Have you made positive changes to your diet, and yet you are tired after eating and still don’t feel your best? You may not have enough hydrochloric acid (HC1) in your stomach.
The route cause of many digestive issues is hypochlorhydria or low stomach acid (hydrochloric acid). I have to admit, I didn’t know much about hydrochloric acid before I began studying at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I discovered that through the path of better health that I can remedy insufficient hydrochloric acid levels.
Now I know that without sufficient amounts of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, the healthy food that you put into your body will not be digested properly. The nutrients also will not be well absorbed or assimilated. I eat plenty of organic foods, but are all the beneficial nutrients used?
It’s like putting additional firewood on a wet fire. No matter how much wood is added, the fire doesn’t burn because the woodpile was damp.
When there isn’t enough stomach acid, the firewood, or the food, would just sit in the stomach for a long time. It ferments in your stomach which increases the amount of gas and flatulence (and discomfort).
In fact, a lot of important bodily functions depend on sufficient hydrochloric acid production. Here they are:
Protein Digestion: Hydrochloric acid is essential to activate the enzyme pepsin, which is responsible for protein digestion. Hydrochloric acid would turn pepsinogen into pepsin, which helps activate vitamin B12 digestion as well.
Nutrient Absorption: When HCl is low, there will also be insufficient amounts of B12, protein and fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E and minerals such as iron, manganese or zinc.
Protects Against Infection: When we don’t have sufficient stomach acid, the immune system may be impaired, which can lead to H. pylori, parasites, fungi, food poisoning and other infections.
Smooth Organ Communication: When the organs of the body are working well, the stomach will inform the brain to tell the liver how much stomach acid is needed for the liver to do its job. The right amount of bile also is needed for digestion. When stomach and liver communication falters, proteins, fats and carbohydrates are not broken down properly. The adverse result is binge eating, sugar cravings and eventually hypoglycemia, where your blood sugar levels fall dangerously low.
Do you commonly get acid reflux or indigestion and take antacids? That isn’t the best idea. Indigestion is a sign of a weak digestive symptom. High fermentation in the stomach and duodenum indicates low stomach acid and insufficient bile—your body is not absorbing the nutrients it needs to function. Antacids send the stomach contents to the small intestine, where fermentation still occurs. Gas is still an issue, and your digestion is still impaired. So no real gains from popping fizzy tablets; degenerative diseases have been linked to antacid use.
Underlying Causes of Low Hydrochloric Acid
There are several reasons you have low hydrochloric levels in the stomach. Causes associated with the problem include diets high in refined and processed foods, fast foods, dairy products, and a diet high in meat, especially red meat. That’s not all. Other causes include drinking chlorinated water or also carbonated or cold beverages (including beer), low salt intake, dehydration, coffee consumption, microwaving protein foods, and poor food combining (protein and carbohydrates, or proteins and fats and oils).
There are several diseases and health conditions linked to low stomach acid (also known as low gastric acidity), including celiac disease, asthma, eczema, diabetes, chronic autoimmune disorders, gallbladder disease, osteoporosis, psoriasis and hepatitis.
Do You Have Low Stomach Acid?
It’s time to play detective: What signs suggest you are not producing enough hydrochloric acid in the stomach?
Evidence includes bad breath (gum won’t help for long), dysbiosis (or leaky gut), gas, bloating, belching, burning, a sense of fullness after eating a few bites, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, multiple food allergies, nausea after taking supplements, itching around the rectum, acne, iron deficiency, undigested food in your stool, weak, peeling, and cracked nails, ridges on the fingernails, or chronic candida. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I’m sure you get the idea!
How to Increase Hydrochloric Acid Levels Naturally
Betaine HCl with pepsin will increase the hydrochloric acid in your stomach. Health practitioners and holistic nutritionists will recommend the Betaine HCl test. You will start with one capsule during or after the largest meal of the day, and it should be with a protein. You should feel a burning or warming sensation (indigestion) in your stomach or upper abdomen. If you do not feel a sensation, increase the dosage to two capsules at your largest meal during the next day. Then repeat this process every day until you feel the sensation, which will indicate adequate hydrochloric acid levels.
Once you feel the burning sensation, reduce the dose by one, and take that amount at every large meal. Continue at that amount until the sensation returns, and then decrease the dose until you get to one capsule. Eventually the warming sensation will disappear completely, and you can stop taking the capsules. Others may continue to supplement with digestive enzymes that combine HCl and enzymes.
Foods to Increase Stomach Acid
There are healthy foods to help your stomach produce hydrochloric acid, which can work in conjunction with the Betaine HCl test. A tablespoon or more of apple cider vinegar with a glass of water, lemon juice with water, spinach, celery, black olives, kimchi and bitter greens such as arugula and dandelion greens all contribute to boosting hydrochloric acid levels. Swedish bitters are also considered a tonic that helps with digestion; take them 20 minutes before your meal.
Hydrochloric acid production decreases when you age, and low stomach acid is more common among people over 40; however, the amount of unhealthy, fast-food-eating teenagers is on the rise. As a result, low stomach acid is a widespread issue.
So, before you eat anything more, ask yourself, “Do I have enough HCl?”
Rowland, D., Digestion: Inner Pathway to Health (Parry Sound: Rowland Publications, 2006), 31-32.
Lipski, E., Digestive Wellness: Strengthen the Immune System and Prevent Disease Through Healthy Digestion (New York: McGraw Hill, 2012), 32-33.
Hinton, L., Nutritional Symptomatology (Toronto: Health House, 2012), 18-20.