Is Low Stomach Acid 1st Sign of Chronic Disease?

Producing adequate amounts of hydrochloric acid (HCl) is crucial for digestion & to prevent pathogens from entering us.  While our body & most of its systems operate ideally in an alkaline state, digestion can only function properly with very strong stomach acid.

One of the first major signs of disease may be low stomach acid.  Hypochlorhydria is when we don’t produce enough HCl, resulting in indigestion, inflammation, & infections.

Inadequate chewing & producing insufficient amounts of HCl appear to be foundational common denominators shared by a majority of chronic disease suffers.  When saliva & stomach acid don’t adequately breakdown our food, it appears to guarantee a downward health spiral.

Functions of Stomach Acid

A healthy stomach at work is extremely acidic, producing more than a quart (liter) of gastric fluid a day, comprised mostly of HCl, plus enzymes, & mucus that coats & protects the stomach lining.  This helps our body breakdown, digest, & absorb nutrients, all while protecting us from the burning acid that kills harmful bacteria, yeast, viruses, & parasites that hitch a ride in on our food.

Strong stomach acid is also a trigger to release its vital ally, pepsin enzyme, both of which are necessary to reduce proteins down into their amino acid building blocks.  Without sufficient stomach acid, there’s ineffective protein absorption since the amino acid chains are simply too big to fit through the openings.

The same is true for the inadequate absorption of vitamins, fats, & minerals; we are not what we eat, but what we absorb.  Unless our digestive system can unlock individual nutrients, then clusters of them just travel through us rotting, before being ejected as waste.  Supplements don’t help if we can’t absorb them.

The body’s response system works on thresholds, which once met, means commencing a cascade of triggered reactions.  It takes adequate levels of acid to open & close stomach sphincter valves, as well as stimulate the pancreas & gallbladder to release essential digestive bile & enzymes.

Signs of Low Stomach Acid

The first signs that we don’t have enough stomach acid usually show up within a few hours after eating & may include:

  • Feeling overly full after regular meals‌
  • Feeling as though we want to eat, even when not hungry
  • Burp, flatulent, or bloated after eating, often with an unpleasant taste & smell in your mouth.
  • Bad Breath / Halitosis
  • Nausea after taking supplements
  • Undigested food in stool
  • Rectal Itching

Most Heartburn Is Due to Low Stomach Acid

Until the stomach is acidic enough, the sphincter that let the food in isn’t signaled to close tightly.  Insufficient HCl means the stomach has to laboriously knead food apart, for a much longer time, which can force the sphincter open, & even a microscopic quantity of HCl is excruciating to our very sensitive esophagus.

Also, a critical level of stomach acid is necessary to drain chime into the intestines.  Low HCl causes food to putrefy or ferment gases in the stomach, causing a foul taste & smell, which can push up on the esophageal sphincter causing heartburn, aka. acid reflux, or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).

At epidemic levels today, more than 40% of Americans suffer from acid reflux every month, while 10% experience it daily.  Unfortunately, the symptoms of having too little stomach acid can be the same as having too much, so excess stomach acid originally got the blame for acid reflux.

However, in about 90% of cases, the actual cause of heartburn is low stomach acid.

Increased Intestinal Permeability

Low acidity is not strong enough to kill all germs, increasing the risk of GI infections like E. coli, salmonella, or H. pylori.  As bacteria, fungi, & viruses build up in the gut, they begin to create a microbiome imbalance, called dysbiosis.

Under these altered conditions, the muscle of the GI lining weakens, & opportunistic microbes like Candida change their shape to burrow into this weakened tissue.  This leads to increased intestinal permeability, coined a “leaky gut”, since this allows particles to directly enter the bloodstream that shouldn’t.

This triggers an inflammatory response, with immune cells rushing in to fight these invaders, most of which are just larger than normal food particles.  Even though the immune system is quickly exhausted & ineffective, the response continues since meals keep coming.

Inflammation is necessary to help get rid of pathogens & dead cells, but results in a downward spiral when caused by low HCl, as inflammation also causes low HCl, since it increases stress hormones in the body, which signal a reduction in non-fight or flight related bodily activities, such as digestion.

Other Effects of Low Stomach Acid

When we lack stomach acid, the whole body becomes deprived of nutrients, causing neurological issues such as numbness, tingling, & vision changes, as well as throwing our gut microbiome out of balance.

This brings diarrhea, constipation, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), plus malabsorption of various vitamins, minerals, & proteins can lead to leg cramps, allergies, asthma, gallstones, gastritis, Celiac disease, acne, eczema, psoriasis, pernicious anemia, lupus, & other autoimmune disorders.

If we ignore the signs of low stomach acid, then we will begin to experience at least some of the following:

Allergies & Food Sensitivities – Poorly digested food particles that enter the bloodstream via leaky gut irritants, stimulate an immune response & the release of histamine.  Histamine is the chemical that causes the itchy throat, runny nose, & watering eyes, low blood pressure, & itching.

Candida + SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) – More unwanted microbes proliferate under low HCl; plus poorly digested, low fiber foods move more slowly through the GI tract, so they quickly multiply with more food & more time to eat.

Depression & Anxiety  Low stomach acid is often overlooked, even though deficiencies in iron, zinc, magnesium, & copper are all linked to increased depression & anxiety.

Hair & Skin Issues  A healthy gut absorbing iron, zinc, & B vitamins is needed for healthy hair & skin.  Weak, cracked, or damaged nails are due to improper absorption of calcium, B12, & other needed minerals

H. pylori – Helicobacter pylori are bacteria normally killed by adequate HCl.  But under chronic low acidity, they infect the stomach lining, causing gastric ulcers & are associated with stomach cancer.

Osteoporosis  Low stomach acid actually leads to acidified blood, & the more acidic our blood is, the more likely our blood will leech neutralizing calcium from our bones.

Thyroid Dysfunction  Poor nutrient absorption limits the amount of thyroid hormone that can be produced.  A hypothyroid patient’s stomach takes twice as long to empty after eating due to lower HCl levels.

Hypothyroidism also causes low stomach acid, creating another vicious cycle.

Causes of Low Stomach Acid

Diet is the main cause & solution to any digestive issue.  Processed or sugary foods, sodas, alcohol, caffeine, & smoking all reduce stomach acid levels.  A poor diet eventually leads to atrophy of the intestinal lining, just like any nutrient robbed muscle.

The other major known causes of low HCl production are:

StressChronic stress may be the main cause of low HCl, since stress perception triggers our Flight or Flight Response, drawing blood & energy away from digestion to give to muscles.

MedicationsAntacids or medications prescribed to treat ulcers & heartburn purposely lower HCl.  Antibiotics & the long-term use of antihistamines & NSAIDs increase inflammation, which reduces stomach acid.

Gastric Bypass Surgery – Greatly reduces the number of cells that release HCl.

Tests that Tell on Low Stomach Acid

‌Before taking an acid lowering antacid, or acid blocking or PPI medication, get tested to ensure that it’s because you suffer from the much more rare state of hyperchlorhydria, where we produce too much stomach acid.

The Heidelberg Test

Accurate & can be performed in your doctor’s office.  But, it’s expensive & involves swallowing a retrievable pH probe, so it’s never caught on.

                Digestive Stomach Acid
      • pH less than 3 = normal
      • pH of 3 – 5 = hypochlorhydria (low acid)
      • pH higher than 5 = achlorhydria (no acid)

Baking Soda Burp Test

  1. First thing in the morning before eating, drinking, or brushing, mix ¼ teaspoon of organic baking soda in 4 oz. of room temperature water
  2. Drink the entire glass (which will taste salty & a little metallic)
  3. Set a timer & wait for the burp!
      • Before 1 minute = high HCl
      • 1-3 minutes = normal HCl
      • 3-5 minutes = low HCl
      • 5 minutes or longer/no burb at all = warning! very low HCl!

Baking soda is alkaline, when it mixes with HCl in the stomach it creates rising bubbles.  However, many report feeling nauseous for a little while after this test, & it can’t be performed while taking acid reflux medications, both of which greatly limit its use.

Dietary Changes to Increase Stomach Acid

Sauerkraut – Extremely important for gut health when eaten raw; quality sauerkraut provides probiotics, digestive enzymes, & digestive acid.

Apple Cider Vinegar with “Mother” – Helps acidify the stomach, it’s a source of beneficial prebiotics & probiotics.  A common practice is to drink 2 tablespoons mixed in 16 oz. of water a day.

Bitters – Broccoli, chamomile, cilantro, dandelion, kale, mint, sage, sorrel, & yarrow are stimulating to the digestive tract, which supports healthy acid production.

Ginger is a powerful digestive aid that helps reduce risk of stomach ulcers, decreases inflammation from low stomach acid, aids nutrient absorption, & reduces nausea.

Marshmallow Root – Helped keep the GI mucus lining healthy for thousands of years.  May help heal gastric ulcers too.

Microgreens – Nutrient dense, easy to grow, & provide extremely high amounts of easier to absorb nutrients.

Raw, Whole Foods – Easily digestible & absorbable since they contain their own digestive enzymes & fiber.

Time Restricted Eating – Eat two meals a day, in a 6 – 8 hour window between first thing consumed (besides water) & last thing consumed.

Water – Absorbable, quality water cleanses the entire GI system, assists the intestines in breaking down food, & prevents constipation by softening stools.  We want to avoid drinking liquids before & during meals.

Other Natural Ways to Increase Stomach Acid

Besides our diet, we can ensure getting enough moderate, regular exercise; as well as quality sleep, not just by just sticking to an early bedtime routine, but by shutting off our Wi-Fi signal before bed, having no electronic devises in the bedroom, & wearing blue light blocking glasses after sundown.

Other natural ways to increase our stomach acid are:

Manuka Honey – Known as a healing tool in New Zealand, Manuka Honey has antimicrobial properties that may work to combat harmful bacteria in the small intestine.

Digestive Enzyme Supplement – Adds natural enzymes to help breakdown food.  People struggling with HCl production would take one before every meal.

HCL Supplement – Taken right before eating, a quality Betaine HCl with Pepsin enzyme added helps to acidify the stomach & much more effectively digest our food.  This supplement should not be taken prior to low protein meals.

Stress Relief – Meditation, Yoga, Tai Chi – These ancient practices, or focused moderate exercise, nature walks, or breath work can help ensure that we don’t spend our digestive time in the Fight or Flight mode, which purposely reduces HCl.

Re-Seed Our Gut – Once we’ve reached dysbiosis, repopulating the microbiome balance of our gut is key.  This FMT treatment has thousands of bacteria already living in healthy ratios, so this is where to get the best stool transplant, in acid-resistant oral capsules, freeze dried from a single, constantly tested super donor.

The Gut Guru

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