Low Stomach Acid
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Low stomach acid or Hypochlorhydria is a disorder that doesn’t get talked about enough. But it could be the reason behind your bloating, bowel issues, nutrient deficiencies, heartburn, and chronic upset stomach.
According to Healthline, “Hypochlorhydria is a deficiency of hydrochloric acid in the stomach”. Our stomach’s main role is to digest food. The stomach secretes hydrochloric acid and several enzymes to do this. It breaks down the food and allows us to absorb the nutrients in the food. The stomach is protected from this strong acid with mucus. Without this protective mucosal wall, the acids could digest part of the stomach causing ulcers and irritation.
While most of us are familiar with hyperacidity, an excess of stomach acid, not a lot of people know about low stomach acid.
Too little stomach acid can cause malabsorption and digestion problems. Just as too much stomach acid causes irritation and inflammation of the stomach lining or ulcers.
Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid
Low stomach acid causes a plethora of other symptoms and associated disorders that sometimes mimicking hyperacidity.
Low levels of acid in the stomach can have an impact in how you digest and absorb nutrients from your food. This leads to decreased levels of essential nutrients. You may feel fatigue or have low energy or feel like you have very little strength for exercise or any type of activity.
You can be bloated or have nausea before and after meals. This happens because the food and nutrients can’t be broken down in the stomach. The low acid causes the food to sit in the stomach and bacteria to build up leading to bloating.
You could even experience some of the same symptoms more associated with hyperacidity and GERD like heartburn and gas.
Other symptoms include upset stomach, diarrhea, GI infections, indigestion, a desire to eat even when you’re not hungry, and deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals (vitamin B12, calcium and magnesium).
Some of the physical symptoms can be worse in overweight or obese individuals too.
In an interview with Dr. Ashkan Farhadi, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in California for MyFitnessPal, abdominal fat can create pressure on the belly area and change the angle of the stomach thereby worsening symptoms of low stomach acid and even hyperacidity.
What Causes Low Stomach Acid?
Certain factors can lead or increase your risk for developing low stomach acid. These are:
- Medications – certain medications taken long-term (more than 2 weeks) that reduce stomach acids like proton pump inhibitors can potentially cause low stomach acid.
- Age – if you are 65 and older, you have a higher risk for developing low stomach acid.
- Stress – high levels of stress for long periods can be a risk for developing low stomach acid as well.
- H. pylori infection – having an h.pylori infection can lead to low stomach acid. You can visit your doctor and talk about getting tested for h.pylori via blood antibody test, urea breath test or other test to verify h.pylori infection.
- Stomach surgery – stomach surgery can also be a risk to developing low stomach acid.
- Vitamin deficiency – deficiencies in zinc and B vitamins may also lead to low stomach acid.
Treatment for Low Stomach Acid
Talk to your doctor if you suspect that you may have low stomach acid. Your doctor should conduct a full physical exam and a battery of tests to rule out other issues that may be causing bloating and other GI problems. He or she may require further testing to check the PH balance of your stomach acid. A PH of less than 3 is the normal reading; while a PH of 3 to 5 shows Hypochlorhydria. A PH of 5 or more shows that you have almost no stomach acid (also known as Achlorhydria).
You may be asked to stop any medications such as PPIs before your tests for a more accurate reading. From there, your doctor may recommend diet and lifestyle changes as well as supplements like zinc or B complex for malabsorption issues as well as HCl supplement and an enzyme called Pepsin to help increase stomach acidity.
A good home remedy is to drink a shot or half a shot of Apple Cider Vinegar diluted with water before your meals to increase stomach acid.
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"What is hypochlorhydria?" - Medical News Today, July 17, 2018
"How to Increase Stomach Acid at Home" - Healthline, March 7, 2018
"What Is Hypochlorhydria?" - Healthline march 12, 2018
"Is Your Proton Pump Inhibitor Doing More Harm Than Good?" - TheIV, October 31, 2017