Do you have any of the following symptoms? Bloating, gas, belching, reflux, heartburn, burning in the stomach, constipation, or a heavy feeling in the stomach after eating.
You might be experiencing a condition known as hypochlorhydria (hypo=low, chlorhydria=stomach acid).
Often people mistake low stomach acid for high stomach acid. They experience reflux and heartburn, and understandably think that what feels like too much acid must be just that. They then go to the doctor and the doctor might prescribe an antacid (which is extremely dangerous) when in fact the problem is too little stomach acid.
Why does low stomach acid feel like high stomach acid?
When the stomach does not make enough acid, food sits in the stomach and begins to ferment. The fermentation causes gas to be released. The gas needs to go somewhere, so it goes up and causes burping. Sometimes when the gas escapes, some of the stomach contents, which are acidic, make contact with the esophagus. The esophagus doesn’t have the protection that the stomach has and thus you might experience “heart burn.”
When the stomach produces enough acid, food is moved along the digestive tract in a timely manner and reflux does not occur.
Why do people stop making enough stomach acid?
There is a specific type of cell called a parietal cell that produces stomach acid. When it is stressed over many years, its function begins to diminish. Various factors that can stress a parietal cell are:
- Stress (and eating when upset)
- Alcoholic beverages
- Eating too rapidly
- Overconsumption of protein
- Fatty foods
The good news is that we can restore the function of the parietal cell. By eating a whole foods diet and supplementing certain digestive-enhancing remedies, the parietal cell can once again do its job.
Why is low stomach acid dangerous?
Stomach acid is one of our first lines of defence against pathogenic organisms and food antigens. When these substances are ingested, stomach acid destroys them, preventing them from entering circulation. 1 2
A bacteria known as H. Pylori thrives when the stomach doesn’t make enough acid. H. Pylori has been shown to cause ulcers and is also associated with Barrette’s Esophagitis and oesophageal cancer. 3 H. Pylori is also associated with decreased secretion of intrinsic factor, which is necessary for adequate absorption of B12. 4
Testing to see if you have low stomach acid
There are a couple of tests used to determine the level of stomach acidity. The first one is a medical test and the second is an easy test that can be done by anyone.
Test #1 The Heidelberg Capsule Test (HCT): In the HCT, the doctor gives you a pill to swallow that relays the acidity of the stomach to a monitor. The ability of the stomach to increase stomach acid can then be recorded.
Test #2 The Stomach Acid Challenge (SAC):* In order to do this test you’ll need hydrochloric acid capsules called betaine hydrochloride (available in any health food store). At your first meal take 1 capsule and notice if you feel a warm or burning sensation. If you do, discontinue the test immediately. If you do not, increase the dosage to 2 capsules at the next meal of the same size. If you don’t feel a warm or burning sensation, increase to 3 capsules. Increase up to 7 capsules if no warm or burning sensation is experienced. If you feel the sensation reduce your dosage by one capsule and consume that amount at every meal.
Being able to consume more than one hydrochloric acid capsule with a meal is an indication that you might have low stomach acid.
Digestion is where everything begins and everything ends. It must be working optimally in order to have optimal health. Stomach acid production is the beginning of the whole digestive cascade. It is not difficult to figure out if your low in stomach acid, and correcting low stomach acid can have huge benefits.
*Consult with a trained practitioner when doing the Stomach Acid Challenge. Do not perform the test if you currently have or have a history of ulcers or gastritis.
- Pilotto A. Aging and the gastrointestinal tract. Ital J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 1998;30:137-153. ↩
- Schmucker DL., Heyworth MF, Owen RL, et al. Impact of aging on gastrointestinal mucosal immunity. Dig Dis Sci. 1996; 41:1183-1193. ↩
- A.J. Cameron, et al. The Incidence of Adenocarcinoma in Columnar-lined (Barrett’s) Esophagus. NEJM, 1985;313(14): 857-9. ↩
- Baik HW, Russell RM. vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly. Annu Rev Nutr. 1999:357-377. ↩