Is Low Stomach Acid Damaging Your Health?

Most of us know the old adage, “you are what you eat” but I would expand that to be “you are what you eat, digest and absorb.” Yet many people suffer from poor digestion, particularly low stomach acid. If your digestion is weak, you’ll most likely suffer from nutritional deficiencies no matter how well you eat or how many vitamins and minerals you take. That’s because your body needs to break food and supplements down into their smallest nutritional components before they can be absorbed into your bloodstream.

Contrary to popular misconception, indigestion, bloating, gas and even heartburn, is more often linked to low stomach acidity than too much. These symptoms, among others, are often the result of food sitting in the stomach longer than it should in an effort to digest them.

If there was sufficient stomach acid then digestion works smoothly and moves through the body in a more efficient manner and we’d experience less indigestion, bloating and gas. If digestion backs up in the stomach, there is also a greater risk of pressure on the ring of muscle separating the stomach and the esophagus, which may result in stomach acid splashing into the esophagus, resulting in heart burn.

Officially called hydrochloric acid, stomach acid is essential to the digestion of protein, which forms into the building blocks of muscles, tissues and even your genetic material—amino acids. It even helps to kill any harmful microbes that accompany the food we eat, making us less vulnerable to food poisoning or other infectious diseases.

Stomach acid also helps to break down vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from the food you eat and to ensure the proper absorption of critical nutrients, including:  niacin, folic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin C, beta carotene, magnesium, iron, zinc and calcium. All of these vitamins and minerals are needed in sufficient amounts to ensure you have sufficient energy, a strong immune system against disease, balanced hormones, as well as strong bones, eyes, teeth and organs.

As we age, hydrochloric acid tends to become depleted. Additionally, it is reduced by eating complex meals (that’s most meals in the Western Diet), excessive eating and high protein intake. And if you have a sluggish thyroid gland you may also be prone to insufficient hydrochloric acid. Some medications may reduce stomach acid levels which only further exacerbate the problem. Popping antacids renders hydrochloric acid useless by neutralizing its acidity.

Not only can low stomach acid, or hypochlorhydria as it is officially called, result in nutritional deficiencies, it can cause fatigue, insufficient pancreatic digestive enzymes and food allergies. But, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some of the symptoms and conditions that have been associated with low stomach acid. Keep in mind that nutrients are the building blocks of every cell, tissue, organ, gland and organ system in our body. Without adequate digestion, we can suffer from a multitude of nutrient deficiencies, which over time can result in a whole host of health problems.

Symptoms and Conditions Associated with Low Stomach Acid

Cabbage (Brassica oleracea)

Asthma

Autoimmune disorders

Bloating

Candidiasis—chronic

Celiac disease

Constipation

Diabetes mellitus

Diarrhea

Dilated capillaries in the cheeks and nose (in non-alcoholics)

Distention after eating

Dry mouth

Eczema

Fingernails that are weak, peeling and cracked

Food allergies

Gas

Hair loss in women

Heartburn

Hives

Indigestion

Intestinal parasites—chronic

Iron deficiency

Lupus

Malaise

Multiple food allergies

Nausea

Nausea after taking supplements

Osteoporosis

Parasitic infections

Pernicious anemia

Post-adolescent acne

Psoriasis

Restless legs

Rosacea

Sore or burning tongue

Vitiligo (skin disorder involving white patches)

8 Ways to Address Low Stomach Acid

A bottle of apple cider vinegar with apples

There are many ways you can reduce the burden on the hydrochloric acid secreted in your stomach or boost production. Here are some of the best ways to give your stomach acid a boost:

Eat More Fermented Foods

Whether you like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt or vegan yogurt, fermented foods are predigested by beneficial microorganisms known as probiotics to help make digestion easier. Ideally, enjoy a small amount of fermented foods at each meal.

Eat Less Animal Protein

While most people incorrectly assume that plant-based foods are harder to digest than animal ones, the reality is quite the opposite. High amounts of stomach acid are required to digest animal protein. Fortunately, there are many excellent plant sources of protein, including: nuts (choose raw, unsalted almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts), seeds (including chia, flaxseeds, hempseeds, pumpkin seeds, quinoa, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds), legumes (kidney beans, black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, Romano beans, chickpeas, among others), as well as avocado, coconut and plant-based alternatives to milk and cheese.

Eat Smaller, Less Complex Meals

Most of us eat more than we need and eat more complex meals than we should. We may think a burger, fries, soft drink, followed by a dessert of some sort is normal but the body was never designed to eat this way. By eating smaller, simpler meals you’ll quickly notice many of your digestive symptoms disappear.

Drink Apple Cider Vinegar

Add a tablespoon of unfiltered, unpasteurized, organic apple cider vinegar to a half cup of water and drink about 10 minutes prior to eating. This will help boost your body’s ability to digest foods. Avoid apple cider vinegar if you have a stomach ulcer.

Eat More Raw Foods

Raw foods like fruits, vegetables and sprouts, contain all the enzymes needed to digest the food. Provided you chew them well enough, these foods are highly digestible and their nutrients are easily absorbed into the bloodstream.

Chew Your Food

Your stomach is not meant to perform all digestive activities. Your teeth are designed to ensure that the food you eat is already broken down by the time it gets to your stomach. And, during the chewing process, a digestive juice known as ptyalin mixes with food to help digestion get started well before your food reaches your stomach. Try to chew every bite of food at least 30 to 40 times.

Supplement with Betaine Hydrochloride and Pepsin

Supplementing with these digestion aids will help ensure you have sufficient stomach acid to digest the foods you’re eating. Take with meals. Follow package instructions for the product you select. Avoid using if you have an ulcer.

Take Digestive Enzymes

Supplementing with a full-spectrum enzyme that contains protease to digest proteins, lipase to digest fats, amylase to digest carbohydrates, and cellulase and hemicellulase to digest fiber can help. Be sure the product you choose is free of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) since many enzyme products contain GMOs.

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Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News, the Cultured Cook, co-founder of BestPlaceinCanada, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight & Extend Your LifeFollow her work.

144 comments

Lesa D
Lesa Dabout a month ago

thank you Michelle...

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hELEN h
hELEN habout a month ago

tyfs

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Ruth S
Ruth Sabout a month ago

Thanks.

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Carole R
Carole Rabout a month ago

Thanks. Some good ideas.

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danii p
danii p1 months ago

thanks for sharing

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danii p
danii p1 months ago

Thank you

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danii p
danii p1 months ago

Thank you

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danii p
danii p1 months ago

Thank you

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Frances G
Frances G1 months ago

thanks

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson1 months ago

Thank you.

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