Many people are familiarized with antacid medications for heartburn and indigestion. They assume that stomach acidity can be dangerous and should be reduced.
The opposite is true. Most people suffering from digestive problems have low levels of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in their system.
Low stomach acid may cause you to feel bloated or have a tendency for you to burp. As we age, stomach acid slowly decreases. This can also be reduced by taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs or proton pump inhibitors. Older adults prefer sugary, starchy snacks such as cakes and biscuits. Their low stomach acid makes it difficult for them to digest protein-rich foods.
Contrary to popular belief having strong stomach acids are beneficial for your health.
What is the purpose of hydrochloric acids?
The stomach walls secrete HCl, which is vital for proper digestion. Let’s take a look at the most important function of low stomach acids:
- It activates the pepsin enzymes, which start to digest protein in your stomach.
- The small intestine slowly removes chyme from the stomach. It is a thick acid mass known as chyme. Low pH triggers pancreatic juices to be released. This mixture of bicarbonate and water, along with the enzymes amylase (to break down fats), lipase (to breakdown carbohydrates), and proteases trypsin (to digest fats), chymotrypsin (to digest carbs), are all produced by the stomach.
- It stimulates liver bile production and its release into the small intestine by the gallbladder to emulsify fats.
- It kills pathogens and bacteria in food.
- It is vital for the proper absorption of certain vitamins or minerals.
Low levels of hydrochloric acid can lead to a shortage of building blocks that will allow us to repair cells and make healthy hormones, neurotransmitters and other essential nutrients to keep us happy.
What are the signs of low hydrochloric acids?
- Bloating, especially after eating
- Hyperacidity can cause heartburn and reflux, but some reflux can also occur.
- Gastritis, especially secondary to H Pylori infection
- Uningested food in stool
- Flatulence, especially the unpleasant kind
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Parasitic or bacterial infections
- Colonic dysbiosis
- Overgrowth of yeast
- Food intolerances
- Leaky gut
- Bad breath
- Vitamin, B12, calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc deficiencies
- Poor hair, nails and teeth
- Cholesterol and high triglycerides
- Estrogen dominance, PMS
All the symptoms and signs mentioned above have been linked to reduced hydrochloric acid. This does not mean that it is the only cause, but restoring balanced HCl levels should form part of a comprehensive treatment program.
Low hydrochloric acid: What is the cause?
- High sugar diet
- Poor protein intake
- Zinc status low
- Eat on the run
- Inhibitors of proton pump
- H2 blocking agents
- Anti-acid medication available over the counter
How can I determine if my hydrochloric acid is low?
If you experience any of the above symptoms, your levels are likely low in HCl.
Your GP can recommend the Heidelberg or Gastric Acid Function tests to determine if you have low HCl. Your doctor will most likely not send you for this test because he is more likely to believe that acid reflux or indigestion is the cause.
You can perform a simple home test. Although it isn’t 100% accurate, it will indicate the level of stomach acid.
Start the day with an empty stomach. First, drink a glass of water mixed with 1/4 tsp bicarbonate soda. Then, wait for five minutes. You have enough stomach acid if you can burp in 2-3 minutes. If you burp immediately, you have too much.
How to naturally increase stomach acid
There are many natural ways to improve HCl and the function of your upper digestive system. None of these methods are appropriate if you have gastritis, ulcers, or other conditions that may affect your digestive system.
Some of the most effective and safest herbs to stimulate gastric acid include hops, globe artichoke and gentian. Ginger is also an excellent digestive stimulant.
They are most effective in tincture form, so it is best to get them from a qualified herbalist/naturopath.
If you don’t have access to dried herbs, you can make an infusion from the pure Dandelion root. Use 1/2 cup of warm water and 1 teaspoon per cup.
A simple Ayurvedic remedy for this is to chew slowly on a thin slice of fresh ginger with a pinch of salt, 5-10 minutes before you eat.
Add betaine hydrochloride or pepsin to your supplement. This supplement can be purchased in health food shops. Start by taking one tablet with your first bite of food. Then, increase the dosage to one additional tablet for each meal until you feel a burning sensation.
As soon as you have determined the right amount of supplement, reduce the dose to the next meal. Reduce the number of tablets if you feel a burning sensation. You will see an increase in your hydrochloric acid production as you use this supplement.
Supplementation should be continued for at least 2 to 3 months. This product should not be taken if you have gastritis, ulcers, or are under the care of a qualified physician.
These are great for acidifying your stomach. These are best enjoyed with meals or at the start of a meal. 1 tsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar in a small glass of water.
Both lemon and apple cider vinegar is very acidic and can cause enamel damage. You can reduce this by drinking them through a straw.
Zinc is required to make carbonic anhydrase, an enzyme that aids gastric acid production.
Drinking large quantities of water along with meals can dilute your stomach juices. You can swap the water for gelatine or mineral-rich, homemade bone broth. It stimulates digestion and aids in protein digestion.
Start with the protein portion. Gastric acid can be stimulated by amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.
Enjoy delicious food in a calm, relaxed environment. Gastric acid is released when there is a strong smell or anticipation of food.
As this will prepare your stomach for digestion, chew your food well.
Begin your meal by enjoying a small salad with bitter leaves like rockets, dandelion leaves or radicchio.