Low Stomach Acid: What is it and do you have it?

Today I wanted to have a chat with you about low stomach acid. This is something I’ve been meaning to blog about for ages as I know it’s something lots of you struggle with. However, it was only when I started experimenting again with taking a supplement again, that I realised I should take the time to blog about it. In this post, I have teamed up with Nature’s Best.  to share my discovery of learning about low stomach acid and my experiences of taking Betaine HCL (more of that in a moment!) 

What is low stomach acid?

A lot of the time, we don’t talk about low stomach acid. Instead, we are only told about the problems with too much acid in our digestive system. It was originally thought that having too much acid in our digestive system is what causes things like heartburn and GERD. Which is why most people who go to their doctor with those symptoms are given PPIs like omeprazole. 

However, because the amount of acid in our digestive system isn’t actually tested, this is more like an educated guess. From a nutrition perspective, it’s actually just as likely you’re suffering from low stomach acid. Having low levels of stomach acid is linked to many conditions, including Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease, and vitamin B12 deficiency. 

What are the signs of low stomach acid?

If you’re reading this and wondering ‘how do I know if I actually have low stomach acid? here are the signs!

  • burping frequently, especially after meals.
  • bloating and excess gas.
  • B12 deficiency.
  • Struggling to digest red meat.
  • Food intolerances
  • Seeing food in your stool (but that’s also common with IBD and IBS)
  • Random allergic reactions (this actually happens because those who have the signs of low stomach acid are given PPIs which actually increases the amount of histamine in the body)
  • An autoimmune disease.

Just a side note to say that I first discovered this on my nutrition training and I was so surprised to discover how many symptoms I had! In particular, I massively struggle with digesting red meat and burping. Note that an autoimmune disease isn’t a cause of low stomach acid but there’s certainly a link.

What causes this to happen?

There are many reasons why we might have low stomach acid. Interestingly, when we’re stressed, our body actually produces less stomach acid and enzymes (I blogged about this in my digestion and stress in this blog post) which makes it much harder to digest things.

                                       Read: How stress affects your digestion


B12 is synthesised in our gut and it needs stomach acid to do so- which is why vitamin B is so closely linked to our digestion. If we take PPIs, antibiotics and ibuprofen they can all interfere with the level of stomach acid that exists in our guts. 

Is there a stomach acid test?

Just like there’s no definitive test for high stomach acid, there’s not really one for low stomach acid either. However, there are a few things you could try.

  1. Google the ‘baking soda stomach acid test’. It is not a medically proven test (hence why I am telling you to google it rather than telling you to definitely take it!) but it’s harmless. It involves taking a very small amount of baking soda with water and recording the amount of time it takes you to burp. If you don’t burp at all, it’s likely your deficient in stomach acid.
  2. Take a supplement. If you supplement Betaine HCL (aka stomach acid) and you’re NOT deficient in it, you’re likely to experience burning and discomfort because you’re adding extra acid to a stomach which already has plenty! So one way to understand if you actually need it is to take a supplement and monitor symptoms.

How should I supplement stomach acid?

Image result for natures best betaine

Although I usually advocate finding a food based solution, when it comes to low stomach acid- supplementing is the usual solution. The standard supplement for stomach acid is Betaine HCL. This usually is combined with Pepsin which can also help with digestion. These can easily be found but I am currently taking Nature’s Best Betaine Supplement.   and it’s the cheapest I’ve seen on the market so far. It also literally just contains those two ingredients (so you know exactly what you’re taking) At the moment, I am not having any discomfort when I take them (suggesting I still need them) but I’m only taking 1 a day and I’m thinking of upping it to 2-3. I have definitely noticed a decrease the amount of burping I do! 

However, just to add (like I always do) that it’s always wise to consult your doctor about these things- especially if you are on Ibuprofen or Steriods- as these can interact with the stomach acid supplements and cause issues. 

I’d love to know your experiences with low stomach acid. Do the symptoms ring true? Do you think you could be suffering with it? Have you ever supplemented it before?

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