Many symptoms commonly associated with too much stomach acid, like heartburn, reflux, and indigestion, are actually signs that you have too little stomach acid.
And that’s not all. If you find yourself burping or bloating after meals, you prefer meals high in carbs, or you feel chronically fatigued – these are even more indications that you don’t have enough stomach acid.
Keep reading to learn the importance of this gastric juice and how to increase stomach acid naturally. Since low levels of stomach acid can create nutritional deficiencies that lead to many poor health outcomes, taking the time to learn about how to improve this digestive function is vital.
Before we dig in, I wanted to remind you that I am not a doctor and this article is for educational purposes. Consult a medical professional for any health conditions talked about in this article.
What Is Stomach Acid?
Stomach acid is part of the gastric juice your body produces to help digest meals properly. Since it’s known in the medical world as hydrochloric acid, the stomach acid abbreviation is HCL. These terms are used interchangeably.
Important facts about stomach acid include:
- The gastric juices (mostly made up of HCL) used to break down food is only the first part of the digestive process. You also need proper bile flow to complete digestion.
- Stomach acid decreases as you age. Certain foods and medications assist in this decline.
- Poor diet, including avoiding animal protein, can also reduce stomach acidity overtime.
- Despite popular belief, most people would benefit from more hydrochloric acid with meals.
- Stomach acid is highly acidic, with a pH range from 1-3. This means at its strongest level, it’s just below battery acid!
But wait – can stomach acid dissolve metal? It can! Of course, that doesn’t mean you should swallow metal since choking hazards still exist. Plus, digestion won’t save you if you have weak stomach acid. Either way, it’s not a good idea.
Why Stomach Acid Is Good For You
With a pH strong enough to dissolve metal, you may be wondering what is the function of hydrochloric acid in the stomach?
First thing, stomach acid plays a crucial role in deconstructing proteins into usable blocks to be used by the body for energy. It also assists in the breakdown of important vitamins and minerals in order to be absorbed and utilized.
Furthermore, stomach acid is essential in fighting off harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi that are absorbed through the mouth and nose. Since you come into contact with more than 60,000 different germs on a daily basis, this digestive fluid plays an important role in helping you build a strong immune system.
Another important role of strong stomach acid production is it helps your lower esophageal sphincter stay closed. Since this may not mean much to you on the surface, let’s talk more about why that’s important.
LES – Lower Esophageal Sphincter
The muscle at the end of the esophagus that leads to the stomach opening is called the lower esophageal sphincter. Stomach acid acts as a trigger to close this flap. If you don’t produce enough stomach acid to close the LES, food shoots back up your esophagus.
This is why low stomach acid leads to problems like heartburn, reflux, and other conditions associated with GERD. That burning sensation isn’t from too much stomach acid. The burning happens from not having enough acid to close the LES.
While taking antacids or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) may lead to temporary relief, their main purpose is to lower stomach acid. This creates an even bigger problem, especially with long-term use.
You already learned stomach acid’s role in breaking food down. This process helps liberate vitamins and minerals from food so your body can perform vital functions.
Some deficiencies that can result when low stomach acid levels exist include:
- B vitamins (including vitamin B12 and vitamin B6)
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Folic Acid
Being deficient in any of these vitamins and minerals are risk factors for more serious conditions. For example, a vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to a rare autoimmune condition called atrophic gastritis. Of course, you may also just feel fatigued when deficient in this important B vitamin.
Your body also won’t have the ability to effectively break protein down into amino acids, which are often referred to as the building blocks of life.
Is Your Stomach Acid Low?
There are a few ways to determine if your HCL production is low. You can either choose the testing route, or you can closely analyze the symptoms that can indicate low stomach acid.
Low Stomach Acid Test
Your doctor can perform a Heidelberg test to look for low stomach acidity. While this route is effective at diagnosing low stomach acid, many doctors are only taught to look at too much stomach acid as being the cause of your upset stomach. This might have something to do with antacids being a $7 billion a year industry, but we can’t be sure.
You can also try a simple home test called the baking soda stomach acid test, which can help you determine if you have too much or too little stomach acid. To set this test up, mix 4-6 ounces of water with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda (also known as sodium bicarbonate). Drink the mixture and then set a timer.
When it takes 2-3 minutes to burp, this indicates a healthy level of stomach acid. However, when you burp after the 4-5 minute mark, or not at all, this is a strong indication of low stomach acid.
Beyond these tests, there are many symptoms and health conditions you may experience that indicate poor stomach acid production.
While you can read more about of the symptoms of low stomach acid here, here’s a list of symptoms that may result from this common condition:
- Indigestion, acid reflux, and heartburn
- Burping, which includes even small burps after meals
- Bloating or gas
- Stomach pain
- Undigested food in stool
- Stool that is green in color
- Food allergies or intolerances
- Meat avoidance
- Weak or brittle hair, nails, and bones
As long as that list is, there are even more digestive problems that can result from stomach contents that aren’t properly broken down. For instance, you may notice bad breath from stomach acid that is too low. This happens when undigested food rots and ferments in your stomach from a lack of sufficient HCL.
Low stomach acid weight gain can also be a thing. If your food isn’t being broken down into usable nutrients on a regular basis, your body may keep asking for more food in the form of hunger or cravings. This is a primal method your body uses to get the nutrition it requires to perform basic functions.
On the other hand, your body may also feel like it’s starving when vitamins, minerals and amino acids aren’t sent where they need to be in order to function.
Another symptom could be if you ever woke up choking on stomach acid. Even though it seems counterintuitive, too much acid is rarely the reason you wake up choking on stomach acid. That’s another indication of poor HCL production since you likely don’t have enough acid to close the LES.
Beyond common symptoms you may experience on a daily basis, several health conditions can be tied to weak stomach acid.
Some of these include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), especially constipation
- SIBO – small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
- H. pylori infection, also known as helicobacter pylori
- Leaky gut
- Hiatal hernia
- GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease
Not working to improve the underlying cause of the symptoms of acid reflux can lead to more serious conditions, like esophageal cancer. Even though antacids make the burning go away, the risk factors are still there since there isn’t enough acid to close the LES. At this point, you just don’t feel the pain.
How to Increase Stomach Acid Naturally
Now that you understand the importance of healthy stomach acid production, let’s talk about natural ways you can increase your own HCL production. Even though many people need a little more help than many of the home remedies offer, let’s review those options first since they’re the easiest to implement.
The key to improving health naturally often lies in simple lifestyle changes. When it comes to increasing stomach acid naturally, there are several habits you’re likely not even aware of that you can make a big difference.
Some of the habits you can focus on to improve stomach acid production include:
Chew Meals Thoroughly: Since chewing starts the digestive process, that’s the best place to start. Instead of chewing only a few times before swallowing, take time to chew each bite thoroughly.
Some experts believe it takes 32 chews to properly break down food. The goal is to chew food until it loses its texture. This may sound like a whole lot of chewing – and that’s because it is! Pay attention to how many chews you get when you eat. If it’s a lot less than 32 chews per bite, focus on chewing each bite more thoroughly – especially meat.
Eat Protein First: Speaking of meat, starting with the protein portion of your meal can help you digest your entire meal better. This is because the amino acids in protein stimulate gastric acid release.
Sit Down: Are you guilty of taking meals to go? This habit wreaks havoc on the digestion process. Instead, eat in a relaxing, stress-free environment to digest food better. Changing this habit can also help you focus on chewing food more thoroughly.
Don’t Overdo Water: If you’ve been around dieting circles, you’ve been told drinking a big glass of water will help fill your stomach prior to eating. If you already have low stomach acid to begin with, drinking too much water around meals can make the problem worse.
While it’s important to stay hydrated, focus on drinking enough water away from meals. If low stomach acid is an issue for you, try sipping a mineral rich bone broth with meals instead.
Also keep in mind water is required for digestion to function, so you still want to drink water with your meal. You just don’t want to go overboard with water at mealtime if low stomach acid is an issue. It’s all about finding the right balance.
Avoid Spicy Foods: Stay away from some of the spicy foods known to enhance symptoms, at least until you improve low stomach acid. Tomato based foods, fatty foods, and citrus fruits may need to be avoided until you have higher levels of acid.
More Habit Adjustments
Avoid Antacids: If you’re in the habit of reaching for a Tums every time you feel the burn, try adding more acid instead. Remember – heartburn is a sign you need more acid, not less. Of course, always work with your doctor when taking prescribed medications.
Reel In Chronic Stress: Stress is yet another problem that can lead to low stomach acid production. Do your best to find new ways to relax if chronic stress is a problem for you.
ACV or Lemon Juice
When searching for at home remedies, you may wonder, does lemon water increase stomach acid? Or what about apple cider vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) and lemon are both very acidic. Thus, they may help in the short term when it comes to creating a more acidic environment in your stomach. Sipping these with meals can help those who need a little help when it comes to boosting small amounts of acid production.
To see if these remedies help you, add 1-2 teaspoons of ACV or lemon juice into a small glass of water and sip while you eat. Be sure to use a straw since these can damage the enamel on your teeth when used long-term.
Bitter herbs, such as dandelion, gentian, wormwood, bitter melon, and burdock root can also help those who need a little boost when it comes to gastric acid production.
Taking a bitters mixture 10-15 minutes prior to meals may help stimulate gastric acid secretion to help you break down food better. Even though bitters can help with minor cases of abdominal pain from low stomach acid, many people will need to explore further treatment options to get to the deeper root cause.
Use of betaine HCL can be extremely helpful in instances of low stomach acid. While the natural remedies listed above may help some, a much greater population can be helped with proper HCL supplementation.
The goal of an HCL supplement is to help your body stimulate its own acid production overtime. When taken properly, betaine HCL can help you break down the protein in your food until your body has the ability to produce sufficient acid on its own.
When choosing an HCL supplement, look for one without pepsin since this can cause stomach upset in some people. You should also always choose high quality supplements that are proven effective.
We recommend Betaine HCL from Empirical Labs to our students. This is both due to the quality of supplements sold on Natural Reference, as well as the dosage in the pills.
When inquiring about the HCL dosage for low stomach acid, each brand varies on how much HCL their supplement contains. Sticking with the Empirical Labs brand makes it easier to give recommendations of how much to take, rather than performing math equations based on the amount added to various brands.
If you experience magnified symptoms when first starting HCL, listen to “Trouble starting HCL.”
Since it’s EXTREMELY important to supplement with HCL the right way, I highly recommend the digestion course. This course teaches when HCL supplementation is appropriate, how to add HCL to your supplement routine, and when to reduce supplementation. The good news is this course is completely free.
You’ll also learn about other natural ways to improve digestion, such as adding digestive enzymes to meals, how to learn which dietary supplements are right for your body chemistry, and how weight loss can be accomplished with improved digestion if that’s also a goal.
Supplementing with betaine HCL may be necessary to help your body improve production of its own stomach acid. Other home remedies, like sipping ACV with meals, may be enough help for some people.
Also, if you don’t have enough of the chloride ion needed for your body to make more of its own HCL, increasing sea salt can increase the chloride available to the body. While this only may help a small percentage of people, it can still be a helpful step.
HCL supplementation is not right for everyone, especially if you suffer from gastritis or ulcers. Always speak to your doctor before adding even natural supplements to your routine.
Keto and stomach acid that’s too low may not be a good idea. Even though keto is a moderate protein diet, many people consume more animal protein on a keto diet. If you’d like to experience the benefits of a keto diet, working to improve stomach acid production is a good idea.
No, ginger is alkaline and will only provide temporary relief by reducing stomach acid further.
Bile is not the same thing as stomach acid. Bile is an alkaline fluid that helps complete the digestive process once the highly acidic HCL breaks food down into smaller particles.
When bile is not flowing properly, too much acid can lead to diarrhea.
How to Increase Stomach Acid
Even though low stomach acid can wreak havoc on your health, the good news is there are steps you can take to improve this digestive system weakness.
If you believe you’ve only experienced a minor dip in stomach acid, start with some of the daily habits listed above for a quick fix. If you need more help than that, be sure to register for the free digestion course. The information you learn in this course can be life-changing if low stomach acid is the root cause of your stomach woes.
If you prefer to work one-on-one to help you improve your digestion woes quickly, book a personalized plan for keto, low carb, intermittent fasting, and digestion help.
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