Low stomach acid levels is a common cause of digestive issues. Having enough stomach acid is crucial for our digestive system to function properly. Mention stomach acid and most people will have a negative reaction, immediately thinking of excessive stomach acid as the cause of heartburn. But stomach acid is a powerful and beneficial substance, and excess levels of stomach acid do not appear to be as common as many believe. Often, it is a lack of stomach acid which contributes to heartburn and other stomach problems, because it is so important for digestion to function. Stomach acid is so acidic that if you could extract stomach acid and pour it on your hand you would get quite a burn. It is the hydrochloric acid in stomach acid that lowers the pH to between 1 and 3 on the pH scale, which is extremely acidic. Most parts of our body have a pH around 7.3, while water has a pH of 7.0, which is considered neutral. Despite the caustic nature of this substance, it works wonders within our digestive system. Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid Levels:
We now know that there are a variety of disorders, some of which are listed above, that may be linked to the manufacture of too little stomach acid. Among other functions, stomach acid is essential for us to break down the food we eat and kill invasive bacteria and parasites that are hiding in our food.
Stomach acid in the stomach starts the breakdown of food, most importantly protein, by activating the enzyme pepsin. Pepsin is like a small pair of scissors that efficiently cuts and break the protein into smaller pieces. If we produce too little stomach acid, or if it is not acidic enough, protein will not be sufficiently broken down into amino acids which the body uses as building blocks for a variety of essential substances. Long-term amino acid deficiencies contribute to many ailments, both physical and mental, as amino acids are also required for the manufacture of neurotransmitters in the brain that affect our mood. When the acidic stomach juices pass into the small intestine, the acidity stimulates the secretion of bile that then helps in the breakdown of fat and the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients. Because of this vital role in fat digestion, stomach acid deficiency can also lead to reduced uptake of omega-3 fatty acids as well as vitamins A, D, E and K.
The food that enters your stomach can contain a number of tiny invaders that you do not want to allow further into your body. Fortunately, most bacteria, parasites, and other microorganisms die a quick death when they dive into the acidic pool of stomach acid. Our acid pool must be maintained to protect us against other uninvited guests such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, Cholera, Listeria, Giardia, Helicobacter pylori, and other unpleasant pathogens. Most have experienced stomach illnesses due to unwanted intruders, so we know how unpleasant these illnesses can be Stomach acid is our ally in the fight against intruders, and it is needed in sufficient quantities for us to remain in good health. And as with most things in life, trouble tends to arise both when you have too much or too little of something. A lack of stomach acid increases the risk of, among other things, nutrient deficiency, gas formation, bloating, heartburn, stomach aches, and infections to name but a few. There are also a variety of more serious ailments that are linked with low levels of stomach acid secretion.
Since stomach acid can have a significant impact on our health, it is a good idea to test whether we have the right levels. Here are 3 different tests that can be done which vary in reliability, cost, and simplicity.
It is sometimes possible to schedule a 24-hour pH measurement through vårdcentralen (check with your local clinic outside of Sweden). This is the most accurate method, but is also more expensive and more complicated than the other tests. The measurement can be made in two ways. The first method involves placing a thin tube down into the stomach through the esophagus, leaving it there for 24 hours and writing notes when you feel discomfort. The acidity of the stomach and the esophagus is also measured as the tube passes through. The second method is to affix a small capsule just below the lower esophageal opening for several days. Depending on the level of acidity, the capsule sends out different radio signals that can be measured. This test makes it unnecessary to have the discomfort of a hose through the nose. This test is the most accurate, but considerably more complicated and rarely used as most of us do not need to get such a precise measurement.
There is a far simpler test you can do at home with the help of some baking soda. When you drink a baking soda solution, and it reacts with hydrochloric acid in the stomach, it forms carbon dioxide causing us to belch. The problem with this simple test is that it can be affected by several factors which can give inaccurate results. To ensure accurate results, the test should be performed at least 3 mornings in a row, following the instructions carefully. I do know that the reliability of this test has been called into question in some studies, but the results may still be of value when the indication is strong. Instructions for the baking soda test:
If you belch within 2 to 3 minutes, it is an indication that you have enough stomach acid secretion. If you belch quickly and repeatedly, it may indicate excessive stomach acid secretion. But do not confuse measurable belches with the small burps which may arise from swallowing air with the baking soda solution. If it takes longer than 3 minutes before you belch, it indicates that you have a lack of stomach acid secretion. So, this is a very simple test to take at home that may give a preliminary indication of your stomach acid levels. But one cannot draw definitive conclusions from this test. If a lack of stomach acid is suspected, one should also continue to the next test: the HCL test.
A more reliable home test can be done with betaine HCL supplements. HCL is hydrochloric acid, the same substance your stomach produces and which makes stomach acid so acidic. If you have a lack of stomach acid, and take a betaine HCL supplement with a meal that is rich in protein, you will either notice no difference or your stomach will feel better than usual. If you have enough stomach acid, then the addition of more HCL will give you a slightly uncomfortable feeling in the chest or throat. With this test, you can get a good indication of whether you have adequate levels of acidity. Do the HCL test as follows:
Your body will react in one of two ways:
Ensure that you repeat this test at least once to get reliable results. Also, be sure to eat enough protein when conducting the test, rather than a meal that contains mostly carbohydrates or fat. Should you experience discomfort after taking HCL supplements, you can quickly neutralize the acid by drinking a glass of water with ½ teaspoon of baking soda, or the symptoms will typically subside within an hour. You should not attempt the HCL test if you have an ulcer or take medicinal products that may irritate the stomach, such as anti-inflammatory NSAID preparations (Ibuprofen, aspirin, Voltaren, Magnecyl, Treo,etc.
I have too little stomach acid, how can i fix this? Discovering that you have a lack of stomach acid is both a positive and negative. A lack of stomach acid is clearly an undesirable condition, but on the positive side, you now know the probable cause of your stomach discomfort. And once you begin to make the changes necessary to restore normal levels, you can usually see results very quickly, even in days and weeks rather than months. I have seen clients who experienced significant relief from stomach discomfort within only 2 to 3 days. So how can you restore normal levels of stomach acid? Two of the simplest home remedies are apple cider vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice taken just before a meal. Drink 1-3 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice in a glass of water 10 minutes before a meal. Start with the lowest dose and gradually increase. Alternatively, squeeze the juice of 1 lemon and drink half before a meal and half in the middle of the meal. Apple cider vinegar and lemon juice are easy starter remedies, but if you have a severe deficit of stomach acid, you will probably need to supplement with HCL capsules to see significant results. When you take HCL supplements, such as Betain HCL, it is important that it is with a full, protein-rich meal, not just carbohydrates or fat. You should take the HCL supplement after a few bites of food so that there is already food present in the stomach for the stomach acid to work on. If you have sensitive, damaged mucous membranes in the stomach, you should not take HCL supplements. This applies to conditions such as ulcers or the use of drugs that may irritate the stomach and intestines, which include anti-inflammatory NSAID preparations (Ibuprofen, aspirin, Voltaren, Magnecyl, Treo, etc.) If you are not sure about potential negative drug interactions, consult with your health care provider before taking HCL supplements. If the above contraindications do not apply to you, HCL supplements can often offer great relief from stomach ailments. Start with one capsule with a protein-rich meal and gradually increase to up to 4 capsules, as long as you do not experience any discomfort. The larger the meal the more your body needs supplemental stomach acid. The need is different from person to person and can also change over time. In the best-case scenario, supplementation stimulates the body’s own production of stomach acid, helping your body to heal itself. I hope that this article can help you find one of the pieces of the puzzle leading to a calmer stomach free from discomfort.