Even though most people associate symptoms like heartburn, acid reflux, and indigestion with too much stomach acid, oftentimes the root cause is too little stomach acid.
Keep reading to learn why stomach acid is important and how to determine if your stomach acid is low. You’ll also discover causes for low stomach acid production, and how to get your digestive tract back on track.
What Is Stomach Acid?
Stomach acid, also known as hydrochloric acid or HCL, is a large portion of the 3-4 quarts of gastric juice your body produces each day. Your body produces gastric juice to help you break down the food you eat. It’s essential that the food is broken down properly prior to entering the small intestine. This allows for the second part of digestion to take place.
Once food is broken down by HCL, it enters the small intestine where bile is waiting to complete the digestive process.
HCL (which is highly acidic) combines with bile (which is highly alkaline) to create a sizzle. That sizzle breaks your food down into usable nutrients. If either part of the normal digestive process is broken, this can lead to health problems, such as constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, nausea, anxiety, and acne – just to name a few.
Why It’s Important
Without enough stomach acid to complete the explosion, you could be left with nutrient deficiencies. These can include a lack of amino acids and minerals.
Low levels of stomach acid can also lead to other long term health conditions, such as:
- Stomach ulcers and peptic ulcers
- Autoimmune conditions
- GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease
- IBS – irritable bowel syndrome
- Food sensitivities or food intolerances
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, especially a vitamin b12 deficiency
Another important digestive function of stomach acid is to kill potentially harmful bacteria before it reaches your intestines. When you have low stomach acid levels, you become more susceptible to food poisoning and other gut infections. Some of these infections include an H. pylori infection, E. Coli, salmonella, SIBO, or other bacterial overgrowth.
Common digestive complaints, like constipation and bloating, are another result of low stomach acid.
Sufficient stomach acid is also an important part of the digestive system since it prevents food from backing up into the esophagus. While the burning that results from food shooting back up your esophagus is highly uncomfortable, that’s not even the worse part.
When GERD becomes chronic, this increases your risk factors for other health conditions, like esophageal cancer.
Low Stomach Acid Test
There are a few ways to determine if your gastric juices are lacking.
One of the most common ways is for a doctor to perform a physical exam, followed by a stomach acidity test. This is done with a capsule containing a transmitter that shows the level of acidity in your gastrointestinal tract. The test shows if your stomach acid is in a normal range, or if you could use a little help.
If you prefer to test at home, some health professionals recommend a baking soda test for low stomach acid. To complete this test, simply mix 4-6 ounces of water with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate. Drink this combo first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, and then start a timer.
The point of the test is to see how long it takes you to belch. If you burp within 2-3 minutes, this indicates healthy stomach acid levels. If you don’t belch within 4-5 minutes, that’s a sign of low stomach acidity.
Keep reading if neither of these tests sound all that appealing. There are plenty of uncomfortable symptoms you may experience on a regular basis that point to low stomach acid.
Other Signs and Symptoms
How do you know when it’s time to dig deeper to learn if insufficient stomach acid is the root cause for your health conditions?
There are plenty of other signs and symptoms you may experience on a daily basis that could signify your stomach contents aren’t being broken down properly.
Since the list of low stomach acid symptoms is extensive, I separated the list into four categories:
- Health conditions that may result from low stomach acid
- How you may feel with insufficient gastric juices
- Physical manifestations
- Ways to analyze stool for confirmation
Hair Loss or Brittle Nails: If you have hair loss, thinning hair, or brittle fingernails, this could signify insufficient HCL.
Hair and nails are made from the amino acids in protein. These are the building blocks for collagen, elastin, and keratin – all which are necessary for healthy hair, skin, and nails. If you’re unable to properly break down protein due to a lack of stomach acid, the nutrients can’t get to where they need to be. Building up stomach acid could be key to fuller hair or stronger nails.
Nutrient deficiencies: the inability to properly break down amino acids can lead to several nutrient deficiencies, including a lack of vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
While a doctor can perform a blood test to indicate nutritional deficiencies, physical symptoms can also occur. The aforementioned hair loss and brittle nails are a few ways to suspect a lack of important vitamins and minerals. Other symptoms, like chronic fatigue or a weak immune system, are other important clues.
Food Allergies and Intolerances: whenever your body is unable to properly break down the food you eat, that means your body has a problem to deal with. While it’s busy figuring out what to do with the undigested food, food allergies or new food intolerances can result.
If you notice new food intolerances that didn’t previously exist, it may be time to see if low stomach acid is playing a role.
Leaky Gut Syndrome: When you don’t produce enough HCL to protect your gut, you lose at least some of your ability to filter out harmful bacteria and toxins. The bacteria and toxins can set up camp and invade the GI tract. This can result in higher instances of food poisoning, and other infections like E. coli, salmonella, and helicobacter pylori.
When stomach acid is low, this can cause a trickle down effect that can lead to an imbalance in the gut microbiome – which may cause an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. This can lead to leaky gut syndrome, or holes in your gut lining that allow harmful substances to sneak into your system.
Some of the substances that should not enter your system include gluten, bad bacteria, and food particles. When this happens, this can result in further damage to your health.
How You Feel
Other signs of low stomach acid are based on the way you feel most days. Pay attention to the symptoms you experience on a daily basis since this plays an important role in determining if you have sufficient hydrochloric acid.
Below are some of the reactions your body may have when you have a low production of stomach acid.
Heartburn, Acid Reflux or Indigestion: Even though most people believe these problems are due to high stomach acid, that’s typically not the case. Oftentimes these symptoms arise because you don’t have enough stomach acid to trigger the esophageal sphincter.
When this esophageal sphincter isn’t properly triggered, food shoots back up the esophagus. This causes the burning sensation you know as heartburn or acid reflux.
While many people turn to antacids as a quick fix, this can do more damage long term since these medications reduce stomach acid even further.
Bloating: Feeling bloated soon after you eat is another sign of insufficient HCL. This is especially true when the bloating takes place in the upper abdomen.
If you have a full, tight or swollen feeling in the abdomen, your food may not have been broken down properly. This can create an uncomfortable gas that leads to pain, as well as a distended stomach, for some time after you eat.
Low Energy: if you notice chronic fatigue is becoming a problem, this can be another symptom of low stomach acid, as it can signify important nutrient deficiencies.
Hunger and Appetite
Feeling Overly Hungry: Low levels of stomach acid can also lead to you always feeling hungry. If your food isn’t broken down into usable nutrients, your body may respond by sending more hunger signals until it gets the nutrients it requires. When the nutrients never arrive because they’re not being digested, you may feel a constant hunger.
Loss of Appetite: On the other hand, low acid levels can also lead to a loss of appetite. This can happen when food rots and ferments in your stomach due to low HCL, which creates gasses and toxins. Your body may send a signal to not eat anything else since it still has to deal with the last meal you ate.
Cravings: Following the same line of thinking, cravings for sweet and salty foods can arise from insufficient stomach acid. Your body views these treats as a quick fix for much needed energy that it’s not getting from foods that aren’t being digested.
Low stomach acid causes several physical conditions that could be a sure sign you could use some help with HCL production. Some of the physical confirmations to be on the lookout for include:
- Burping: this includes even small burps, especially after meals.
- Feeling Excessively Full: If you notice a meal sits in your stomach too long, or it feels like a rock sitting in your stomach.
- Inability to Eat High Protein Meals without Discomfort: Especially meals high in animal protein.
- Nausea After Eating High Protein Meals: An upset stomach, especially after eating meat, is an important clue.
While peeking at your poop doesn’t sound like the most fun thing you’ll do all day, your stool can actually provide important clues about the health of your digestive system. Below are some signs of low stomach acid you can look for during your bathroom visits.
Constipation: A lack of regular bathroom visits can be an indication of insufficient HCL production. If stool is hard or appears as small balls instead of a log shape with a smooth surface, this also counts, as does slow motility.
Stool Color: If your stool is typically green in color, that’s another indication of low HCL. Poop should be a dark brown when normal levels of acid are present.
Undigested Food in Stool: If you notice pieces of what you ate in your poop, that also signifies the food wasn’t digested properly. This signifies you didn’t fully absorb the nutrients from that food.
What Causes Low Stomach Acid?
There are several things you may do on a daily basis that can lead to stomach acid being diluted. While some of the causes are intentional, others are things you were told would improve your health. When low stomach acid production is present, even the best health intentions can cause more harm than good.
Unintentional ways you may be diluting stomach acid:
Drinking Too Much Water: While most health professionals promote drinking 8 full glasses of water each day, this isn’t the best advice for everyone – especially if you already have low stomach acid. While it’s important to stay hydrated, overdoing water can dilute stomach acid even further if you already have low stomach acid. This is even more true around mealtime.
Long Term Use of Antacids: Even though you’re taught to take antacids or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to reduce stomach acid in the case of heartburn or GERD, this can actually cause more damage long term by sending stomach acid levels too low. When there isn’t enough acid to close the esophageal sphincter, this can make these issues even worse.
Taking too many antacids can even lead to acid shooting up when you don’t even feel it happening. This can cause long term damage.
Foods That Lower Stomach Acid
Believe it or not, some of the diet advice you thought would help improve your health and result in weight loss could actually be doing the opposite. Part of the reason for this is some food choices can result in low stomach acid production.
Sufficient HCL production can have a use it or lose it effect. If you don’t call on stomach acid to break down animal proteins since they’re not as present in your diet, your body may slow down the production of this important gastric juice.
Some of the foods and diets that could result in low hydrochloric acid production include:
- Following a vegan or vegetarian diet
- Poor diet, including too many processed foods and too much sugar
- Eating a highly processed food diet that’s low in protein, as is common with programs like Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig
- Some water filled foods, like celery, cucumbers, and watermelon
- Aloe vera juice
- Baking soda concoctions
There are even more factors that contribute to low stomach acid that you have a little less control over. These include aging and chronic stress.
While there’s not too much you can do about aging, there are important lifestyle changes you can make to control stress. Scientific evidence shows things like meditation, mild exercise, deep breathing, a healthy diet, and getting adequate sleep can all go a long way in helping you control stress levels.
How to Fix Low Stomach Acid
Thankfully there are plenty of things you can do to improve stomach acid production. Which fix you choose depends on the current state of your stomach acid production.
Here are some quick fixes you can try right now to get your digestive tract back on track:
- Chew meals thoroughly.
- Drink only the right amount of water to stay properly hydrated.
- Limit processed foods and grains.
- Add digestive enzymes to help break down food.
- Ramp up animal protein only as your stomach acid allows. Eating more protein overtime can call on your body to produce more stomach acid.
- Try taking raw apple cider vinegar with meals to provide a little extra help.
While these are basic quick fixes, they’re a great way to get started with helping your body’s production of HCL. If these methods aren’t enough to improve the common symptoms of low stomach acid, or they result in additional side effects, you may need to take your routine to the next level with a product called Betaine HCL.
Since it’s important to ensure proper usage of an HCL supplement to prevent further damage to your health, learn everything you need to know about how to increase stomach acid here.
Take the Free Digestion Course
Improving stomach acid is only part of the story when it comes to a smooth digestive system. Learn everything you need to know about how to improve digestive issues in the free digestion course.
The course shows you how to naturally improve digestive symptoms that are wreaking havoc on your diet, as well as everyday life. It’s filled with life-changing videos that will help you figure out the underlying cause of your digestive woes. The good news is it’s free to register for the course.
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.