Many people experience low mood, gas, indigestion, bad breath, burp a lot and feel sluggish. Many think that this is normal but it’s your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t right. These are some of the symptoms of low stomach acid.
The role of stomach acid
People don’t usually give this substance much thought but it is highly important within the body. Stomach acid activates an enzyme which starts the breakdown of protein in the stomach and it stimulates the pancreas to produce enzymes that digest fat and carbohydrates. If these macronutrients are not adequately broken down, they putrefy and ferment in the gut. If fat isn’t adequately digested, it cannot aid with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, which will result in deficiencies. Low levels of stomach acid also lead to the ineffective extraction of vitamin B12 which is essential for the effective functioning of the brain and nervous system.
Stomach acid protects the digestive tract from harmful bacterial overgrowth. Maintaining a balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut is very important for your health. Allowing the bad guys to take over can lead to many long term health issues. Some strains of E coli bacteria in the gut are beneficial as they synthesise tryptophan (an essential amino acid) which in turn makes serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for balancing moods. The majority of serotonin is located in the gut so when digestion is poor, people can experience low mood or depression. In addition, protein is broken down into amino acids, if protein digestion is compromised due to low stomach acid, tryptophan won’t adequately produce serotonin.
The mechanics of digestion are impaired by insufficient stomach acid; the opening and closing of the sphincter between the oesophagus and stomach is triggered by an adequate level of stomach acid. If the functioning of this sphincter is impaired, acid refluxes into the oesophagus and mouth causing “heart burn”. Heart burn tablets will mask the symptoms of low stomach acid but do not cure the problem.
Long term effects of low stomach acid
Low stomach acid causing malabsorption will slow down the organs and cells of the body, this will lead to pre-mature aging and chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease. If the stomach contents isn’t being sterilised by stomach acid then the gut will be more susceptible to infections like gastro-enteritis which is inflammation of the intestinal tract. Low stomach acid can cause leaky gut syndrome, where undigested food particles pass through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream, activating the immune system, causing allergies.
Testing for low stomach acid
Stimulate the production of saliva by seeing and smelling food. Mix a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in a glass of water and drink the solution on an empty stomach. Monitor burping over the next 10-15 minutes. Healthy levels of stomach acid results in lots of burping quite quickly. No burping might be an indication that you have low stomach acid.
The symptoms of low and high stomach acid can be the same, so the test results should be completely conclusive.
One can stimulate the production of stomach acid by drinking a table spoon of apple cider vinegar in some water 10 minutes before every meal or by drinking ginger tea or lemon water before meals.
Causes of low stomach acid
Although low stomach acid can be present at any age, after the age of 35, the body secretes less.
Stress affects the nervous system which will impair the signals that stimulate the secretion of stomach acid.
The secretion of stomach acid is stimulated by the senses and the chewing of food; therefore, poor senses and insufficient chewing leads to decreased production of stomach acid.
It is widely known that the use of proton pump inhibitors supresses the manufacture of stomach acid.