Let’s talk about low stomach acid. It’s something that you should consider if you have acid reflux, SIBO, iron deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, or other chronic gut issues.
First off, what am I even talking about when I say low stomach acid?
Your stomach is a very acidic environment. It is acidic because of the hydrochloric acid that is released into it.
If you remember learning about the pH scale in school it goes from 0-14 with 0 being very acidic and 14 being alkaline
Your stomach should sit between a 1 and a 3
Stomach acid is released both when your body anticipates a meal and also once food enters the stomach. We need stomach acid for proper digestion - especially digestion of protein.
Low stomach acid is a bit confusing because it’s actually when the pH of the stomach is too high. But essentially low stomach acid happens when there is not enough acid being released in your stomach and the result of that is your is less acidic or more alkaline.
Low stomach acid can be caused by a lot of things.
Zinc deficiency - zinc is necessary for building HCl in the body, so not enough zinc, not enough HCl can be built.
Stress - this is a big one; stress can have a huge effect on most parts of the digestive system.
Aging - the production of HCl declines with age, don’t know why this is the case, but it is unfortunately part of aging.
PPIs - medications prescribed for acid reflux to lower your stomach acid production; they can work wonders but they don’t do much to address the root cause of your acid reflux.
H. Pylori - this guy is a bacteria that lives in the stomach of up to 50% of the population; in many people it doesn’t cause any symptoms but in some it can be actively reducing stomach acid production.
You should care about low stomach acid if:
You have acid reflux (go read my last blog post HERE)
You have history of low iron, vitamin B12 or both
Acid is needed to release these nutrients from the proteins they are bound to in the foods that you are eating. If they are not released from the proteins they cannot be absorbed in your digestive tract.
You have small intestine bacterial overgrowth
A certain amount of acid from your stomach is released into the upper part of the small intestine. This acidity level is important for preventing overgrowth of bad bacteria in the intestines.
You have chronic digestive issues
The breakdown of food in the stomach relies on hydrochloric acid. If you don’t have enough your food will not be digested fully. Poorly digested food can lead to a host of digestive issues but notably fatigue after eating, bloating after eating, gas after eating & noticing undigested food in your stool.
Heidelberg Test - this is done in a lab or medical office. You essentially swallow a capsule that records the pH of your stomach.
Baking Soda or Betaine HCl Test - these are at home tests. I don’t recommend doing them without talking to a health practitioner.
There are also markers for stomach acid on some stool tests
First you need to remove/treat/fix whatever was decreasing the stomach acid in the first place - ie. correct zinc deficiency, lower stress, and possible test for H. Pylori
Once you remove the root cause you can look to bring stomach acid levels back up
This work should be done with your trusted health care provider. They may suggest things like apple cider vinegar, digestive bitters, or betaine HCl. These natural products that can be used to improve acidity and retrain your body to start producing more stomach acid.
Overall what I want you to take from this is you need to care about low stomach acid if you have acid reflux, chronically low iron & B12, SIBO and/or chronic digestive issues. Which is probably a lot of you!
If you’re curious about the root cause of your digestive issues let’s get on a call!