The majority of people who are prescribed Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI’s) or H-2 Blockers almost never have their stomach acidity levels tested. Contrary to what the TV commercials and common sense tell us, incidences of exces stomach acid levels are nearly non-existent. Part of this misunderstanding is because the symptoms of excess stomach acid and insufficient stomach acid are the same.
Because of this misunderstanding, many people take over the counter antacids. These antacids, while they relieve the symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux, make the problem worse by further reducing the amount of stomach acid the person has.
As we age our stomachs gradually produce less and less stomach acid rather than more. Although low stomach acid can occur at any age, it decreases with age; it is estimated that over 50% of people over 65 have low stomach acid. I bet it is higher and at a younger age.
It is extremely important that our stomachs contain a sufficient amount of stomach acid in order to activate the secretion of pepsin from our stomach lining in order to digest our food quickly.
Our stomachs need to be acidic – optimally 1.5 - 3 pH (where 1.5 is more acidic than 3) – in order to break down the protein, fats, and carbohydrates we consume and extract the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients we need for optimum health.
While eating, stomach acid production gradually elevates, neutralizing enzymes coming from the mouth, helping to kill bacteria, parasites, and viruses that enter with the food, and digestion of protein, carbohydrates, and fat starts.
Hypochlorhydria or Low stomach acid is the primary cause of acid reflux disease and GERD. If you have acid reflux disease and GERD you most likely have insufficient stomach acid. The chances of you being Hyperchlorhydric (too much stomach acid) are extremely rare.
The pH of stomach acid (or gastric acid ) is in the range of 1.5 pH to 3.5 pH. It is made up primarily of hydrochloric acid, potassium, and sodium. The acidity is maintained by the proton pump H+/K+ ATPase.
The acidity of your stomach is maintained by the parietal cells in the stomach lining, which naturally increase the acid levels when you eat to allow for proper digestion. After digestion completes the parietal cells release bicarbonate which causes a temporary rise in pH (reduced acidity).
Hyperchlorhydria: Excessive secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This is extremely rare.
Hypochlorhydria: An abnormally low level of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This is extremely common.
Hypochlorhydria is also referred to as Achlorhydria.
Stomach acid is important for all digestive functions and is also a defense against food-borne pathogens that may cause food poisoning. Low stomach acid is the cause of many digestive issues from food sensitivities, SIBO, IBS, colitis, parasites, candida, and more.
Unfortunately, most people with heartburn and acid reflux take antacids, Proton Pump Inhibitors, or H2 Blockers which actually makes the problem worse. It fixes the symptoms but makes the underlying cause worse so they must take this medication often, usually daily.
So the question is, do you have low stomach acid? As we age we produce less and less stomach acid so if you are over 50, it is almost certain that you are not producing sufficient hydrochloric acid to properly complete digestion.
You may or may not be aware that the main cause of heartburn is low stomach acid. Insufficient stomach acid results in food remaining in the stomach too long and fermenting causing bloating which can force stomach acid back up into the esophagus through the lower esophageal sphincter.
You Feel Lethargic Or Nauseous After Eating Meat
If you feel tired or nauseous after eating meals with large quantities of meat (more than 4 ounces), there is a good chance you have insufficient stomach acid. If you feel like you have a large lump in your stomach hours after eating (sometimes even the next morning), you definitely are showing that you have digestive issues.
Not being able to properly digest protein can result in a number of issues. Below are some indicators:
Belching and Bloating About an Hour After a Meal
Another important function of stomach acid is to trigger the opening of the pyloric valve (it connects the stomach to the small intestine). This valve opens when the stomach contents are in the correct state of digestion to move to the next stage of digestion.
If there is insufficient stomach acid to get the stomach contents to this digestive state quickly enough, the contents start to ferment causing gas which exerts pressure inside the stomach causing bloating.
If the pressure exceeds a level that the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) can no longer resist the sphincter opens and allows gas to escape through the esophagus (a burp).
Quite often this burp will be accompanied by a small amount of stomach acid due to the bloating of the stomach. The esophagus is not equipped with protection against stomach acid causing pain in the form of heartburn.
Most people at this point will pop an antacid which will quickly relieve the heartburn symptoms in the short term, but in the long term, exacerbates the problem by reducing stomach acid even further.
Really Bad Breath and Body Odor
Poor dental hygiene can definitely cause bad breath, but if this is not the case and you still have bad breath, it is an indicator of poor digestion. Your food is fermenting in your stomach causing additional toxins, and with all the toxins in our environments, the liver is unable to detoxify this additional load resulting in having smelly breath and body odor.
Body odor can be caused by a deficiency of magnesium. This is a sign that you are unable to extract nutrients from your food sufficiently. Improperly digested protein is a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria producing toxins that are exhibiting bad breath and bad body odor.
Not Hungry the Next Morning After Eating a Large Meal the Night Before
This can occur because you have insufficient stomach acid to fully digest your meal. You’re not hungry because you still have undigested food in your stomach.
Hungry All The Time, Even Shortly After You Finish Eating
This seems to contradict indicator number 4 above. Feeling hungry while you are still full from a recent meal is an indication that you are not deriving the essential nutrients you need from your food. This causes your body to crave more food to meet this requirement.
Your Fingernails Have Longitudinal Ridging, Bumpy Nail Beds, White Flecks, or Peel
Longitudinal ridging on your fingernails occurs because the nail is getting thin. This is a result of poor protein digestion. It may also be a sign of iron deficiency.
Bumpy nail beds can be caused by inflammation of the Gastral Intestinal tract and can also be caused by a nutrient deficiency.
White flecks in your nail indicate a possible deficiency in protein, zinc, and iron.
If you’re fingernails chip, peel, or break easily, you are possibly deficient in essential fatty acids.
You could take supplements for these deficiencies, but it’s likely you won’t be able to absorb them either. You need to increase your stomach acid levels so you can absorb these nutrients from your food.
You Have Undigested Food in Your Stool
The undigested food is usually comprised of high-fiber vegetable matter which isn’t completely digested by the enzymes in your digestive tract. If you have insufficient stomach acid, these enzymes will not be released.
You Have Symptoms of Nutrient Deficiencies
The symptoms of nutritional deficiency are dependent on which nutrient is lacking. Here are some general symptoms that can indicate deficiencies:
Do this first thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything:
If you burp between 3 and 5 minutes or didn’t burp at all during the test, please read on to learn how you can increase your stomach acid naturally to normal levels. This is very important for your overall health; not just to cure acid reflux. I recommend you do this for three mornings in a row to find the average time before you burp.
This test is not accurate enough to completely rule out low stomach acid. Treat it as an indicator to determine if you want to investigate additional testing, i.e., the Heidelberg Stomach Acid Test is the most accurate but expensive (approx $350).
Besides being the main cause of acid reflux and GERD, low stomach acid is also the primary cause of food sensitivities, IBS, colitis, SIBO, osteoporosis, anemia, etc. Almost all digestive dysfunction can be traced to low stomach acid in the person afflicted.
This home test is not 100% accurate. You should always check with your doctor to make sure.
Do not try to stop taking PPI’s or B2 blockers cold turkey. If you do, you will likely experience ‘Acid Rebound Hypersecretion,' with heartburn symptoms that are almost unbearable and may last more than 3 weeks.
Speak with your doctor about how best to wean yourself off of these medications.
The information contained here does not constitute medical advice and is not meant to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure disease. Please contact your doctor. The information provided is for informational purposes only and are solely the views of the author.
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