Heal Low Stomach Acid Naturally
Did you know that 90% of Americans have low stomach acid, called hypochlorhydria? Low stomach acid leads to a cascade of digestive problems further south in the digestion process, such as bloating, gas and constipation. Fortunately, it is an option to heal low stomach acid naturally and ameliorate the chain affect of digestive problems.
Why is it so important to heal low stomach acid? Let’s start with the all-to-common consequences of low stomach acid.
Consequences of Low Stomach Acid
- Low stomach acid cannot properly break down proteins into amino acids. Lack of amino acids in the bloodstream means less available neurotransmitters which can mean mood disorders like depression. Additionally, protein maldigestion leads to hair loss and brittle nails.
- Low stomach acid fosters imbalanced gut flora. Pathogenic and food borne bacteria, usually killed by the low stomach pH, can make their way into the intestines. Further, lack of acidity in the stomach makes it more hospitable to bacterial growth (and the stomach should be relatively sterile).
- Low stomach acid leads to nutrient malabsorption. Specifically, when proteins aren’t fully broken down, B12 absorption is disrupted. Folate and nonheme iron absorption are also affected by low stomach acid.
- Low stomach acid leads to heartburn/GERD/reflux. I discuss the details below.
- Low stomach acid often means constipation, bloating, gas and belching. With inadequate acid, food sits in the stomach and putrefies instead of being properly digested.
- Low stomach acid may cause a leaky gut and therefore create food allergies. Improperly digested starches little “holes” between the cells of the intestinal lining. These starches also feed pathogenic bacteria that create these leaky spaces. Then, undigested proteins and other food particles leak into the bloodstream and the body reacts by creating antibodies to these foreign particles in the blood.
Low Stomach Acid and Heartburn/GERD
- The Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) separates the esophagus and the stomach. Proper stomach acid levels signal the LES to close tightly. With low stomach acid levels, the LES loosens and acidic stomach fluid escapes into the lower part of the esophagus causing a burning sensation. LES malfunction is also influenced by other variables like food allergies, overeating, and certain drugs.
- The pyloric sphincter separates the stomach from the small intestine. The body resists opening this sphincter, however, when the contents of the stomach are not properly acidified. The body innately knows the undigested food will cause problems further south. As a result, food sits in the stomach and putrefies, producing gas and pressure which makes the LES leak open (causing heartburn as discussed above).
Also, antacids and heartburn medications can further exacerbate nutrient malabsorption– that’s why it is important to correct stomach acid rather than using pharmaceuticals for heartburn.
Now that we understand the cascade of detrimental digestive woes that can occur due to low stomach acid, let’s look at how to heal low stomach acid naturally and effectively!
Supplements to Heal Low Stomach Acid Naturally
Honey for Low Stomach Acid
We all have the bacteria H. pylori in our digestive tract, but this species becomes a problem when it overgrows. In a vicious cycle, H. pylori reproduces in the stomach in the presence of low stomach acid and then suppresses stomach acid production.
Manuka honey is produced in New Zealand and Australia from bees pollinating the manuka tree. It has a naturally occurring peroxide content which makes it a potent anti-bacterial agent. This therapeutic honey has been widely used to heal stomach lining and to help address h. pylori overgrowth.
I took 1 tsp. of this honey twice a day when I was first healing my stomach lining. Then, I learned that manuka honey should not be used internally because it has a naturally occurring genotoxin.
Many people, like me, have taken this honey without any apparent ill effects. I would prefer to be on the very safe side, though, so I will no longer use it internally (I do use it as a face mask though– it is a great acne treatment!)
Yemen Sidr honey also has the potent antibacterial properties of manuka honey without the genotoxic component. Also, regular RAW honey is less antibacterial than these two famous “powerhouse” honeys but it is still very useful in healing the stomach lining. Only purchase raw honey, preferably from a local beekeeper– never purchase regular supermarket honey.
Vitamin U for Low Stomach Acid
”Vitamin U?” You may be thinking, “I’ve heard of A, B, C, D, E, and K… but not U!” That’s because it’s not a real vitamin, just a label for a powerful healing enzyme found in cabbage. It is applauded for it’s anti-ulcer abilities and quickly cures stomach ulcers and heals the stomach lining. When stomach acid has been chronically low for years, the stomach lining may be inflamed and unable to tolerate acid supplementation. In this case, vitamin U is useful in soothing an inflamed stomach lining and correcting low stomach acid.
Many studies have been conducted where the participants drank raw cabbage juice and experienced quick ulcer healing. Large amounts of cabbage juice, however, can suppress thyroid activity due to the high amounts of goitrogens. It is also high in oxalates. So while a daily dose of raw cabbage juice may be a great option for some folks, others may find it both more suitable and more convenient to take a vitamin u supplement. I have had great success with Gastrazyme and I highly recommend it. 5 tablets before bed and 5 upon rising is a good place to start for a potent, short-term therapy.
Sea Salt for Low Stomach Acid
Eat plenty of unrefined sea salt with meals (I recommend Real Salt or Celtic Salt). This provides chloride, the building block of stomach acid (sodium chloride and hydrochloric acid). As a bonus, it provides trace minerals and raises your metabolism.
Raw Apple Cider Vinegar for Low Stomach Acid
There are a few theories regarding just why apple cider vinegar improves digestion and low stomach acid. First, the vinegar is acidic and will slightly lower the pH in the stomach. Frequent doses of raw apple cider vinegar is also purportedly effective in correcting candida overgrowth, and candida problems can contribute to low stomach acid production. It is very effective as a quick solution when one is experiencing heartburn, perhaps because the acidity signals the LES to close tightly.
Upon waking, drink 1/2-1 tsp. raw apple cider vinegar (it must be raw) in 1/2 cup warm water. Take this concoction before each meal and, if needed, after meals to stop heartburn.
HCL for Low Stomach Acid
Hydrochloric Acid with Pepsin supplements are an important tool in treating low stomach acid. It is only part of the solution in healing low stomach acid naturally and is a temporary step.
Do NOT use HCL supplements while using medication such as corticosteroids or anti-inflammatory meds like Advil, Tylenol or other NSAIDS. These meds can damage the GI lining and increase the chance of a stomach ulcer if HCL is introduced (source). Do NOT use HCL if you have stomach ulcers. In that case, heal the stomach lining completely with Gastrazyme, manuka honey the other suggestions here before HCL supplementation.
To find your HCL dosage, try this “loading” process. Only take HCL with a meal containing protein (you will not need HCL if you are eating an apple for a snack, for example). Take one HCL supplement after a few bites of your breakfast. Continue to eat slowly. If you have no warming sensation in your stomach, repeat the process at lunch and take 2 HCL pills. Again, if there is no warming sensation, take 3 pills with dinner. Repeat until you feel a warming sensation and your dose is the number of pills before you got the warming. For example, if you felt the warming at 6 pills, take 5 pills with each protein meal.
As you continue to heal your stomach lining, you will be able to gradually reduce and eventually eliminate need for HCL supplements.
Often, when stomach acid is chronically low for a long period of time, even the minimal dose of HCL will cause a burning sensation in the stomach. In this case, focus on healing the stomach lining with the steps above first, then try to re-introduce the HCL after 2-4 weeks of intensive healing.
Lifestyle Changes to Heal Low Stomach Acid Naturally
Perhaps the most important change is not to eat while stressed. as the body does not produce gastric juices when under stress. That means sitting down for your meals, chewing well, and eating mindfully.
Eliminate food allergens
As I discussed above, low stomach acid perpetuates food allergies. Consuming foods that you are sensitive or allergic to causes inflammation in the body and aggravates the entire digestive tract. Eliminate these foods until the digestive tract seals, stomach acid secretion is normalized and the food allergies are reversed. I recommend the Gut and Psychology Syndrome Diet for healing a leaky gut.
Avoid a high fiber diet with low stomach acid
Grain fiber contains large amounts of phytic acid, a compound which “locks” onto minerals like zinc, copper, iron and calcium. Processed grain products, such as bread and cereals, are not properly prepared and contain high amounts of phytic acid. Soaking and fermenting your grains, as practiced by traditional cultures and explained in Nourishing Traditions, reduces the phytic acid levels.
When stomach acid is optimal, the acid helps to break down the little phytic acid and mineral bundles, rendering some of those previously stolen minerals available to the body. But the body cannot reclaim these nutrients with low stomach acid. Reducing fiber and thereby reducing phytic acid intake, minerals are more efficiently absorbed. Read more here: Is a high fiber diet a health hazard? Worried about constipation if you reduce fiber? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered with 5 healthy steps to cure constipation naturally.
Mainstream health dogma hounds us to drink 8+ glasses of water per day for “hydration” and to “flush toxins.” Actually, over hydrating does neither of things things and actually slows metabolism and can cause cellular dehydration (I discuss the topic in more detail HERE). In addition, drinking large amounts of water before or during meals waters down stomach acid and therefore inhibits digestion.
If desired, drink a cup of warm, homemade bone broth to stimulate digestive juices desired during meals. You may also find it helpful to drink 1/2 cup of water with 1 tsp. raw apple cider vinegar before or after meals. I also suggesting drinking a small amount of raw, homemade yogurt with meals to provide probiotics and enzymes to support digestion.
Are you on a journey to heal low stomach acid and correct digestion issues? Have you used any of these tips or supplements before?