Pharmaceutical companies make it seem that most of us have too much acid (hence why so many of us have or are taking acid blocking medication), but more often than not, the issue today is we have too low of stomach acid.
While heartburn can occur when we have high stomach acidity (a condition called hyperchlorhydria), heartburn can also occur when the stomach doesn’t produce enough acid (called hypochlorhydria). When treated by medication that lessens the production of acid in the stomach, the problem often only worsens, causing even less acid production, which results in nutrient and protein deficiencies, malabsorption, and more.
As you can imagine, this can lead to many chronic conditions and symptoms, including gas, bloating, diarrhea, malabsorption of nutrients, iron-deficiency anemia, dry hair, skin, and nails, acne, allergies, chronic fatigue, a weakened immune system, depression and anxiety, insomnia, and other inflammatory conditions.
Why We Need Balanced Stomach Acid Levels
We need a certain level of acid (as well as enzymes) to properly break down proteins (which turn into amino acids), carbs, and fats. The moment food enters your digestive tract (starting at your mouth) acid production begins (or at least it should…) That way, by the time it reaches your stomach to begin breaking down, it can do just that. With proper acid levels, you can break down nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that need to be delivered to every cell, tissue, organ and system in your body, including your brain.
Protein malabsorption in particular is an area of concern I have for many clients I see. If we don’t have proper acid (and enzymes) to break down proteins, we don’t get enough amino acids (the building blocks of our body), leading to amino acid deficiencies. This, among many other problems, can lead to neurotransmitter issues, which can cause your brain to misfire, feel sluggish and foggy, among other degenerative and serious issues.
So you can see that if acid levels are too low, a whole domino effect can occur.
How to Test Your Stomach Acidity Levels
Thankfully, there’s a really easy test you can do on yourself to see where your acid levels stand. It’s a five-day test you can do first thing in the morning to see if your acid levels are too low or in normal range.
THE BAKING SODA TEST FOR STOMACH ACIDITY
- – Perform this test first thing in the morning on an empty stomach (no food or water before doing this)
- Dissolve 1 tsp of baking soda into an 8oz glass of cold water
- Think hard about what you’re going to eat for breakfast, which will activate acid secretions in your stomach
- Drink the solution and start timing
- Record the time until you first burp up the gas
- Perform this test for 5 days in a row at the same time each day to get the best reading of your stomach’s acidity.
The longer it takes you to burp, the lower your stomach’s acidity. In a normal acidic environment, stomach acid should react pretty quickly to the baking soda and produce carbon dioxide (your burp). So the longer it takes for this reaction to occur, the lower levels of acid you are producing.
Here’s a guide:
<2 minutes: normal acidity
2-5 mins: low-normal acidity
>5 mins: likely low acidity
>10 min: low acidity
How to Re-Balance Low Acidity
9 times out of 10, my clients find they have low acid levels. Thankfully, there are a number of ways to easily bring your stomach acid levels back into the normal range. I was on acid blocking medications for 15 years and in the course of just a few months I was able to bring mine back to a normal level and get off all the nasty medications that were only making my condition worse.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is one of my favorite go-to remedies. It’s a gentle acid-inducing drink that can help increase the production of acid in your stomach. This was one of the biggest factors for me in rebalancing my acid production levels because it has a low pH, which will help your stomach to produce more acid. Mix 1 tbsp ACV with about 1/2 cup of water before every meal. For more acid-inducing help, add about 1 tsp – 1 tbsp (as you can tolerate) or lemon juice.
I also recommend drinking more of this mixture about mid-way through your meal, especially if you’re having protein in your meal. This will ensure that you’re maintaining proper acid levels throughout your meal.
2. Digestive Enzymes
As I mentioned above, food won’t properly break down if there aren’t enough enzymes, as well as acid. If your stomach acid levels are imbalanced, you aren’t able to break down food properly, so to balance that out, you need enzymes. And as you work to bring it back into balance with ACV, the enzymes can help the whole chemical reaction begin. Most people don’t need to take these for the rest of their lives, but it can be good to take while working on acid production.
3. HCL and Pepsin
If you have confirmed you have low stomach acids, you may want to consider adding in HCL (hydrochloric acid) with pepsin. Of note, this isn’t for everyone, especially if you have a stomach infection like h.pylori. But for everyone else, it’s a good tool to consider.
Hydrochloric acid is an acid found naturally in your stomach and is what creates the acidic environment. But if you’ve been on medications that have lowered acid production over time, you may be deficient in it.
If you decide to take HCL (and I recommend you consult with your physician or schedule a consult with me before doing so), start with just 1 capsule during a meal where you’re consuming protein. If you aren’t eating protein with a meal, you don’t need to take it. An easy way to know if it’s working is when you begin to feel a warm sensation in your stomach region. If you don’t feel that with 1 capsule, you may want to consider titrating up. Some people need as much as nine capsule of HCL with pepsin, but start low and build until you feel that warming sensation and don’t increase beyond that. This should be done on a short term basis alongside the other steps in this post and after a little while your body should be able to produce appropriate levels on its own.
4. Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals
Portion sizes have gotten bigger and many of us multi-task while eating, creating a poor environment for digestion. While you’re helping your body to restore proper acid levels, it can be really beneficial to eat smaller, more frequent meals. You can break out your meals as follows:
- Morning snack
- Mid-morning snack
- Small lunch
- Mid-afternoon snack
- Small dinner
Spreading our your meals this way gives your system a chance to fully tend to each food particle it’s ingesting.
5. Chew, Chew, Chew!
As your mother probably said when you were little, “chew your food!” But she was so right. Chewing is a critical part of digestion. You should aim to chew 30 times for every bite. I know that seems like a lot, but your digestive tract will thank you. Chewing signals to our body that it needs to release digestive enzymes and produce acid for the food. It also gives time for your saliva to begin breaking down the food so that by the time it reaches your stomach, it’s in prime shape to be further digested. Otherwise, if it’s coming down half-chewed, you’ll probably feel cramping, pain, bloating, and hear some embarrassing noises because your system has to work that much harder to digest it.
Encourage your friends or family who you eat with to chew slower with you, too, so you don’t feel like the slowest eater at the table. I take a whole lot longer to eat now, but that allows me to spend time with people I love enjoying a delicious meal, so really it’s a win-win.
If you have any other concerns or questions about your acid levels or any other digestive complaints you haven’t been able to pinpoint or fix, be sure to set up a consultation with me so we can get you back on the right track.