As someone who has suffered from digestive issues and low stomach acid during several phases in my adult life, I can say that it is not an experience that I would wish on anyone.
The uncomfortable symptoms of heartburn, indigestion, bloating, cramping and gas were just the beginning of, at times, terrible pain that would take me to the emergency room on several occasions.
Interestingly enough what the doctors thought was too much stomach acid turned out to be the opposite – low stomach acid – meaning I was not producing enough stomach acid to properly digest my food.
It was only after I had tried the traditional treatment offered by my doctor that included stomach acid reducing medications like Losec and Zantac, that someone suggested that my problem might actually be low stomach acid – the opposite of too much stomach acid and hence my understanding of what I now know to be hypochlorhydria.
How Digestion Works and the Low Stomach Acid Problem
When talking about digestion, I think it’s important to note that digestion starts as soon as we eat a piece of food.
The act of chewing starts the digestion process that continues when the food passes through the esophagus and into the stomach. It is in the stomach that hydrochloric acid is produced to help digest food further so that our bodies can reap the benefits by extracting the vital nutrients from your food. Without being able to do this effectively, a number of issues including nutritional deficiencies, and malabsorption issues can and do occur.
When you have enough hydrochloric acid in your gastric juices, its role (offered here in a simplified explanation) is to:
- Create a stomach environment with a low enough PH to secrete pepsin, a main digestive enzyme that aids in digestion of proteins like meat, eggs, etc…
- Helps to digest carbs and fats
- Helps to absorb nutrients and rid the body of harmful yeast and bacteria
Good bacteria also resides in the gut and with low stomach acid, a whole host of other problems can occur like:
- An overgrowth of bad bacteria – SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
- Leaky gut syndrome
- Intolerance to food and food allergies
- Chronic inflammation (something that I have had to deal with since my stomach issues began)
Hydrochloric acid is critical in the killing of ingested pathogens. If the appropriate level of HCl is not present, pathogens are not eliminated before the food moves to the small and large intestine where nutrient absorption happens.
If you’ve ever heard the saying that 80% of our immune system is in the gut, you’ll also understand how important it is to have an appropriate level of stomach acid to make sure that our digestion process deals with pathogens and extracts the nutrients we need to function optimally.
Truly the state of our gut determines how healthy we are, and an imbalance in the gut contributes to many issues around how we feel both physically and mentally. Many of the issues associated with brain fog, neurological issues, depression, anxiety, fatigue, skin issues and more can be traced to your gut health.
Stomach PH Levels
A healthy PH level in the stomach should be between 1–3. This allows for proper digestion to occur.
Being mindful of my health, I have always thought that I fueled my body (for the most part) with good and healing food, but as most people know disturbances in our body systems can be caused by a variety of things,including chronic stress which can negatively affect the PH.
Treatment For Low Stomach Acid
Under the care of my fabulous ND here are some of the things I have done to help balance out my body, and to address the low stomach acid issues that have plagued me in the past.
Apple Cider Vinegar: I have found that drinking apple cider vinegar with some water 15 minutes prior to eating has helped with my digestion. The reason behind this is that apple cider vinegar increases stomach acid levels to help with digestion.
I have also taken it when I have experienced reflux.
Taking a tsp of ACV, and diluting it in an 8 ounce glass of water is helpful to take before meals. The bacteria in the “mother” contains probiotics that is so good for healing your gut.
Supplements: A good supplement to take prior to meals is Betaine HCl and was the first supplement I started taking when I started to address the low stomach acid problem. I also took the digestive enzyme papain from papaya in conjunction.
Recently I have been taking a complete digestive enzyme to help me digest my food (which I've found extremely helpful) and I have included the image below for you to take a look.
Ginger: Another thing I do to help calm my stomach is making tea from fresh ginger. I would steep the fresh ginger in water and take sips which helped to reduce inflammation in my stomach.
Staying away from highly processed foods is also important as well as staying away from dairy, which I used to have occasionally.
Fermented vegetables. Naturally, fermented vegetables — such as kimchi (our favorite at breakfast), sauerkraut (my 5 year old loves this) and pickles — naturally helps increase stomach acid levels and is filled with probiotics that is so important for your gut health.
Making sure that you have the right level of stomach acid for digestion is critical to your overall health. With 80% of your immune system found in your gut it is critical to create a balanced gut microbiome.
Without ingestion healthful food, compounded by less than optimal digestion, so many health issues can arise starting with your body and the lack of nutrients, malabsorption and other health issues (neurological, physical and mood disorders.)
Taking care of your body starts with the food you choose, creating an optimal process for your digestion. If you are suffering from low stomach acid, try using the above 5 tips to help.