Understanding Stomach Acid and Natural Ways to Boost It

August 31, 2023

By Vida Shahriar, R.H.N., JD, BA (simplyvida.ca)

Stomach Acid Defined
Stomach acid is a digestive fluid that is produced in the stomach lining of the body. It is comprised of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride, and sodium chloride. It is designed to help break down food for easier digestion and absorption of nutrients. Beyond this, stomach acid functions as a defensive mechanism by protecting the body from pathogens, microbes, bacteria, and other
unwanted substances by breaking them down and working to excrete them through the bowels, urine, and sweat.

Your body can experience both high and low levels of stomach acid. High stomach acid is referred to as hyperchlorhydria and low stomach acid is referred to as hypochlorhydria. This article will focus on low stomach acid and the dietary and lifestyle habits that can be used to restore and maintain the body’s natural stomach acid levels.

Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid
To fully understand your symptoms and body, it is critical to work with a healthcare practitioner alongside your Medical Doctor to identify the root issue of your low stomach acid and to determine if your symptoms are related to this. It is important to highlight that these symptoms that will be discussed are common but are not normal and can be reversed depending on the severity and the level of consistent work one is willing to do to restore their stomach acid levels.

First, bloating, belching, and excessive gas particularly after meals is a recognizable symptom of low stomach acid. This is from the lack of stomach acid and digestive juices needed to properly breakdown the foods. This bloating can be intensified overtime if the issue of low stomach acid is not addressed. Overtime this can lead to bacterial overgrowth in the digestive tract leading to potential food sensitivities, inflammation, and malabsorption. This creates a slower motility rate and creates buildup of foods that the body struggles to breakdown.

Second, the presence of undigested food particles in your stool. This occurs from the lack of stomach acid to help breakdown the foods and forces the food to pass through the digestive system without being fully digested and having the nutrients properly absorbed.

Third, an iron deficiency is linked to low stomach acid as your body is unable to absorb the iron from the foods you are
consuming given that the food is not properly broken down. Fourth, low energy can be attributed to low stomach acid given the lack of nutrients provided to the body from the undigested foods.

Finally, heartburn is a common symptom with both low and high stomach acid. It is commonly believed that heartburn is a result of too much stomach acid production, however, it is in fact most connected to low stomach acid from the excessive gas being produced in the digestive tract and the body trying to breakdown the foods.

All these symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and can be managed and potentially reversed with proper diet and lifestyle changes that are right for you. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, I highly encourage you to delve deeper into your symptoms with a healthcare practitioner and your Medical Doctor and to avoid masking your symptoms or ignoring them by identifying them as normal.

Factors Contributing to Low Stomach Acid
There are several factors that can contribute to low stomach acid that can create or exacerbate the symptoms. First, stress can halt the process of digestion and inhibits the production of hydrochloric acid and other digestive juices. Additionally, when the body is experiencing stress, it is in a state of fight or flight versus rest and digest. This means that the body changes its priority from focusing
on digestion to tackling the stressor that the body is faced with. It is important to consider that emotional and mental stress are not the only forms of stress that impact this process. Other forms of stress on the body can be from lack of sleep, lack of nutrients and minerals, dehydration, food intolerances, constipation, and among other factors that a healthcare practitioner can help identify.

Second, a diet high in sugar and low in fibre hinders the production of stomach acid. Specifically, sugar feeds the unwanted bacteria in the gut and helps them proliferate leading to bloating, poor digestion, mineral depletion, and low energy. Fibre is essential for targeting inflammation in the digestive tract and promoting healthy bowel movements to remove toxins and balance hormones which contribute to the body’s natural production of stomach acid.

Third, the use and overuse of antibiotics can disrupt the gut microbiome and reduce the variety and number of probiotic strains necessary for balancing the digestive tract. Probiotics help to combat bloating, indigestion, and irregular bowel movements. It is important to consider that antibiotics can be extremely helpful in specific bacterial infections, however, they should be taken with caution and under the care of your Medical Doctor and accompanied with a probiotic to repopulate the digestive tract with healthy gut microbes. Fourth, the overuse of common over the counter painkillers and antacids promote inflammation in the lining of the gut, malnutrition, and neutralizes stomach acid which suppresses the production of stomach acid overtime.

Eating and Lifestyle Habits to Naturally Increase Stomach Acid

Eating Habits
There are both dietary and lifestyle changes that can help rebalance body systems and support the production of stomach acid. First, food combining is a powerful tool that can help minimize bloating and preserve the current level of stomach acid. This can be achieved by ensuring that fruits are avoided with meals as fruits digest quicker and when taken with a meal can lead to bloating and other uncomfortable digestive symptoms. As well, separating drinks from meals will help to preserve the current level of stomach acid as liquids can dilute hydrochloric acid production and the absorption of nutrients. This does not mean limiting your water consumption, it merely means to avoid drinking immediately before or during meals. Drinking between meals with a reasonable time frame of at least half an hour after meals can in fact help with digestion and bloating by helping to break the foods and lubricate the digestive tract for more consistent bowel movements. Second, adding one tablespoon of organic raw unfiltered apple cider vinegar fifteen
minutes before a meal can help support digestion and stomach acid production. Third, ensuring that you chew your food to a paste to support better digestion and absorption.

Lifestyle Habits
First, a light walk after meals can help promote the process of digestion and ensure a sense of relaxation by activating the parasympathetic system allowing the body to focus on digestion. Second, ensuring a healthy sleep routine of a minimum of seven hours a night before midnight will help maintain stomach acid levels and balance hormones. Third, ensuring that eating takes place in a calm and relaxed environment for the body to be in a rest and digest state to be able to fully focus on digestion, produce stomach acid, and support hormones by avoiding a cortisol spike from the stressor.

There are additional dietary and lifestyle habits that can be supportive towards naturally increasing stomach acid levels. However, these recommendations are a starting point to understanding your symptoms and the level of consistency and habit changes needed to optimize your health and minimize your unwanted symptoms. I highly recommend working with a healthcare practitioner and Medical Doctor who can understand your health needs, concerns, and goals so that a tailored protocol can be provided for optimal results.

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