6 Steps to Naturally Improve Low Stomach Acid Levels

You are what you digest. And if you have low stomach acid you won't be able to digest your food well.

Stomach acid (aka hydrochloric acid) may not be something that you immediately associate with digestion, but your ability to produce sufficient levels is a crucial part of optimal digestion and immune function.

In this blog post, I cover why it’s important, the main symptoms of low hydrochloric acid (HCI), how to test using beetroot, as well as sharing tips on how to improve low stomach acid levels naturally.

The Role of Stomach Acid in Digestion

steps to naturally improve stomach acid levels

One of the most important substances involved in digestion is hydrochloric acid (HCI for short) or, in other words, your stomach acid.

Without stomach acid, digestion and absorption of certain nutrients, especially protein aren't possible.

HCI helps prevent us from developing infections and food poisoning.

It works to make sure that we're absorbing iron and other nutrients for energy such as vitamin B12, zinc, calcium, magnesium and amino acids.

Stomach acid also signals your other digestive organs to release their juices and enzymes, as well as support muscular contractions that make digestion smooth and easy.

For example, HCI is an important trigger for the contraction of your esophageal sphincter (that sits just above the stomach) to protect the delicate tissue of your esophagus from the harsh acids in your stomach.

It also helps to activate the pyloric sphincter (the next sphincter down from the esophageal sphincter) which allows food to move from your stomach to your small intestine.

Protein Digestion

While HCI itself doesn’t digest protein, it does activate an enzyme called pepsin, which breaks proteins down into amino acids that your body can absorb.

When HCI is released into your stomach, its pH should drop to a range of 1.5  to 2.5.

Pepsin only activates in this acidic pH range, so if there isn’t enough stomach acid, the activation of pepsin, and the resulting protein digestion won't occur.

What actually then happens is that protein fragments go into your small intestine as protein fragments instead of amino acids. This can be a cause of leaky gut.

Preventing Infection

Food and drinks we consume naturally contain microbes. And these microbes like yeast and bacteria cannot survive in an acidic environment. So, essentially gastric acid plays a critical role in preventing pathogens from causing infection (1)

Chemical Signaling

The release of HCI into the stomach also produces chemical signals that trigger other parts of digestion.

The presence of stomach acid and the drop in pH that follows, signals to the pancreas to produce and release its digestive juices and enzymes.

HCI also triggers the muscle contractions of the intestines (aka peristalsis) that help breakdown and physically move the food and digested particles through the rest of your digestive tract.

Main Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid (aka hypochlorhydria)

  • Heartburn, reflux or indigestion
  • A feeling of fullness after eating, bloating and discomfort, which can lower your appetite
  • Irregular bowel movements and dysbiosis in the gut (an imbalance in your gut bacteria)
  • New allergies or sensitivities to foods that you used to be able to tolerate
  • Anemia or other nutrient deficiencies like B12 and folate
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Dry skin and skin conditions, like acne, eczema, psoriasis, hives, or rosacea
  • Low stomach acid can also co-exist with autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, or Celiac Disease

What Causes Low Stomach Acid?

Studies show that more than 30% of people over 60 years old experience little to no stomach acid secretion. And another study found that 40% of postmenopausal women produce no basal gastric acid (2).

This isn't just an age-related problem though.

While stomach acid declines with age, triggers like - chronic stress, nail biting, gum chewing, and other habits that "trick" your body into thinking that food is on its way can also lower levels.

Poor diet, chronic use of antacids, antibiotics and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) will also deplete stomach acid, ultimately making any low HCI symptoms worse.

Chlorine and fluoride in drinking water can lower stomach acid levels too.

So insufficient HCI levels are more common than you may think.

How to Test For Low Stomach Acid At Home?

One easy way to test for low stomach acid at home is to eat a beetroot, or drink some beet juice, and then check your urine.

Beets are a great tool to see if you have low stomach acid and to see how fast your digestive system is eliminating foods.

low stomach acid

When you are low in stomach acid, your body is unable to metabolise beetroot properly.

It should only take 12 - 24 hours for your digestive system to break down food.

If the colour of your urine is still yellow within a day of consumption, that means you probably have enough HCI.

But if your urine or stools turn a pinkish or red colour, your HCI levels may be low.

The theory is that HCI plays a major role in breaking down the pigments in foods, so if there are still pigments left at the end of digestion, you may not have enough stomach acid.

The beetroot test is purely a guide. When working with clients I determine low stomach acid based on clinical symptoms and functional health tests.

6 Steps to Naturally Improve Low Stomach Acid

Here’s 6 steps to help improve your digestion if you have low stomach acid levels. By following these steps, you can reduce stress on your digestive system and better absorb nutrients.

You want your body to have the resources it needs to produce adequate gastric acid.

When you improve stomach acid levels, it can make a big difference to your overall health and wellbeing.

1. Drink Lemon Water

There is some evidence that lemon juice can help stimulate proper gastric acid production and bile production.

For a happy liver and lymph system, make a habit of drinking lemon water before having any other drinks that day.

Drink a large glass of warm or room temperature water with freshly squeezed lemon juice in (no more than 1 tablespoon), on waking.

If you're worried about staining your teeth, use a straw.

The liver is extremely active during sleep since this is the body’s time to restore and regenerate. Drinking enough water, especially in the morning, helps to flush out toxins.

If you suffer from acid reflux due to low stomach acid you may find lemon water helpful.

But take care to start with a hint of lemon juice first and see how you go. If you find it makes things worse, just drink warm water only.

2. Hydrate Between Meals

Not only is it important to drink water on waking, but also between meals.

This is especially more important if you have low stomach acid.

Herbal teas and non sugary and artificially sweetened drinks containing water also count.

Good hydration will help activate bowel motility and push contents through the digestive system. This is so important. Without good bowel motility microbes will ferment in your gut and toxicity will build.

3. Use Ginger to Improve Overall Digestion

As mentioned earlier digestive juices help to improve stomach acid production, and ginger is one of the best herbs for increasing digestive juices, plus supporting better digestion.

Add ginger to your meals, smoothies or drink ginger tea.

Ginger won’t stop your body from making stomach acid. It simply helps keep it under control and because of its antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, ginger can make the lining of your stomach stronger.

So ginger can help your body absorb more nutrients, reduce gas, relax your intestines if you suffer from abdominal cramping, kill harmful bacteria that is linked to acid reflux and protect against heartburn.

Ginger also helps to prevent the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) from loosening, which means acid cannot regurgitate back into the esophagus.

Wow, ginger is a powerful agent.

4. Use Smoothies & Protein Shakes to Increase Nutrient Absorption

Liquid nutrition will help improve your stomach acid levels. Protein shakes are pre-metabolised and very easy to digest. They don’t depend on stomach acid production either.

If you have low gastric acid production it’s wise to incorporate a nutrient rich liquid meal like a smoothie into your day to enhance amino acid absorption and reduce stress on the gastrointestinal GI system.

5. Eat In a Relaxed State

Today we tend to eat our food quickly and snack often throughout the day.

Only eat when you’re hungry and never (if you can help it) eat when you are in sympathetic stress (fight or flight) mode.

Take time to relax, breathe deeply and increase parasympathetic activity before diving into a meal.

For healthy digestion, you want to feel relaxed at least 15 minutes before eating and up until 1 - 2 hours after finishing your meal.

6. Chew Food Thoroughly

Chewing food well supports adequate stomach acid levels.

I’m talking 30 times or more before swallowing. Yep, it sounds a lot but breaking your food down as much as possible before you even swallow your food can improve your gastric acid levels.

The more saliva (aka spit) you can work up in your mouth, the more digestive enzymes you’ll produce.

 

Have you tried the beetroot test? Do comment below. Or maybe you've tried other tests to check your digestion and stomach acid levels?

Nicola x

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Meet Nicola - blog posts

Meet Nicola

Hello, I'm a Holistic Nutritionist, Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner, Breathwork Instructor and Pain & Stress Management Therapist with heaps of experience of helping others tweak and transform their health and life. 

Let's work together to optimise how you look, feel and function for better health and wellness.

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