If you want to find out what’s causing a health problem you have, it could be a simple fix – improve your low stomach acid! It’s a condition that so many have and something that is stopping us from being our healthiest!
I heard about it before, but I just recently realized the importance of having adequate stomach acid (hydrochloric acid). Stomach acid is essential for digesting food because it aids in breaking down the nutrients and stimulates digestive enzymes.
I came across some information just last week about how common low stomach acid is and surprisingly, I read that 90% of us do NOT have enough stomach acid to digest food optimally! This was very surprising to me because it’s not that well known as a health problem and seldom talked about.
Why did I start researching low stomach acid? Well, for the past few years despite having a pretty good diet focused on eating foods that are rich sources of vitamins and nutrients, I was still low in some vitamins. I thought, how can this be, why am I not absorbing them? So, I looked up causes of poor absorption of vitamins, and there it was; the primary reason was low stomach acid!
I was excited to find out about low stomach acid because I thought that this might be causing or exacerbating my acne.
What is Low Stomach Acid?
When you don’t have enough stomach acid, it is typically referred to as hypochlorhydria. We all need stomach acid in order to properly digest the foods we eat. Without enough stomach acid the food we eat is not completely digested leading to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
What happens is that as you begin chewing food, the stomach is stimulated and starts producing more acid. Stomach acid is naturally produced in cells lining the stomach. The stomach acid (also called hydrochloric acid or HCL), then activates cells in the stomach which causes a protein digesting enzyme called pepsinogen to be released. The acidic environment is essential for proteins from food to breakdown into amino acids.
Not only is low stomach acid a problem because your body isn’t able to fully digest foods resulting in undigested foods ending up in your intestines, but also the improperly digested foods can be a source of harmful bacteria, fungi, and yeast. This is because the acid helps prevent infection by eliminating harmful bacteria or yeast in food.
What Causes Low Stomach Acid?
Even if you eat a perfect diet, you can have low stomach acid! One common cause that contributes to low stomach acid is eating too fast. When you eat fast you often don’t take the time to chew your food enough. The longer you chew your food, the more stomach acid your body produces. If you don’t have enough stomach acid, you can’t digest or effectively absorb all of those fantastic vitamins and nutrients.
Here are the most common causes of low stomach acid:
- Adrenal fatigue
- Thyroid Issues (hyperthyroid or hypothyroid)
- Western Diet (typical American diet) – Too many omega 6’s, high carbohydrate intake and processed foods
- Previous/current use of anti-acids
- Prescription medications
- Vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies –such as lack of zinc and vitamin B
- Autoimmune diseases
Signs You May Have Low stomach Acid/ Health Problems that are Caused by Low Stomach Acid:
The following conditions have been found to be linked to low stomach acid. Many have found that improving their low stomach acid resulted in an improvement in their condition.
Here are the most common symptoms/signs you have low stomach acid:
- Keratosis pilaris (chicken skin)
- Other skin conditions such as psoriasis or dermatitis
- Irregular bowel movements (not going every day consistently)
- Weight gain
- Leaky Gut syndrome (not properly absorbing nutrients, may be evident as seen in blood tests showing vitamin deficiencies)
- Allergies – both seasonal and food allergies
- Low white blood cell count
- Digestive Issues – such as nausea during or after eating or an upset stomach
- Infections from parasites/fungi/yeast
- Autoimmune diseases
- Dry skin and/or brittle nails
Since low stomach acid is so common, many don’t have adequate levels. If you are suffering from any of the above health conditions, it would be worth a try to improve your stomach acid levels to see if it eliminates your condition/symptoms.
How to Test for Low Stomach Acid:
There are 2 primary ways to determine if you have low stomach acid. The first is the Heidelberg pH test, but since it is very expensive and requires a doctor’s visit, I’ll focus on the second option, using a supplement, Betaine HCL, a digestive enzyme.
1. The Heidelberg Stomach Acid Test
This test involves taking a small capsule that contains a radio transmitter inside. The contents of the capsule are able to determine the pH of your stomach and the results are observed on a graph. The test is said to be very accurate, but the test costs over $300 and it may be tough to find a place that does it, so next, let’s skip right to the easiest way to determine if you don’t have enough stomach acid.
This at home ‘self-test’ is easy to do and it is said to be one of the most accurate ways to determine if you have low stomach acid.
Betaine HCL is a digestive enzyme. You typically take it at the beginning of your meal for every meal you eat, especially those with protein. The supplement helps increase the level of stomach acid so you are able to properly digest foods.
This test involves finding the right dose of Betaine HCL for you.It can vary from person to person. One person may need just one capsule and another may need six in order to reach the most beneficial dose.
To do the test:
1) Take 1 capsule of Betaine HCL (648mg) right at the beginning of a meal. Make sure it’s a meal with protein and fat, not just all carbs.
2) Continue your meal and just be observant. Monitor how you feel by seeing if you notice any changes with stomach or digestion. For example, if you experience a warming sensation in your stomach, start burping or if your stomach becomes upset, this is important to note.
If you have no signs of discomfort than go on to step 3. If you do experience discomfort, then discontinue the supplement or empty half of the capsule out and try the smaller dose for the next meal.
3) So, you had no signs, the meal went as normal? Then, at your next meal take 2 capsules at the beginning of the meal. Again, be observant before and after the meal.
4) If you experience any signs of discomfort with 2 capsules, then go back to having 1 capsule and take it every day at the beginning of each meal.
If you don’t experience any discomfort go on to using 3 capsules with the meal.
*Keep increasing the number of capsules you take until you feel some discomfort. When you do experience discomfort with a certain number of capsules, then your optimal dose is one capsule less.
*Note: If you are currently taking any over the counter pain medications (such as NSAID’s) or corticosteroids, you will need to speak with your doctor before doing this test as it can increase the risk of a stomach ulcer.
How to Treat Low Stomach Acid
Best Way to Treat it:
When it comes to low stomach acid it would be best to find the cause –the reason why you are not producing enough stomach acid and treat that. However, since finding the cause can be difficult and also, in the mean time you’re not getting adequate digestion or absorption, this is causing a vicious cycle. So, it is best to treat it with a Betaine HCL supplement.
Use the Betaine HCL self-test listed above to determine how many capsules to take with each meal. I take the Betaine HCL supplement with pepsin, see the kind I use here.
After starting the supplement you should start to notice an improvement in some symptoms right away, such as constipation or stomach upset. For other symptoms, such as autoimmune conditions or skin problems like acne, it may take several weeks until you see results as your body begins to properly digest foods and the absorption of nutrients increases.
In addition to using the Betaine HCL supplement, there are many changes you can make and natural ways to increase stomach acid, as well. It may take longer to see results from using the natural measures, so it is best to combine using the Betaine HCL supplement with the following suggestions to achieve the best results.
Additional Natural Ways to Treat Low Stomach Acid:
1. Add 1 tablespoon of raw organic apple cider vinegar to a glass of water and drink it about 15 minutes before your meals. (I do this with every meal). This aids in digestion and naturally encourages an increase in HCL production.
2. Add lemon or lime to you drinks with meals. Similarly to the apple cider vinegar, the acidic nature of these fruits helps with digestion.
3. Eat salt with your meals. Make sure it is either Celtic sea salt or Himalayan Pink Salt. Salt helps increase stomach acid production.
4. Reduce the amount of carbohydrates you eat. Try a paleo diet focused on good sources of protein and healthy fats. Carbs significantly reduce the amount of stomach acid produced.
5. Get zinc– Either eat foods that are high in zinc such as pumpkin seeds or take a supplement. Zinc is essential for the production of stomach acid.
6. Drink several ounces of cabbage juice, it is supposed to increase stomach acid production.
7. Eat fermented foods, especially fermented sauerkraut with each meal, it increases stomach acid.
8. Reduce stress, particularly around meal time. Stress and anxiety severely hinder stomach acid production.
9. Drink Water! – A study found that those who drank water compared to those who took pharmaceutical acid-inhibiting drugs, increased there stomach pH in just minutes.
My Experience Treating Low Stomach Acid
As I mentioned earlier, I have only just begun treating my low stomach acid. I did the Betaine HCL test and found that my optimal dose was 2 capsules with each meal. In just a few days, I noticed my stomach stopped feeling upset after breakfast. I hope to post an update after I give it at least a full month (since it’s still only been about a week) and see what other improvements I have gained from taking the Betaine HCL supplement and implementing the above natural ways to increase stomach acid.