Could low stomach acid be causing many of your health issues?
Stomach acid doesn’t get the attention it deserves, which means that many people are suffering without knowing it too.
In this post, learn about the functions of stomach acid, some ways to tell if you have low stomach acid, and easy food tips and supplements to help.
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Table of Contents
Functions of stomach acid
When food enters the stomach, it should be very acidic. A normal stomach produces several quarts of gastric fluid a day, most of which is acid.
The pH of the stomach is supposed to be around 1-2, which is even more acidic than lemon juice!
Stomach acid, or hydrochloric acid, is required for overall health.
Here are the roles of stomach acid in the body:
- Kills unwanted germs and bacteria [R]
- Stimulates the intestines and pancreas to make enzymes for digestion
- Breaks down proteins so they can be absorbed
- Helps prevent foodborne illness
- Essential for vitamin B12 absorption
- Helps the body absorb calcium, iron, magnesium, and other minerals [R, R]
- Required to help keep the stomach contents from flowing into the esophagus
If you are low in stomach acid, the condition is called hypochlorhydria.
This disorder can create many health issues for these reasons, primarily due to the lack of nutrients related to poor absorption.
Acid is also required in the stomach to trigger the opening of the stomach contents into the intestines. This helps to keep food from flowing back into the esophagus. Some cases of “acid reflux” are actually caused by low stomach acid too[R].
In summary, stomach acid plays a critical role in getting the nutrients you need from food by helping to stimulate enzymes and breaking down foods for absorption.
In other words, you don’t want to be without stomach acid.
Let’s take a look at what causes low stomach acid and the disease conditions related to low stomach acid.
What causes low stomach acid?
By getting to the root cause of your low stomach acid, you can help manage low stomach acid too.
Here are some common causes and factors related to low levels of stomach acid:
- Stress [R]
- H. pylori infection
- Antacids, proton pump inhibitors, ranitidine, famotidine
- Imbalanced diets
- Stomach surgery or gastric bypass surgery
- Autoimmune conditions [R]
- SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) [R]
- Vegan diet or vegetarian diets
- Diets low in B vitamins and zinc
Zinc and vitamins help the stomach to make hydrochloric acid. For this reason, imbalanced diets or restrictive vegan diets that are low in absorbable nutrients can cause low stomach acid.
Some people also theorize that by not eating meat, the stomach doesn’t produce as much acid, thereby making these nutrients harder to digest. I can’t find any research to support this theory, however.
But, vegan sources of zinc aren’t as readily absorbed, so plausibly, this could lead to a decrease in stomach acid levels.
Low stomach acid symptoms
Symptoms of low stomach acid range from digestive complaints to infections, allergies and hair loss. In other words, hypochlorhydria can affect your whole body.
Often, people may mistakenly feel like their stomach acid levels are too high when they are actually too low.
Some commonly reported symptoms of too little acid are:
- Trouble digesting meat
- Bad breath
- Increased risk of food allergies
- Acid reflux or heartburn
- Undigested food in bowel movements
- Nausea from vitamins
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Hair loss in women
- Brittle nails
- Food sensitivities
- Yeast infections
- Mood swings
Think of it like this: your stomach acid helps to break your food down and kill unwanted germs.
When you lack stomach acid, food doesn’t digest well, so the whole body becomes deprived of nutrients, and bacteria levels get out of balance.
Lack of nutrients due to low stomach acid can lead to hair loss, poor mood, skin breakouts, fatigue, and more!
How to tell if you have low stomach acid
You can ask your doctor to check your stomach pH test. This low stomach acid test is done with a pH probe, which is a bit invasive and for this reason, it is not done very frequently.
It is also possible to test your stomach acid levels by doing a simple baking soda test.
Baking soda test
One of the easiest ways to tell if you may have low stomach acid levels is by trying the baking soda test.
- First thing in the morning before food, drinking, or brushing:
- Simply mix ¼ tsp of baking soda into 4 oz of warm water. Drink this mixture and immediately set a timer to see how long it takes you to burp.
- You should belch fairly quickly afterward if your stomach makes acid.
- If it takes you more than 3-5 minutes to burp, you are likely not making enough stomach acid.
This is because the baking soda is alkaline and when it mixes with hydrochloric acid in the stomach, it creates bubbles that rise. In a healthy stomach, these bubbles will form quite quickly.
While this does not provide a diagnosis of low stomach acid, it can help you have a conversation with your doctor about the appropriate tests and treatments for you.
Note: baking soda is also used to neutralize acid in the stomach, and for this reason, it can make your stomach feel off or nauseated for a bit. It does for me.
Remedies for low stomach acid
If your low stomach acid is being caused by your medications, please check with your doctor to find out the best way to help manage this.
Otherwise, natural remedies for low stomach acid include:
- Probiotics [R]
- Diet changes
- Stress relief
- Apple cider vinegar
- Betaine HCL
- Digestive enzymes
- Marshmallow root
- Bovine colostrum
- Vitamins and minerals
The health of the gut is not a one-way street. This means that when you make overall positive changes to heal the gut, it can have positive ripple effects everywhere, including your stomach.
For example, we now know that probiotics for acid reflux are beneficial, even though they were traditionally used to treat lower GI symptoms.
Eating a well-balanced diet may help increase stomach acid production naturally over time.
Foods that are whole and unprocessed are your best bets. As a rule, try to avoid packaged foods, fried foods, and high sugar foods and beverages. Some sites like Healthline also suggest avoiding coffee and tea because these beverages may increase the likelihood of reflux.
Because autoimmune conditions are often at the root of low stomach acid, following an autoimmune protocol diet may also be beneficial.
By finding calming time in your day, you support all aspects of a healthy digestive tract. This includes a balanced stomach with adequate acid for digestive function.
Try yoga, meditation, and slow breathing techniques. Also, get outside and enjoy the fresh air.
By far one of the best digestive aids is sauerkraut. Time and time again, my clients swear that it is one of the most important things they have added to their diet to feel better.
While raw sauerkraut is mostly used as a natural probiotic, it makes sense that it can help with low stomach acid because it provides a natural level of acid for the stomach too.
It also provides a natural source of digestive enzymes.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Not only may apple cider vinegar help to acidify the stomach, it is a source of beneficial probiotics. This is true if you buy the apple cider vinegar “with the mother.”
Honestly, there is no research to back that apple cider vinegar truly helps with low stomach acid, but logic contends that it would.
Used as a remedy for many digestive conditions by Hippocrates, the father of medicine, and in traditional Chinese medicine, apple cider vinegar’s anecdotal benefits are many.
Just be sure to dilute apple cider vinegar with water. A common practice is to drink 16 oz of water with 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar per day. Mixing it with honey is also common practice; honey is a good stomach tonic because it contains natural prebiotics.
Using Betaine HCL helps many people with their GI reflux symptoms and even gallbladder issues too according to reviews.
Bear in mind, that most of these reports are not yet proven out in research, so try them with caution and always discuss adding betaine HCL with your doctor.
Betaine HCL is often combined with enzymes because when your stomach acid is low, you also can’t make enough of the enzyme called pepsin.
Pepsin helps to break down proteins in your diet to help them absorb better. A highly rated pepsin with betaine HCL is by Pure Encapsulations.
Bitter vegetables and herbs, such as kale, broccoli, mint, sage, sorrel, yarrow, chamomile, ginger, and dandelion are stimulating to the digestive tract, which supports healthy acid production.
Supplements of bitters are available too, and a good one is by Urban Moonshine.
Marshmallow root helps to form the mucus lining, which is a protective layer that keeps the stomach and intestines healthy.
This root has been used for thousands of years for digestive health.
Research shows that it may help heal gastric ulcers too [R].
While bovine colostrum doesn’t directly affect stomach acid, it can help heal leaky gut. This helps to protect the stomach lining and keep you feeling your best.
After all, healing the whole digestive tract truly is the objective of most people.
If you are looking for a good brand of bovine colostrum, Sovereign Laboratories is highly rated.
*Avoid bovine colostrum if you have a dairy allergy.
Vitamins and Minerals
Low levels of B vitamins and minerals like zinc can make it so your stomach doesn’t make enough acid.
By adding in the best natural vitamins and minerals, you can support healthy acid levels in your stomach too.
Last, but definitely not least, is ginger.
Ginger deserves a lot of attention because it is an overall rockstar for gut health.
This powerful spice helps to reduce the risk of stomach ulcers, decreases inflammation from low stomach acid, helps improve nutrient absorption, reduces nausea, and helps your stomach empty too.
For all of these reasons, ginger makes a great add-in for anyone who has low stomach acid.
All told, ginger is one of the best stomach remedies out there.
Related: 12 Benefits of Ginger for Digestion
Heidi Moretti, MS, RD is The Healthy RD. A registered dietitian for 23 years as well as a book author of the new book Gut Fix and The Whole Body Guide to Gut Health, Heidi has a passion for functional nutrition and natural medicine. She has researched supplements and natural medicine throughout her career. One of her biggest loves is helping people gain function and vitality by tackling the root causes of illness.
The information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration or any other medical body and is shared for educational purposes only. While The Healthy RD’s posts are backed by research, you are unique, so you must seek care from your own dietitian or healthcare provider. This post is not meant to diagnose or treat any conditions. Consult your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your supplement regimen or lifestyle.