No amount of physical exercise will benefit you if you are not eating the right food and no right food will benefit you if you don’t have adequate stomach acid levels. Low stomach acid will trigger poor digestive activity and is the root cause of many gastrointestinal disorders. Acidity, GERD, hair loss, undigested food in stool, etc are some of the digestive health conditions that have become way too common among the global population. The hidden cause for most of these symptoms is the compromised gut health resulting from low stomach acid levels.
WHAT IS STOMACH ACID OR GASTRIC ACID?
A healthy gastrointestinal tract is a critical foundation for health. Gastric acid or stomach acid is secreted by parietal cells lining the stomach. The human gastric mucosa secretes 1.2 to 1.5 liters of gastric juice per day and the pH of gastric acid range between 1.5 and 3.5. Gastric juice is a variable mixture of protons, chloride, often called hydrochloric acid, water, electrolytes (sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphate, sulfate, and bicarbonate), and digestive enzyme like pepsin. The parietal cells in the gastric gland of the stomach also secrete mucus which prevents the gastric juice from damaging the stomach.
The hydrochloric acid of gastric juice creates a highly acidic environment which facilitates the digestion of protein, and even the complex food particles.
WHAT IS LOW STOMACH ACID?
Low stomach acid technically termed ‘hypochlorhydria’ is a condition where an insufficient stomach acid/gastric acid is produced in the stomach and the pH of the acid present is above 3. A decreased stomach acid means the stomach is less acidic.
WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF STOMACH ACID?
The stomach acid/gastric acid initiates digestion, renders food particles soluble, and converts the gastric contents to a semiliquid mass called chime, thus preparing it for further digestion in the small intestine.
Stomach acid/gastric acid stimulates the secretion of intestinal hormones and is required for the absorption of minerals, including calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins.
Stomach acid/gastric acid prevents the overgrowth of pathogens in the upper gastrointestinal tract and protects you from potentially harmful pathogens.
Stomach acid/gastric acid destroys microorganisms ingested through food, helps break down the food you eat (by dissolving chemical bonds within food molecules), and allows you to absorb key nutrients from your food.
Stomach acid/gastric acid activates pepsin enzymes that start to digest protein in the stomach.
Stomach acid/gastric acid helps prevent food allergies associated with incomplete digestion of protein.
REASONS FOR LOW STOMACH ACID
Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune condition in which your immune system produces antibodies that attack cells in the mucous lining of the stomach.
Excessive use of antisecretory medications like omeprazole, proton pump inhibitor, and antimicrobial agent.
Helicobacter pylori infection of gastric epithelial cells
Gastric bypass surgery is a gastric exclusion operation performed in patients with morbid obesity to reduce food intake.
Hypothyroidism can play a role in low hydrochloric acid production.
Overuse of antibiotics transform your gut microbiome and cause intestinal inflammation. Inflammation causes a rise in stress hormone which reduces the body’s ability to produce HCl.
Overconsumption of food (particularly proteins, and fats) weakens acid production.
Natural aging, high sugar diet, highly processed food, high fat diet, alcohol, and soda intake, poor protein intake, low zinc status, eating on the run.
Chronic stress – when you are stressed, your body shifts processes that aren’t critical for survival at the moment, like digestion for later.
If you suffer from one or more of the symptoms listed above, your stomach acid levels are suboptimal.
SIGNS THAT TELL YOU HAVE LOW STOMACH ACID
Inadequate stomach acid levels will lead to poor nutrient absorption resulting in nutrient deficiency. Low stomach acid is associated with several diseases and health complications.
Difficulty digesting meat and other protein foods – this causes you to feel tired, dizzy, or nauseous after eating a meal.
Low stomach acid fails to digest food completely, allowing bacteria in the digestive tract to feed on them. Low stomach acid leads to colonization of bacteria in the small intestine (SIBO) which is associated with symptoms like abdominal pain, gas, bloating, and flatulence.
Postprandial fullness, acid regurgitation, early satiety, constipation due to improper digestion of food
Nutrient deficiency although you consume all the essential nutrients.
Weight loss, weak hair, and nails (caused due to B vitamin deficiency), skin issues, nausea, excessive burping, heartburn, rectal itching, insomnia, protein malnourishment, and mineral deficiency are a few of the other consequences of low stomach acid.
WHY DOES LOW STOMACH ACID CAUSE ACID REFLUX & HEARTBURN?
Low stomach acid can lead to an increase in intra-abdominal pressure, which can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to open. This condition will allow small amounts of stomach acid to go up from the stomach to the esophagus causing the familiar acid reflux. When food is not broken down properly owing to low stomach acid levels, this, in turn, increases gas production, which may feel like heartburn.
SOME OF THE TIPS TO IMPROVE STOMACH ACID LEVELS NATURALLY
CHEW YOUR FOOD WELL
Proper mastication or chewing your food well and taking smaller bites increases saliva production so that the food can be easily swallowed without aggravating the esophagus. Chewing your food well sends messages to the gastrointestinal system that food is on its way. This triggers the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach helping in better digestion.
LIMIT EATING PROCESSED FOOD
Spicy foods, sugary foods, high-fat foods, highly refined carbs, low fiber diet, red meat, fried, greasy foods, tomato sauce, alcohol, and mint cause direct esophageal mucosal irritation and cause a reduction in lower esophageal sphincter tone. Processed foods can cause inflammation in your stomach, can alter the gut bacteria, such foods stay in the stomach for long, can decrease stomach acid activity, and trigger acid reflux symptoms. Due to the acid reflux scenario, the stomach may not have enough acid. Caffeinated beverages, high-fat dairy products, soda, and alcohol are known to promote gastroesophageal reflux.
REDUCE THE SIZE OF YOUR MEAL
Large meals can often put a lot of pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (that opens and closes to allow the food to move down into your stomach). The bigger your meal size, the more acid that needs to be produced, moreover, pressurizing the lower esophageal sphincter will cause it to open, allowing stomach contents to leak back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn. If you choose to eat a big meal at the end of the day, it can further aggravate the condition.
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can naturally increase your stomach acid levels. Ginger has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and carminative properties, it helps alleviate stomach inflammation due to low stomach acid, decreases pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, increases digestive enzymes, and prevents bloating and flatulence.
INCLUDE PROBIOTICS / DIGESTIVE ENZYMES
Fermented foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt are loaded with probiotics and can naturally improve your stomach acid levels. Probiotics restore the healthful balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut, and reduce inflammation from low stomach acid. A well-formulated digestive enzyme supplement may help with indigestion caused due to low stomach acid.
DRINK APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
Apple cider vinegar that contains the ‘mother’ acts as a natural probiotic to promote healthy gut microbiome and can help someone with low stomach acid levels. Apple cider vinegar mimics the acid level of your stomach and promotes a healthy digestive response for those who may be facing trouble with digestion.
USE BUTTERMILK, CINNAMON, BASIL TEA, & CUMIN SEEDS
Basil leaves, buttermilk, cumin seeds, and cinnamon have carminative properties and may all help relieve symptoms of indigestion and acidity.