Did you know that your reflux, heartburn, or indigestion was almost certainly the result of LOW stomach acid. Yes, I meant to say LOW.
It is estimated that about 90% of Americans have low stomach acid, so there is a pretty good chance that you are one of them. Read on to learn how detrimental to your health having low stomach acid is, how to fix it and stop reflux, heartburn, and indigestion for good!
What happens when I don’t have enough stomach acid?
- Stomach acid is our first line of defense when it comes to microbes. This means when your stomach isn’t acidic enough, harmful microbes (this means bacteria, viruses, and parasites) can get in! When you do have the right acidity in your stomach, those microbes are merely digested as any other protein would be. If you have ever gone had dinner with a group and some people got sick afterward and some didn’t, stomach acid is the reason! The food poisoning microbes were merely digested by the group who remained healthy!
- Stomach acid is a trigger for the release of other important digestive secretions such as pancreatic enzymes to help digest carbs, fat, and proteins as well as bile from the gallbladder to emulsify the fats you have eaten to allow them to be absorbed. Incidentally, the gallbladder is very important in removing toxins from your body as well.
- Mal-digested Foods causing pressure build-up: The stomach will not release the foods to the next step (to the duodenum through the pyloric sphincter if you are curious) if there the stomach doesn’t have the proper acidity. Also, without the proper stomach acidity, protein digestion doesn’t occur properly. This causes proteins to putrefy in your stomach. Carbohydrates are also not fully digested. This allows them to ferment in your stomach. As they are fermenting, gasses are formed and cause a build-up of pressure. And, you guessed it, fats are not fully digested either, allowing them to “rancidify” in your stomach. If you have ever taken fish oil capsules and then burped “fish burps” an hour or two later, this is most likely what happened. (It could also be a low quality fish oil. Don’t mess around with that crap–take the best quality fish oil capsule you can buy. All these mal-digested foods build pressure as they ferment, rancidify, and putrefy. This build up of pressure in the stomach is what causes heart burn and reflux!!!
- Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies: All of this poorly digested foods mean nutrient deficiencies! Minerals are especially reliant on adequate HCL production for absorption. Your body may actually be starving for nutrients even though you eat plenty!
- Leaky gut! These poorly digested foods feed pathogenic microbes in your GI tract. Those microbes feast on the protective mucosal layer of your gut causing it to weaken and become leaky.
- Food sensitivities: When you regularly consume foods in a leaky gut, larger molecules than are intended are allowed to get out into the blood stream. This sets your immune system off. It wants to destroy the “invader”.
- Autoimmunity: As listed above, your immune system gets called in when you eat foods that you have become sensitive to. Unfortunately, there is collateral damage in this war and that is your own tissues! The immune system is so overworked that it becomes confused. It can mistake your thyroid molecule for a molecule of gluten because they look similar (molecular mimicry). This leads to your tissues being damaged. This happens silently for YEARS! Once there is enough tissue damage for you to have symptoms, you now have a diagnosable autoimmune disease.
What causes low stomach acid (HCL)?
- A deficiency in the building blocks required to make HCL (cofactors) such as zinc, B vitamins, chloride (found in sea salt), magnesium
- A diet high in refined carbs
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Drinking water with meals (especially ice water): Water dilutes your stomach acid! Limit to one 8 ounce glass of water or other liquids during a meal.
- Stress: Being chronically stressed depletes our stomach acid in a few different ways
- Not eating in a relaxed state: Digestion begins in the brain! Your brain first smells the food and you think about eating and digestive secretions begin. However, if you are constantly in fight/flight (sympathetic) mode, as many of us are in this modern world, this doesn’t happen. Take a few deep breaths, say a prayer or blessing, or do some other relaxation technique to make sure that your body goes into rest/digest (parasympathetic) mode.
- H. pylori: This microbe actually damages the cells in your stomach lining (parietal) that secrete your stomach acid. It does this because it can’t survive in an acidic environment. It therefore becomes a viscous cycle.
- Eating the Standard American Diet (SAD): The SAD is deficient in many nutrients, including those needed to produce stomach acid.
How to Boost Stomach Acid Production:
- Bitters and Shrubs: Taking bitters or a shrub about 15-20 minutes before eating will boost your stomach acid production. It will not, however, give you the ability to create stomach acid if you don’t have the proper building blocks listed above. If you do have all of the building blocks and are in a rested state, betters and shrubs can “prime the pump” so to speak. Also, starting your dinner with a salad with a Raw Apple Cider Vinaigrette can help.
- Building Blocks: If you have been deficient for a long time, you are dealing with multiple nutrient deficiencies and probably need to supplement your building blocks, especially zinc.
- HCL Supplementation: Supplementing with HCL is a good idea because often it is the only way to stop the viscous cycle of not being able to absorb the needed cofactors to make your own stomach acid. It can be an absolute game-changer in not only your digestion, but your overall health and energy as well. Be sure to consult a nutritional professional who can guide you through a slow HCL challenge to find your perfect dose.
- Boosting HCL in Children: If you have a child that doesn’t like to eat protein, this could be the reason (also letting them snack too close to dinner could be the problem as well, so control for that first). Never ever give a child supplemental HCL! You can give them bitters or a shrub a 15-20 minutes before their meal though. Frequent hiccoughs is a sign of low HCL in kids, although so is eating too fast.
- Timing: Make sure to eat meals not snacks! There are many reasons for this, but as far as digestion goes, it is important to give the digestive system rests in between meals for optimal function.
- H.Pylori: Get checked for H. Pylori if you regularly have heartburn, reflux, indigestion, pain in your stomach area (under rib cage), pain when lying down, unexplained nausea. Find a functional doctor or nutritionist to test you.
Chronic Illnesses and Diseases Associated with Low Stomach Acid:
- Pernicious Anemia
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis
- Grave’s Disease
- Celiac Disease
- Diabetes (Type 1)
- Food sensitivities
- Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
- Gallbladder disease
The Dangers of Antacids:
Since antacids neutralize stomach acid, all of the above problems are dangers of using antacids. Other adverse effects:
- Aluminum consumption: Aluminum is a heavy metal that we don’t want in our bodies. It competes for our magnesium, calcium, and iron receptors. It can “fill” those receptors causing a deficiency in one or more of those minerals. Also, aluminum has been linked with Alzheimer’s although more studies are needed.
The Dangers of Acid-Suppressors:
All of the above problems are associated with using acid-suppressors since they suppress acid production. Other adverse effects:
- interference with estradiol and testosterone metabolism
- sexual dysfunction (men)
- breast enlargement (men)
The Dangers of PPIs:
Since PPIs inhibit stomach production, all of the above problems are dangers of using them. You are cutting off the start of the digestive cascade right at the start, so nutrient deficiencies, mal-digested foods, leaky gut, food sensitivities, autoimmune disease, etc are all possibilities. Other adverse effects:
- skin reaction
I Think I Have Too Much Stomach Acid: There are people who have too much stomach acid. This is more the exception that the rule, however! A person who might have too much stomach acid is young and healthy and generally an overachiever living off of their stress. If you think this is you, have a doctor measure your stomach acid. If this used to be you, know that as your body got tired and depleted, you swung to the other side of having too little stomach acid. Do not let your doctor put you on a PPI without testing your acid levels first!!!
Do you think you have low stomach acid? Do you take supplemental HCL? Zinc? Magnesium? B vitamins?
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I love that you put deficiency in basic nutrients first on your list of causes! I’ve read a lot about what I shouldn’t do, but I already know most of that stuff. I love to have the reminder to keep focusing on healthy foods for natural sources of acid production and control. Much easier to do with kids, too!
Yes, it becomes a bit of a vicious cycle when people aren’t eating nutrient-dense foods!
I followed the Leaky Gut protocol last year and felt so much better after doing it, my skin cleared up, I slept better, etc. I was just telling my husband I need to do it again and it is on my to do list to get the papers out. So funny the timing of me reading your article! I forgot about HCL, but I did take that when I followed the diet as well. Thanks for the reminders!
I’m so glad you found this a helpful reminder! 🙂
This is a fascinating post! Over the past year I’ve had rosacea appear on my face, so I thought it was interesting that it was listed as a symptom here. I’m going to try some of your tips to increase my stomach acid. Really great info!!
I’m so glad you found this post helpful! Also important in clearing up rosacea is B12 (choose a methylcobalamin when supplementing) and a spore-based probiotic such as Thrive or Megaspore!
I love your posts! This is so interesting… it also totally makes sense about the pressure building up as foods ferment! I’ve never thought of that happening within the body.
I don’t think I have low stomach acid and we don’t take many supplements. I do use a topical magnesium lotion.
Thanks for very detailed explanation of deficiency and actions that one should take. I like the reminder about timing and drinking water during meals. That is my bad habit.