When it comes to stomach acid, most people think they have too much. Problems such as heartburn, acid reflux or indigestion are often attributed to excess stomach acid. But in many cases, it’s not the case at all. In fact, these problems may be due to LOW stomach acid. This can lead to further problems with your overall health.
Your stomach acid is a vital part of your digestion. Your body produces one to two liters of gastric juice a day. This sounds like a lot, but you need all of it. This gastric juice is called hydrochloric acid (HCL) because it’s a powerful mixture of hydrogen and chlorine.
HCL helps to digest proteins and kill any germs present in your food. A healthy pH in your stomach is between 1.5 and 3.5.
Why Do You Need Stomach Acid?
Stomach acid is necessary in order to maintain the health of the digestive tract. Stomach acid:
- Kills harmful bacteria that may be in the food you eat
- Prevents yeasts such as candida from growing out of control
- Activates the enzyme pepsin which digests protein
- Helps break down food into a liquid that the body can absorb, and the nutrients within it.
When Stomach Acid Is Too Low
Low stomach acid doesn’t just cause acid reflux and heartburn. It can also contribute to chronic disease and imbalances in many other parts of your body.
Low levels of stomach acid can prevent you from digesting your foods properly. This means that undigested food can be passed into your intestines, where it causes all sorts of havoc. Fermented food can ‘rot’ in the intestines, causing bloating and gas. Ulcers can also form, which damage the intestinal lining.
In a healthy digestive system, the pH of the food in your stomach is lowered until a point where it allowed to move on into the intestines. An unhealthy pH can disrupt this process, leading to slow digestion and bloating after meals.
Many people think that acid reflux occurs due to too much stomach acid. However, it is often because the stomach is insufficiently acidic to break down food. As a result, food sits the stomach for longer, which means it has a greater chance of splashing back up into the esophagus–especially when you go to bed.
Also, if the valve between your stomach and esophagus is weak, it can ‘leak’ the contents of the stomach back up the body, where you feel it in your chest.
Low stomach acid can contribute to a number of health problems, including:
- Bacterial infections
- Candida overgrowth
- Poor digestion
- Dyspepsia and heartburn
Studies have shown that high levels of candida overgrowth are linked to several diseases of the gastrointestinal tract caused by low stomach acid production. In addition, it appears that candida overgrowth can delay the healing of inflammation in the gut, which in turns promotes more candida colonization.
8 Simple Tips To Improve Stomach Acid
As you age, your body produces less stomach acid. That’s why you should give your digestive system all the help it can get when eating. These simple tips will help to boost healthy levels of stomach acid to protect you from indigestion and other problems:
- Chew thoroughly
This is the most important part of eating but the one people most often forget. Chewing stimulates the digestive enzymes you need to break down food–the very enzymes that activate stomach acid production.
- Get Your Head In The Right Place
Try to induce a relaxed state before starting a meal. Stress inhibits stomach acid production. Before eating, practice deep breathing or even meditation to help your body into “rest and digest” mode.
- Take A Supplement
Hydrochloric acid supplements are widely available in health stores. They’re an easy fix for low stomach acid and will help boost your digestive power.
- Eat Fermented Foods
Sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir will help to encourage healthy bacteria in the stomach and help to increase stomach acid. Try adding small amounts of sauerkraut or kimchi to meals to help with digestion.
- Add Good Bacteria
Probiotics help to restore healthy bacteria in the gut, which is crucial for good digestion. If you’ve had low stomach acid for a while, it’s a good idea to rebalance your gut with probiotics. Look for one with time-release tablets that will deliver its bacteria to your gut.
- Eat The Right Foods
A high fiber diet will help to improve your digestion too. Fill your diet with vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. Eat a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet by avoiding processed meats, sugary snacks, and other pro-inflammatory foods that can weaken your digestion. High-fiber foods also act as prebiotics to keep good bacteria fed and multiplying.
Eating small, frequent meals rather than three large ones helps your stomach acid cope more efficiently. Large meals require more stomach acid.
- Sip Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar can help to stimulate gastric juices before a meal. Just add a teaspoon to a glass of hot water before eating.
Stomach Acid Is Necessary, Not Nasty
Without stomach acid, we’d be in real trouble. We wouldn’t be able to digest food, fight off pathogens, or get nutrients from food. While heartburn or indigestion may feel like you have too much stomach acid, it’s often not the real problem.
Before popping antacids, think about what might have caused your heartburn or indigestion—it may be something you’ve eaten, rather than excess acid.
Lisa Richards is a nutritionist and the creator of the Candida Diet. She has been featured on Today, Women’s Health magazine, Reader’s Digest, and Shape, among others. Through her website, theCandidaDiet.com, she explains the benefits of a low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet.