Hypochlorhydria is a deficiency of hydrochloric acid(HCL) in the stomach. The stomach contains a combination of HCL, enzymes, and a mucus coating that protects the lining of your stomach from all the acid.
HCL helps the body to break down, digest, and absorb nutrients such as protein. The acidic environment also kills bacteria and viruses in the stomach, protecting the body from infection.
Low levels of HCL can have a major impact on the body’s ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients. If left untreated, low HCL can cause damage to the gastrointestinal system, infections, and a number of chronic health issues.
Symptoms of low stomach acid are related to impaired digestion, increased susceptibility to infection, and reduced absorption of nutrients from food.
- Bloating, burping and gas
- Nausea when taking vitamins or supplements
- Desire to eat when not hungry
- Indigestion and stomach upset
- Hair loss
- Undigested food in stool
- Weak, brittle fingernails
- GI infections
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Deficiencies of other minerals, such as vitamin B-12, calcium, and magnesium
- Protein deficiency
- Neurological issues, such as numbness, tingling, and vision changes
Many chronic health conditions have been associated with low levels of stomach acid. These include conditions such as allergies, thyroiddys function, acne, psoriasis/eczema and autoimmune disorders.
Some of the most common causes for low stomach acid include:
- Older age = Hypochlorhydria is much more common as you get older (over 65 years)
- Stress = Chronic stress can decrease production of stomach acid.
- Vitamin deficiencies = Deficiency of zinc or B vitamins can also lead to low stomach acid as these vitamins are essential in the production of stomach acid
- Medications = Taking antacids or medications prescribed to treat ulcers and acid reflux, such asPPIs, for a long period of time can lead to hypochlorhydria. If you take these medications and are concerned that you have symptoms of low stomach acid, speak with your doctor before making changes to your medications.
- H. Pylori. = Infection with H. Pylori is a common cause of gastric ulcers.If left untreated, it can result in decreased stomach acid.
If you have questions or concerns about your symptoms or risk factors for low stomach acid production, speak with a healthcare practitioner. They can help develop a treatment plan that is best for you.
Treatment for hypochlorhydria will vary depending on the cause and severity of symptoms.
Most cases of low HCL can be improved with dietary modifications and supplements alone. HCL supplements (betaine hydrochloride),often taken in conjunction with an enzyme called pepsin, may help increase the acidity of the stomach. These supplements will only be prescribed by a healthcare practitioner and there often plenty of ways to improve your stomach acid with dietary and lifestyle changes, without taking supplements or medication.
- Ensuring your diet is rich in zinc-containing foods is a great way to support your zinc levels, and subsequently support your stomach acid production. Foods such as oysters, beef, nuts and seeds, beans and yoghurt are all good sources of zinc.
- Including dietary sources of probiotics such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi and tempeh are all great ways to support your gut microbiome. Health gut bacteria has been linked to healthy levels ofHCL in the stomach.
- Starting your day with 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a squeeze of lemon in warm water is an excellent way to support your stomach acid levels. Apple cider vinegar helps the gut to stimulate gastric secretions and supports overall digestion
- Reducing your refined carbohydrate and sugar intake will help to maintain adequate HCL levels in the stomach.
- Chewing thoroughly and eating slowly are also great ways to support health HCL levels in the stomach by supporting the digestive process.
- Reduce stress as much as possible! When we are stressed and exhausted, the body will struggle to ‘rest & digest’,subsequently reducing your overall gastric secretions and digestive function.
If an underlying medical condition is the cause of low stomach acid, a healthcare practitioner can help you manage the condition and the associated symptoms.