Have you been dealing with bloating, gas, indigestion or heartburn? Many people association gastric distress with an excess of stomach acid, but low stomach acid is more likely to be the surprising cause behind your digestive issues. Low stomach acid — technically known as hydrochloric acid — is associated with a variety of conditions, including asthma, constipation, celiac disease, eczema, chronic hives and acne rosacea. We need stomach acid to produce the enzymes that break down our food, so low levels of acid can affect vitamin and mineral absorption and could lead to overgrowth of harmful bacteria, yeast or parasites in the stomach and small intestine.
The following foods can reduce stomach acid production:
- Heavily-cooked foods, which lack live enzymes
- Difficult-to-digest foods like red meat or fried foods
- Chemicalized foods like those with artificial preservatives and additives
- Soft drinks, which have high amounts of phosphorus, white sugar and immune-stressing chemicals
- Barbequed foods, which are tough on the digestive system and contain carcinogens in the blackened areas
Losing acid as we age
Several studies have shown that as we get older, the parietal cells in the stomach lining make less stomach acid. In one study, American researchers found that over 30 percent of men and women older than 60 suffer from atrophic gastritis, a condition marked by little or no acid secretion. A second study found that up to 40 percent of postmenopausal women have no basal gastric acid secretions. In 1984, researchers in Japan found that 60 percent of Japanese men and women older than 50 suffered from achlorhydria, a condition of low stomach acid.
Regardless of age, a long-term deficiency of stomach acid compromises digestion and nutrient stores, leaving us at risk for vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The most common vitamins and minerals that require sufficient stomach acid to be properly absorbed are magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron, vitamin B12 and folic acid.
13 common symptoms of low stomach acid:
- Bloating, belching and flatulence immediately after meals
- Indigestion, diarrhea or constipation
- Soreness, burning or dryness of the mouth
- Multiple food allergies
- Feel nauseated after taking supplements
- Weak, peeling and cracked fingernails
- Redness or dilated blood vessels in the cheeks or nose
- Adult acne
- Hair loss in women
- Iron deficiency
- Undigested food in your stools
- Chronic yeast infections
What can you do?
Luckily, there is a simple test that you can conduct to determine if you have low stomach acid, and it’s one of the first steps towards regaining your health and improving your digestion.
To do the HCL Challenge, you will need to purchase 100-percent Betaine HCL pills from your local health food store. Take one capsule with your largest meal. If you don’t feel any burning, the next day take two capsules, the next day three capsules, and so forth. You should feel a burning or warming sensation in your stomach or upper abdomen, which indicates that you have enough HCL and can stop taking the pills. If you feel the warming or burning sensation, take one less pill the next day and keep repeating this pattern daily until the warming sensation returns and you are down to only one pill.
Not only does this simple test help determine your stomach acid levels, it also helps to replenish them and is one of the most important home tests that I have all my patients conduct. From there you can add a digestive enzyme to your major meals. Before you know it, your tummy troubles will be a thing of the past.