Stomach acid is necessary for the optimal digestion of ingested food. The specific acid produced by the lining of the stomach is Hydrochloric acid (HCl). Some of its functions include the activation of pepsin to allow for protein digestion, the stimulation of bile production by the liver as well as the absorption of specific minerals and vitamins. Another important role of the acid is to destroy bacteria which may have been ingested alongside the food. These important functions make it near impossible for digestion to take place when HCl levels are low.It is interesting to note that while most people are aware of the challenges that come with excessive acid production – think heartburn/acid reflux– few are aware of the health implications of low stomach acid levels. One of the most common causes of these low levels is the excessive use of NSAIDs which are known to destroy the lining of the stomach thus interfering with HCl production.
Other causes include diseases that affect the gut. These range from SIBO to the overgrowth of H. pylori and parasitic invasion. Age is also a contributing factor because the older we grow, the less the amount of stomach acid made in the stomach. Other causes of low stomach acid include food sensitivities, chronic stress as well as an underactive thyroid gland.Some of the symptoms of low acid production include intense bloating, especially after meals, undigested food passed off in stool, severe constipation, a leaky gut and bad breath. In many cases, affected people will also suffer from nutritional deficiencies, most notably those of Magnesium, Calcium, Iron, Vitamin B12 and zinc.
Other symptoms include bad breath, parasitic infections and gastritis. With this in mind, how is it possible to know whether you have low HCL levels? The most reliable way is to take a Heidelberg test. A Gastric Acid Function test is also an accurate method of doing this. There is also the alternative of a simple test that you can carry out at home which will act as a general guide.
Below are the Steps to Follow for this Indicative Test:
- Take 1/4 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (preferably that which is free from aluminium) and add to a glass of warm water.
- Stir the mixture for complete dissolution and then set your timer for up to five minutes.
- Drink the solution and monitor how your body responds.
- If you burp within two to three minutes, the general indication is that you have enough of the stomach acid. Any burps recorded before two minutes indicate an excessive production of HCl and anything past four minutes is an indication that the stomach has low acid levels.
The good news is that there are several ways in which you can fix low stomach acid naturally. These are easy and effective approaches, but it is important to mention that they must be used regularly for any positive progress to be made.
1. Chew Your Food Properly and Reduce the Portions of Your Food:
This is a simple lifestyle tip that you can easily add to your daily habits. Chewing is something very few people pay attention to, partly because we are always in a hurry to get going.
It is recommended that you chew food at least 30 times before swallowing. This not only primes the stomach for the process of digestion, it also completes the process of digestion in the mouth.
There is also another reason why you need to chew food thoroughly; it slows down that rate at which you feed, and this communicates with the brain to enhance satiety. In addition to this, it is also important to train yourself to eat smaller food portions.
These are not only digested easily, they also allow for the management of low HCL levels. If you are constantly eating large amounts of food, you make it more difficult for the body to recover.
2. Take Apple Cider Vinegar and/or Herbal Bitters:
One of the most common ways in which you can manage low stomach acid naturally is to make use of apple cider vinegar (ACV). One of the most versatile home remedies for an array of conditions, ACV is a great and effective way to balance your stomach pH and fix the low acid levels.
It is recommended that you take ACV right before your meals. Add a tablespoon of the ACV to a small amount of water, stir and drink. This works because ACV has a low pH level that assists the stomach’s function.
In addition to ACV, you may also consider the addition of herbal bitters. These are effective digestive enzymes which help fix the stomach pH, but which must be taken before mealtimes. Mix the ACV with the digestive herbal bitters for a more effective approach. It is easy to get ACV and bitters from your local chemist. In fact, bitters have been used for many years for this very purpose – to enhance digestion.
3. Take Digestive Enzymes in Supplement Form:
One of the effects of low stomach acid levels in the stomach is that the digestive system does not release the signal the need for the pancreas to release enzymes. This interferes with the natural process of digestion, leading to the aforementioned symptoms.
To counter this, it helps to take in digestive enzymes to assist your gut until your gastric juices are back in order. Digestive enzymes, as you may have guessed, allow the breakdown of food to ensure that the nutrients are easily absorbed in the small intestine.
When shopping for digestive enzymes, make sure that you go for a product that is rich in lipases, amylase and pro teases so as to act on the fats, carbohydrates and proteins respectively. Depending on the product that you settle for, you can also mix these digestive enzymes with apple cider vinegar. Remember to do this just before your meals for the best results.
4. Make Sure the Body Remains Hydrated, and Look out for the Specific Times When you Drink Water:
Hydration plays an important role in digestion, which in turn helps to fix low stomach acid. Excellent hydration is key in ensuring bowel motility that allows for ‘things to get moving’ along the gut.
This pushes the content through the gut and reduces the bacterial load in the digestive system. Incidentally, this bacterial overload is one of the causes of the symptoms associated with low stomach acid. It is important because it helps get rid of toxins from the body as well.
There is something you must remember, however, when taking water. Avoid taking water for at least half an hour after meals – and there is a reason why. Taking water (or any other liquids) within this time period dilutes the enzymes and this slows down the process of digestion.
Additionally, it also interferes with the sterilization of food, increasing the chances of pathogens passing through the stomach. Whenever possible, aim for a glass of water at least 30 minutes before mealtimes. Take note of this, especially when taking meals containing meats. Taking water within less than 30 minutes of eating potentially dilutes the gastric juices and impairs digestion.
5. Add Fermented Drinks and Foods to Your Diet:
Fermented drinks and foods are a simple and reliable way to fix low stomach acid naturally. It works because foods which have undergone fermentation naturally have an anti-microbial effect on the body. What this means is that such foods are able to lower the bacterial load in the gut, thus reducing the intensity of the associated symptoms.
This comes in handy for the management of stomach bacteria, especially the H. pylori type. As a matter of fact, keeping H. pylori levels low is extremely important to allow for the production of stomach acid for digestion to take place effectively.
Other benefits of using fermented foods and drinks include their ability to keep pathogens in check, restore balance in the gut as well as help with recovery from a leaky gut. Examples of fermented foods and drinks that you could add to your diet include kefir, fermented soy, kimchee pickles and sauerkraut.
6. Eat Manuka Honey:
Manuka honey is a popular product in the market, and is loved for its immense health benefits. This is a specific type of honey that is sourced from New Zealand. It is rich in antimicrobial properties which helps get rid of bacteria in the gut, and act on H. pylori.
The wrong type of bacteria in the stomach has often been linked to low stomach acid levels. Manuka honey helps treat these conditions naturally, which is why it is highly recommended. A teaspoon twice a day works well to help restore optimal acid production in the stomach.
NOTE: The most important thing to remember when buying Manuka honey is to make sure that you are getting the real deal. Part of the reason for this is that there are a lot of products touted to be rich in Manuka honey, yet are not genuine products. Between 2000 and 3000 tons of Manuka honey are produced in New Zealand annually, yet thrice as much is on sale globally.
7. Add Bitter Herbs to Your Diet:
One of the simplest ways in which you can fix low stomach acid levels is to add bitter herbs to your diet. These herbs work excellently because they stimulate the production of gastric juices, which in turn improve digestion.
These herbs, collectively known as carminatives, are known to improve digestive juices. The best way to benefit from these herbs is to use them in tincture form which you can easily be purchased from your local herbal store. If you do not have access to the tincture form, prepare an infusion of the dried herbs available.Some of the herbs you can use include gentian, dandelion root, ginger, cardamom, peppermint and anise among others.
In addition to these tips, you can also consider adding HCl with pepsin before meal times. Make it a habit to eat the protein part of the meal first before the rest of the food. The moment you start eating, the stomach gets stimulated to produce the acid which helps with the process of digestion.
Lastly, some people have found that liquid nutrition helps a great deal. In this regard, protein shakes are recommended because they are pre-metabolized, and are therefore easy to digest. Additionally, these protein shakes do not depend on HCl, and can therefore help alleviate the symptoms of low stomach acid.