Why low (not high) stomach acid causes your indigestion

Conventional antacid propaganda says to neutralize stomach acid whenever you have signs of heartburn, indigestion, bloating… but… Taking antacids may temporarily stop the symptoms, but sets the stage for it to happen again, and again, and again…

Low (not high) stomach acid is jeopardizing your health

Approximately 90% of Americans produce too little stomach acid. And that means the contents of your stomach are not doing two main things it needs to do:

  1. Digest the food. Gastric acid is needed to release trace minerals and break proteins down into smaller peptides.
  2. Kill invasive parasites, bacteria, yeast, and other critters that may still be on even the cleanest foods.

In fact, when someone tells me they feel poorly after eating meat or don’t like it, I immediately suspect inadequate stomach acid. (excepting vegetarians who have made this decision for religious/spiritual reasons—I deeply respect that. If your choosing to not eat meat for health reasons—please reconsider or for your body’s sake don’t follow a grain/legume-based diet, please.)

Your discomfort right after eating—and even how well the food may taste—is the failure of your stomach to produce stomach acid means the food just sits there. Except, well, it doesn’t really just sit there; it ferments and produces gas.

acid indigestion is actually too little stomach acidAnd this means:

  • Heartburn
  • GERD
  • Indigestion and bloating
  • Burping or gas after meals
  • Excessive fullness or discomfort after meals
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Undigested food in stools
  • Chronic intestinal infections
  • Any autoimmune disease diagnosis
  • Mineral and nutrient deficiencies (especially iron and/or vitamin B12 deficiency)
  • Dry skin or hair
  • Weak or cracked nails
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis
  • Food allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities
  • Acne
  • Chronic fatigue

For nearly all of my clients, returning the body to balance usually includes addressing the foundation of digestion.

You are not just what you eat; you are what you absorb. With low stomach acid you can’t absorb minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, zinc, as well as vitamin C, K and B complexes! That explains a lot of the other symptoms I usually see.

Steps to correct low stomach acid production

Use these natural methods to increase stomach acid production and improve digestion:

1. Eat sitting down. Enjoy your meal in a calm, relaxed state

Eating on the run and under stress may seem like a product of modern society, but it shortcuts the first step of digestion: anticipation. The mere sight, smell, or thought of food triggers brain signals to begin making stomach acid. Digestion, like most of the body’s heal and repair functions, are coordinated by the parasympathetic nervous system. This system dominates when you are relaxed, even asleep. Allowing your body to shift off it’s sympathetic “fight or flight” go-go-go rushing state, eating on-the-go, in the car, while multi-tasking… by sitting down to a family meal does more than just create much-needed family time. Proper activation of the parasympathetic nervous system is needed for adequate stomach acid secretion. If particularly stressed, take a few moments to close your eyes and focus on deep breathing. Always sit down to eat, if possible at a kitchen or dining table, and eliminate as many distractions as possible.

2. Chew your food properly

Even more important than discussing the appetizing food, smelling it, or even thinking about it is: chewing. Go for 20-30 chews per bite. If you aren’t used to proper chewing, this may seem like a lot. Put down your fork in-between bites and counting your chews until you get a feel for adequate chewing.

When you chew you not only mechanically begin to break down food, you also infuse it with enzymes that release food’s flavor, protect from pathogens, aide in digestion and even signal to the stomach and pancreas what type of food it should be pepared to handle.

3. Eliminate inflammatory foods

Any foods that create inflammation will reduce stomach acid production and also cause other digestive problems. It’s possible to develop a sensitivity to nearly any food, these are the most common inflammatory ones:

  • Grains (not just gluten)
  • Dairy
  • Sugar
  • Soy and improperly prepared legumes
  • Eggs
  • Nuts
  • Corn
  • Food additives, colors and preservatives

And if you have had digestive issues for a long time it gets more complicated. Add to the list:

  • Nightshades (especially for those dealing with autoimmune issues)
  • Foods with fermentable fibers
  • Anything you’ve eaten all your life…

The best way to tell if you have a sensitivity to a particular food is to eliminate it for a period of time (usually about 30 days) and monitor your symptoms. Usually you’ll feel a lot better. And, when you “cheat” or even intentionally try to reintroduce a normally healthy food, if your symptoms return then you likely have a sensitivity to that food. This gets really tricky. Your Food and Mood journal has to be perfect and include all the emotions and symptoms you experience. I really do recommend working with a trained expert who has personally helped restore digestive issues if we get to these deeper layers.

Because eliminating truly healthful food for any length of time is not a good idea, isn’t it better to correct your digestion?

The Paleo diet turns out to be the most generally useful diet for digestive health. It doesn’t solve every problem for every person but the designer, Dr. Loren Cordain (that link goes to an excellent but technical read) has done a lifetime of excellent research helping us understand the types of foods most suitable for us.

There are a ton of Paleo cookbooks to give you suggestions and ideas. Of course, to sell cookbooks the authors seem to have to include certain things – like deserts (a very rare event ancestrally) and popular items (like bananas that are so hybridized as to be mostly sugar and little else). So be mindful of your health goals. I recommend this one and this one and still recommend you consider how often ancestral humans stumbled across “healthy” sugars you’ll find in the required desert sections.

4. Drink room temperature water

Cold water can interfere with the digestion. Also, drinking water with your meals dilutes your stomach acid secretions and makes your stomach work harder.

5. Consider home remedies over antacids

Generations ago depended on key natural remedies to increase and support stomach acid production. If you aren’t taking prescribed antacids or medications for digestive issues then perhaps your situation could benefit from gradually improving gastric secretions.

Fresh squeezed lemon juice. While you can dilute it in a little water, the more concentrated the better. Drink juice from half a lemon, fresh squeezed, about 20-30 minutes before your meal to boost gastric acid secretions. Lemon also stimulates bile, a mixture of water, electrolytes especially potassium plus a battery of molecules including bile acids that help you break down and digest fats.

Raw apple cider vinegar. A little stronger than lemon juice, drink 1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar. It must be raw to work.

You can also try either of the above if symptoms appear after eating.

If you use apple cider vinegar or lemon juice regularly, I recommend brushing your teeth well to protect their enamel.

Digestive Bitters. Another great option for increasing stomach acidity are digestive bitters, which can be found in most health food stores. Digestive bitters tap into the body’s neuro-lingual response that occurs when you taste something bitter. The bitter taste stimulates increased stomach acid production, as well as other digestive juices.

Anything bitter, including bitter greens like kale, collards, chard, spinach… will help stimulate your gastric juices. Plus, these fine vegetables have enzymes that help you digest your food especially proteins. Pat yourself on the back for that spinach omelet!

Ginger. Regularly used in Chinese herbalism, ginger is well known for its ability to reduce nausea and temporary stomach upset. Ginger promotes gastric acid secretion, is mucoprotective,  (promotes the health of the mucous membrane of the stomach lining), promotes normal bile flow (for digesting fats), and supports gastrointestinal motility (for those with a sluggish bowel).

Nutrition Response Testing. I check all my patients for gastric acid production and pancreatic acid production using the corresponding  Riddler points. Whether we choose Betaine HCL supplementation or digestive enzyme support we must make sure we are doing so intelligently and honoring the body—not just giving it products that “might help.” They might not—especially if you are on other medications or have deeper health issues. We must also address the organs and systems that have slowed due to years of not absorbing food nutrients.

Often, supplementing for a period of time helps shift the body gradually to a state of balance. Once more balanced, the stomach will begin producing adequate amounts of its own acid and if we’ve addressed the dietary aspects then usually direct gastric acid supplementation is no longer needed. Everyone is different. Supplement dose and length of time varies for each individual. That’s why I love what I do—no guessing!

Dr. Greg Sternquist

Restoring health for over 20 years, Dr. Sternquist is an activist for bringing health to healthcare. His mission is to provide safe, drug-free, natural treatment plans while educating on optimal health, nutrition and lifestyle. “Dr. Greg” received his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from the prestigious Palmer College after completing his Bachelor of Science at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. After specializing in the respected Gonstead chiropractic method for nearly two decades, Dr. Greg felt he needed a new set of tools when his own health began failing. A former competitive cyclist, avid outdoors enthusiast, and private pilot—something had to change! After healing himself, he completed over 2,000 hours of continuing education in nutrition including certification in the elite Applied Clinical Training program through Ulan Nutrition Systems to become Alaska's first advanced clinician in Nutrition Response Testing in 2008. Dr. Greg also specializes in the Gonstead method of Chiropractic care. Now in private practice for 26+ years and with over 2500 hours of nutritional therapy training and advanced Chiropractic continuing education, Dr. Greg Sternquist has become a renowned expert helping thousands of wonderful people get off the cycle of repeating chronic health problems and only temporary results to now enjoy more energy, become free of unwanted symptoms, and look and feel the way they want.

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