Before you reach for the chewable Tums or bright pink liquid in the medicine cabinet to help with symptoms associated with “high stomach acid”, there are a few things to know about the message your body is sending to you. Instead of having too much acid, you very likely have low stomach acid.  I realize that this sounds counter-intuitive, but continue reading below to understand why.

Gastric acid is produced in the lining of the stomach and is stimulated by the first processes of digestion – thinking about food, chewing and swallowing.  The pH of gastric acid is between 1-2, which is roughly equivalent to the pH of lemon juice or vinegar (pH=2). For reference sake, battery acid has a pH of 0, while water, which is neutral has a pH of 7.  Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is the acid component of gastric acid and has important functions related to digestion. 

It stimulates enzyme production in the stomach to start breaking down protein and later down the tract, the low pH tells the pancreas and intestinal lining to release digestive enzymes that break down sugars, fats and more proteins.  Another important job associated with the low pH is to signal to the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) at the top of the stomach to close when food is present.  This is where the problem can arise with not enough stomach acid levels.

If there is not enough stomach acid, there will be a weak signal to the nervous system to contract the sphincter and close off the opening to the stomach.  If the opening is not closed, acid and potentially partially digested food may retract up the esophagus resulting in heartburn, acid reflux and indigestion. 

Food will not be properly broken down in the stomach and can cause a heavy sensation or result in gas, bloating and discomfort.  Since digestive enzymes further down are not released in full amounts, it is possible that undigested food will be present in stool.  This chain of events can be linked back to the cause of food sensitivities since irritation and inflammation in the gut lining are caused by larger, undigested food particles. 

Low stomach acid and food sensitivities can be related to symptoms such as fatigue, eczema, rosacea, joint pain, auto-immune disease, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches/migraines and more.

So, what do you do to treat this?  Actually, this is one of the more simple cures that can be done to increase stomach acid levels and improve digestion.  By consuming an acid within 10 minutes of eating a meal, the stomach lining will be triggered to increase it’s own acid production over time. 

Mix about 1 teaspoon of Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar in water or squeeze the juice of ¼ lemon into water and drink with meals.  Sometimes taking HCl capsules with or without digestive enzymes at meals can be recommended if stomach acid levels are thought to be very low.

On a final note, maintaining healthy stomach acid levels can help overall health.  Stress will decrease HCl production, so finding ways to deal with stress such as yoga, meditation, reading or journaling will help.  Sitting down and eating meals at a slow, undisturbed pace will also allow for improved acid production as will some apple cider vinegar before eating. 

So if you are ever told that you have symptoms associated with high stomach acid levels, reconsider this and see if your symptoms improve with the use of apple cider vinegar before starting acid-blocking medications.

Acid Reflux and Heartburn