Stomach acid is really important for keeping your digestive system in check as well as promoting good overall health. Its first role is to break down foods in your diet so that your body is better able to absorb nutrients and excrete the waste. Its secondary, but also very important role, is in killing infections and helping your immune system to fend off illness. When you do not have enough stomach acid, you are more likely to have trouble with digestion. Low stomach acid also leaves you more vulnerable to getting sick. If you are interested in increasing stomach acid, this is what you need to know.
Table Of Contents:
- What Is Stomach Acid?
- Why You Need Enough Stomach Acid
- What Causes Low Stomach Acid
- How To Increase Stomach Acid
What Is Stomach Acid?:
Stomach acid, also known as gastric acid, is a clear acidic liquid that is produced by the lining of your stomach. Without gastric acid, your body would not be able to break down the foods you eat into energy, vitamins, and nutrients that are later absorbed. Certain foods, for example, vegetables and legumes, are harder for the body to absorb. It takes more stomach acid to break them down and move them through the system. Ideally, you want your body to have the perfect amount of acidity. If you have too much, it can cause an upset stomach and acid reflux.
Acid reflux, for example, happens when the stomach acid flows up into the throat. According to Harvard Health, “acid reflux can cause sore throats and hoarseness and may literally leave a bad taste in your mouth. When acid reflux produces chronic symptoms, it is known as gastroesophageal reflux disorder, or GERD. The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn—pain in the upper abdomen and chest that sometimes feel like you're having a heart attack.”
But, if you have too little stomach acid, it can make breaking food down difficult. Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is the main ingredient found in stomach acid with a smaller amount of potassium chloride and sodium chloride. Your stomach lining secretes acid along with mucus and digestive enzymes. Without the mucus, your stomach acid would eat through your stomach lining.
Why You Need Enough Stomach Acid:
When you have too little stomach acid, it is called hypochlorhydria. Overtime, hypochlorhydria can make it difficult for your body to properly absorb nutrients and can cause digestive issues. It can also cause a number of chronic health problems including:
- Slow digestion
- Weak fingernails
- Hair loss
- Mood disorders
- Nervous system issues like numbness
Mostly, all of these illnesses stem from your body’s inability to absorb nutrients found in the foods you eat.
What Causes Low Stomach Acid?:
Low stomach acid can be caused by aging, stress, medications, and surgery. Luckily, your diet and the way you eat can do a lot to improve your body’s ability to produce enough stomach acid. Some people contend that you can dilute stomach acid by drinking water during meals, though no research has shown this to be true.
How To Increase Stomach Acid:
If you are concerned that you do not have enough stomach acid, here are some steps you can take to increase it.
1. HCL Supplements
HCL supplements, also known as betaine hydrochloride, may help your body produce more stomach acid. Stomach acid is shown to decrease as you age. A study published in the journal Oncotarget found that when digestion decreases malnutrition increases due to the body’s inability to absorb nutrients. The study authors write, “malnutrition increases risks of the development of a range of pathologies associated with most organ systems, in particular the nervous-, muscoskeletal-, cardiovascular-, immune-, and skin systems.”
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2. Chew Slowly
When you chew slowly, it helps your body to secrete stomach acid. You are also more likely to eat mindfully and actually enjoy the food that you are eating. The slower you chew, the more likely you are to notice the signals from your brain telling you that you are full and it is time to stop eating. When you eat too much, not only are you less likely to properly digest your food, you are also more likely to overeat. A study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior found “evidence currently suggests that chewing may decrease self-reported hunger and food intake, possibly through alterations in gut hormone responses related to satiety.” Another study published in the European Journal of Oral Sciences found that “fast eating has been shown to increase the risk of obesity in both children and adults.”
3. Black Pepper Fruit Extract
Black pepper fruit extract has also been shown to increase nutrient absorption and improve gut health. A study published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition found that “the key alkaloid components of black pepper, that is, piperine assist in cognitive brain functioning, boost nutrient's absorption and improve gastrointestinal functionality.” Another study published in the Journal of Food Science found that spice extracts like black pepper were prebiotics that improved gut health. The authors write, “some spices displayed prebiotic-like activity by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and suppressing the growth of pathogenic bacteria, suggesting their potential role in the regulation of intestinal microbiota and the enhancement of gastrointestinal health.”
Taking probiotics aids in digestion as well as increasing stomach acid. Low stomach acid has also been shown to increase infection because of gastric acid’s role in killing bad bacteria. And of course, probiotics help to increase good bacteria. Probiotics have been shown to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria and lactobacillus, the good bacteria that is most prevalent in your gut. It is found in foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, cottage cheese (some, not all), miso, and kefir. You can also get it in a supplement form.
5. Limit Fake Sugar Intake
Specifically processed and highly refined sugars. These artificial sugars are obviously not part of a healthy diet but did you know that they also cause indigestion? Avoid fake sugars and white flours. Fake sugars lead to inflammation along the digestive tract which makes it hard for your body to break down many of the foods that you are eating. These fake sugars feel like a foreign object in the body, which causes the GI to try and extract them, which is never a good thing. Not to mention, if you cannot break foods down, you also cannot absorb many of the nutrients in the foods that you are eating. It is not about how healthy you eat, but how well your body absorbs nutrients from the foods that you are eating. Instead of refined and processed sugars, enjoy ample fruits and less processed forms of sugar like honey and maple syrup.
6. Drink Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
It makes sense and is true that drinking apple cider vinegar would increase stomach acid. Raw apple cider vinegar has been associated with reducing acid reflux, diabetes, improving gut health, and reducing blood sugar. It has also been shown to reduce infection and food borne illness. A study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that “natural products such as fresh lemon juice and vinegar used alone or their mixture can be considered to be potential antimicrobial agents in preventing foodborne outbreaks related to fresh produce at household levels.” Separately, it has also been shown to increase weight loss. A study published in the Journal of Functional Foods found that “co-administration of apple cider vinegar (ACV) and restricted calorie diet (RCD) decrease body weight and BMI.”
7. Cut Out Processed Foods
Processed foods are a no-go for so many reasons. They may even suppress the body’s ability to produce gastric acid, though there is no research to back this up. But processed foods are also often loaded with sugar, which as you read above, is not a good thing for stomach acid production. If you are looking for better digestion, choose a whole foods diet loaded with ample sources of high quality protein, fruits, and unprocessed sugars. If you have to take it out of a box, it is probably not the best thing for you.
If you are having issues with digestion, try your hand at some yogic twists. These compress the internal organs bringing blood and nutrients to this part of the body. Supine Stag Twists and Revolved Low Lunge are a good place to start. Adding twists to your yoga routine is a great way to keep your system moving effectively and beat the bloat. That is why after a nice yoga practice, especially a class that includes twisting, you are likely to notice much improved digestion. In fact, pairing yoga twists with a probiotic, as mentioned above, is one of the best ways to keep your system moving along.
Walking is among the most effective tools for digestion. An evening stroll after a good meal is one of the best things you can do. A study published in the Journal of Gastrointestinal and Liver Diseases found that most after meal walking “accelerated gastric emptying of the meal” without any harmful side effects. Taking a long, slow, and relaxing walk after a meal can help to move digestion along. So, the next time you feel that you overdid a meal or ate heavy and unhealthy foods, instead of feeling guilty about it, take a good long walk and you will be glad you did.
Walking and yoga are probably the best tools for improved digestion, but exercise is also effective. It is all about getting everything moving in the right direction. Find your favorite way to break a sweat and get to it. Whether that is walking, qigong, surfing, skateboarding, weight lifting, swimming, and the list goes on—it is about finding something that you love and making a healthy lifestyle work for you. That is important because research has shown a link between exercise and good gastrointestinal health. Specifically, it has been shown to improve inflammation along the gastrointestinal tract. A study published in the journal Immunology And Cell Biology found a link between physical exercise and gut health. “Emerging data from our laboratory show that different forms of exercise training differentially impact the severity of intestinal inflammation during an inflammatory insult (for example, ulcerative colitis).” It’s all the more reason to hit the pavement.