Are Low Digestive-Acid Levels Robbing You of Nutrients? Symptoms & Remedies for Hypochlorhydia
One of the fundamental components of optimum health is proper digestion. It’s the basis of every healthy food choice we make because even the healthiest food will go to waste if the body is unable to process and extract its nutrients. I don’t know about you, but if I was gifted a bag full of cash, I wouldn’t toss it in the nearest dumpster! I’d use it to my full advantage - pay off my student loans, buy all my loved ones a Vitamix, and invest in my future. Well, this concept can also be applied to our digestive system.
Why not use the food we eat to invest in the future of our health?
Without diving head first into an anatomy and physiology lesson (bor-ing!), the major function of the digestive system is to break down and absorb nutrients. After our food is chewed and swallowed, it travels through the esophagus into the stomach, where the magic happens. The stomach mixes the food with the oh-so-important gastric acid secretion called hydrochloric acid, which is needed for the breakdown of protein, nutrient absorption, and the prevention of unfriendly bacteria in the digestive tract.
Without sufficient hydrochloric acid secretion, we place ourselves at risk for two major concerns:
- Proper nutrient absorption cannot occur.
- Bacterial overgrowth in the stomach can occur, which has been linked to GERD, peptic ulcers, and chronically weakened stomach acid called hypochlorhydria.
The truth is, when we are unable to produce enough hydrochloric acid, those huge kale salads you’ve been proudly chompin’ on aren’t as beneficial as they could be.
So does this mean all that healthy food is going to waste? No, of course not. Keep showing off those big, beautiful salads. Don’t throw in the fork! Wouldn’t it be nice, though, to get the very most out of all those moments of nutritional pats on the back? We deserve to reap all the benefits of our healthy food choices.
"Do I Have Hypochlorhydria?"
Consider the following factors when determining your level of risk for weak or deficient stomach acid, also known as hypochlorhydria:
- Chronic use of antacids
- Chronic helicobacter pylori infections
- Pernicious anemia, chronic atrophic gastritis, and autoimmune diseases
- Previous gastric bypass surgery
- A significant history of eating processed, nutrient-depleted foods
Digestive Symptoms of Hypochlorhydria:
- Bloating, belching, flatulence, and/or burning sensations immediately after eating
- A feeling of excessive fullness after a meal
- Indigestion, diarrhea, and/or constipation
- Nausea after taking supplements
- Undigested food in stool
- Chronic intestinal parasites and/or flora
- Chronic candida
Other Symptoms of Hypochlorhydia:
- Multiple food allergies
- Itching around the rectum
- Weak, peeling, and/or cracked fingernails
- Dilated blood vessels in the cheeks and nose
- Iron deficiency
Long-term hypochlorhydria can ultimately lead to associated diseases, such as:
- Skin Conditions: Dermatitis herpetiformis, Eczema, Psoriasis, Rosacea, Vitligo, Acne, Chronic Hives
- Hormonal Condition: Diabetes, Addison’s disease, Graves' disease, Hyperthyroid, Hypothyroid,Thyrotoxicosis,Gallbladder disease
- Immune Disorder: Asthma, Autoimmune Disorders, Celiac Disease, Myasthenia gravis, Osteoporosis, Rhuematoid Arthritis, Sjogren's Syndrome, Lupus, Hepatitis
Natural Remedies for Better Nutrient Absorption
If you suspect you’re in need of a hydrochloric acid revival, there are a few safe and natural remedies available. Think of them as your digestive jumper cables.
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV): Organic, raw, and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar is made from freshly pressed apple juice that’s fermented for 4-6 weeks at room temperature. Not only does ACV pack a punch with bright and crisp flavor, but it’s a nutritional powerhouse as well. Check out these brag-worthy benefits:
- Malic acid: Contains anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties, which are essential for those with weakened stomach acid
- Naturally healing and cleansing due to its high probiotic content and acidity
- Though ACV is acidic, it actually has an alkalinizing effect on the body, which promotes the slightly alkaline internal pH required for optimal systemic functioning and health
- Promotes hydrochloric acid production in the stomach
Start with one tablespoon in 4-8 oz. of room temperature water in the morning before your first meal, and then before each meal thereafter. You can work your way up to 2 tablespoons in 8-16 oz. of water over a period of time. Use your body’s comfort level as your guide. Another very important thing to remember is to ensure your apple cider vinegar is organic, raw, and unpasteurized. It will be full of sediment, giving it a cloudy appearance. (I prefer Bragg’s.)
Bitter Herbs: Herbalists subscribe to the treatment of digestive ailments with bitter herbs, as they are believed to promote the secretion of stomach acid. Gentian is the most widely used bitter herb for digestion, followed barberry root, dandelion, and artichoke. They are more often recommended in liquid form rather than capsules. The reasoning behind liquified bitter herbs is that the bitter taste on the back of the tongue triggers the release of digestive juices. You can also drink a cup of tea containing bitter herbs prior to a meal to stimulate digestive secretions.
Grapefruit seed extract, oil of oregano, enteric-coated peppermint, and probiotics: These natural remedies are all especially useful to address bacterial overgrowth, which is often a co-occurring condition with weakened stomach acid. Use as directed.
Track Your Progress
Once you get started with some of these natural remedies, it’s always important to track your progress. Re-training your body to produce an adequate supply of digestive secretions takes time and commitment. Most importantly, eating a well-balanced diet rich in nutrients alongside these remedies is the key to optimal digestion and overall improved quality of life. When it comes to health, supplementing a poor diet will not unlock our fullest potential. Underlying issues must be addressed, and taking a look at the food we eat is part of that process.
Murray, M.T., & Pizzorno, J. (2012). The encyclopedia of natural medicine. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.