Human stomach secretes hydrochloric acid. It is essential for breakdown of food, besides facilitating easy digestion and absorption of various nutrients. It is also useful in elimination of bacteria and viruses present in food, thus protecting from infection. If your stomach secretes less amount of acid, you may be at risk of suffering from several health problems.
Low stomach acid in medical literature is called hypochlorhydria. This problem is often overlooked among patients suffering from gas and indigestion, especially in elderly individuals. With growing age, acid secretion in stomach reduces.
There are many other factors responsible for low stomach acid other than aging.Inadequate acid in stomach can lead to several problems such as reduced appetite, upset stomach, anemia, malnutrition, gasses, acid reflux, leaky gut syndrome etc. To combat this issue you need to increase stomach acid secretion. Treatment may depend on the underlying cause. There are several natural remedies that are found effective in normalizing low stomach acid and digestion.
Causes of low stomach acid:
The stomach lining secretes hydrochloric acid, and various other enzymes such as pepsinogen, intrinsic factor, mucus, etc. Normally the pH of stomach is low, this means it is acidic. However, in certain circumstances stomach may secrete less amount of acid than required.Here are the following causes for low stomach acid secretion.
- Age: Low stomach acid is common in elderly age group. This is because the parietal cells of the gastric glands start secreting less amount of acid with aging.
- Stress: Stomach acid secretion can be retarded with chronic mental stress. This is why many who are stressed feel full after eating very small amount of food.
- Nutrient deficiency: Deficiency of vitamin B and zinc is known to reduce stomach acid production. This may be because of reduced intake of vitamins in diet or due to stress and alcohol consumption.
- Medicines: Low stomach acid can result from long term use of antacids and proton pump inhibitor (PPI).
- Pylori infection: H. Pylori is bacteria which causes gastritis and gastric ulcer. If the infection is not treated it can cause low stomach acid.
- Gastric surgery: Stomach surgery and removal of part of stomach during surgery can lead to low secretion of stomach acid.
- Excess of fluoride: Too much of fluoride in stomach can trigger less secretion of hydrochloric acid in stomach.
Symptoms of low stomach acid:
Low stomach acid can cause several symptoms but often they are overlooked and linked as a symptom of some other ailment. Low stomach acid can impair digestion and reduce absorption of nutrients from food. This may produce symptoms such as feeling of fullness and gasses in the stomach even if you have eaten less. Bloating is common if your stomach secretes less amount of stomach acid. There may be irregularity in bowel movement. Person may have frequent gastrointestinal infections. Iron deficiency anemia and increased fatigue as a result of anemia is commonly associated with low acid level in stomach. Person may also suffer from various other nutritional deficiencies if pH in stomach is high. Normally it must be less than 3 as stomach is highly acidic. Low stomach acid can also trigger skin problems such as acne and eczema. Hair loss, brittle nails, frequent diarrhea can be symptoms of hypochlorhydria.
Diagnosis and treatment:
There is no easy way to diagnose low stomach acid. Doctors take into consideration symptoms during history taking of the patient. However, to confirm, the appropriate way is to test for stomach pH from the stomach secretions. Usually stomach has very low pH as it is acidic. If pH is more than 3, the stomach is said to have low acid secretion.
Treatment of low stomach acid depends on the symptom severity and the underlying condition. For example if H.pylori is the cause, a course of antibiotics is prescribed by the physician. Aside from the conventional treatment, there are several natural remedies that can increase stomach acid and normalize stomach pH.
- Apple cider vinegar: Take 2 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and mix it in a cup of water. Drink this mixture before meals. Apple cider vinegar has low pH and hence it aids in balancing stomach pH.
- Eat fermented foods: Fermented food is effective in digestion of food. It maintains healthy bacterial flora in the intestine and enhances absorption of nutrients. Yogurt, buttermilk, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso etc are fermented foods.
- Thoroughly chew your food: As you know, the first step of digestion begins from mouth. Chewing food thoroughly increases secretion of enzymes that are involved in digestion of food.
- Eat healthy food: Eat healthy food that consists of fruits and vegetables. Both helps in increasing stomach acidic level. Avoid processed food as they are known to cause inflammation and decrease acid level. Also reduce alcohol intake.
- Avoid antacid for long term: Antacid for long term can reduce acid secretion in stomach. Hence you must avoid it.
- Reduce stress: As stress is one factor that can cause low stomach acid, try to reduce your stress by practicing yoga and meditation.