad dressing instead of salt and vinegar. ‘
- Try acupuncture and/or chiropractic care.
- Avoid processed foods and overeating.
Many people think they have too much stomach acid and therefore they take antacids. Antacids may relief some symptoms but most of the time the problem is not in too much acid in your stomach but in the fact that your stomach acid may just be in the wrong place, where it does not belong such as in esophagus. It may lead to acid reflux. I realize that the symptoms of too much and too little acid are similar, such as belching, burping, feeling of fulness after meals but be aware that too low acid is most of the time to blame for the symptoms described above.
Low stomach acid may be caused by pernicious anemia, chronic Helicobacter pylori, long-term term treatment with proton-pump inhibitors, autoimmune gastritis, or stress.
If your symptoms do not resolve after applying provided here tips, do consult it with you physician.