Causes of Low Stomach Acid and High Stomach Acid
Stomach acid is essential for breaking down and digesting our food. If your stomach acid is low, it can interfere with this important process and result in digestive issues and malnutrition. On the other hand, if stomach acid is too high, it can damage the tissue of the stomach. In this article, we’ll explore the causes of low and high stomach acid and how you can get your stomach acid back to normal.
What Is Stomach Acid?
Stomach acid, or gastric acid, is a colorless fluid produced by the stomach lining made up of hydrochloric acid (HCl), potassium chloride (KCl), and sodium chloride (NaCl). It is a highly acidic substance with a pH range from 1.5 to 3.5. In chemistry, pH (short for “potential of hydrogen”) is a way to measure how acidic or base (alkaline) a solution is. The pH scale ranges from 1 to 14, with 1 being the most acid, 14 being the most alkaline, and seven being considered a neutral pH.
Stomach acid is very low on the pH scale, meaning it is a powerful acid. It is necessary to have such a strong acid to break down the tough fibers of food, making them easier to digest and absorb. Therefore, stomach acid is essential to the process of digestion. The normal volume of stomach acid is between 20 and 100 mL.
The inner surface of the stomach is coated with a mucus membrane that protects our tissues from this highly acid liquid. However, if stomach acid is too low or high, it can lead to health issues.
What Happens If Stomach Acid is Too Low?
If your stomach acid is too low, it can interfere with your ability to digest food properly and absorb the nutrients your body needs to function properly. If low levels of stomach acid persist, it can severely damage your digestive system and increase your risk of severe health issues.
Your stomach acid is needed to break down the food you eat. If you don’t have enough gastric acid, you won’t be able to break this food down and get the nutrients that the food contains.
What Causes Low Stomach Acid Production?
There are numerous causes of low stomach acid levels. Some of the top low stomach acid causes include:
- High-stress levels
- H. pylori infection
- Stomach surgery
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Chronic illness
- Old age
- Giving birth prematurely
- Certain medications
Low levels of stomach acid can have many negative consequences on your health. Therefore, treating this health issue as soon as possible is essential to prevent further complications.
What Are the Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid?
Some of the most common symptoms of low levels of stomach acid include:
- Stomach discomfort
- Hair loss
What Happens If Stomach Acid is Too High?
If your stomach acid levels are too high, it can potentially damage your stomach lining. This is because your stomach lining produces the three acids that make up your stomach acid (HCl, KCl, and NaCl). Your stomach acid also produces mucus that coats the stomach and protects it from being damaged by the acid in the stomach.
While this mucus has protective abilities, it can only handle so much. If your stomach acid becomes too high, the mucus in your stomach may not be adequate to protect your stomach. As a result, your stomach may be burned by this acid, and you may develop health issues like acid reflux, gastric ulcers, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
What Causes High Stomach Acid Production?
Many factors can lead to high stomach acid. Some of the common factors that can lead to high stomach acid levels include:
- H pylori infection
- Overproduction of hormones that trigger gastric acid production
- Obstruction of gastric outlet
- Certain medications
What Are the Symptoms of High Stomach Acid?
Some of the most common symptoms of high levels of stomach acid include:
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Stomach pain that feels worse when your stomach is empty
How Do You Treat Low Stomach Acid Levels?
The exact treatment will depend on the cause of both low and high stomach acid. For example, suppose you have low hydrochloric acid (HCl) production. In that case, your healthcare provider may recommend you take an HCl supplement that can increase the pH level of your stomach acid. Many HCl supplements also contain pepsin, an enzyme that helps increase stomach acidity. Gentian root is also an herb that has been used for various digestive issues, including restoring healthy levels of gastric acid. Some supplements include all three ingredients (HCl, pepsin, and gentian root) and may help treat low stomach acid levels.
Stress can also contribute to low stomach acid levels. So, finding healthy ways to manage and reduce stress can significantly restore your stomach acid levels. Many people underestimate just how much stress can influence their health. While stress is psychological, it has a real physiological effect on our bodies. Chronic stress is considered one of the most significant underlying factors in many chronic diseases. While stress is a complex subject, some practices and tools that can help you manage and reduce your stress include:
- Healthy sleep routines
- Time in nature
- Hobbies you enjoy
- Time with loved ones
- Support groups
Diet and supplements may also play a role in improving your stomach acid levels. Low stomach acid can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, especially a zinc deficiency. Therefore, eating a whole-food, nutrient-dense diet (and avoiding unhealthy junk food) can go a long way in correcting many health issues.
Certain medications can also lower your stomach acid levels. In this case, you may want to consult your doctor about medication alternatives that do not negatively affect stomach acid levels.
How Do You Treat High Stomach Acid Levels?
High stomach acid is most commonly treated with medications called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These work by directly lowering stomach acid. They are the most common and effective solution for high stomach acid levels.
An H. pylori infection can also cause high stomach acid levels. In this case, getting rid of the H. pylori infection is essential and focusing on restoring gut health.
Dietary changes can also play a role in restoring normal stomach acid levels. If you have high stomach acid levels, consider removing highly acidic foods from your diet for a while to heal your stomach. Some of the common acidic foods include:
- Refined grains (white bread, pasta, pastries, etc.)
- Tomatoes and tomato products
- Citrus fruits
- Acidic fruits
- Meat (especially processed meats and red meat)
- Processed foods high in sodium
- High sodium condiments (soy sauce, ketchup, barbeque sauce, etc.)
How Can I Maintain Normal Stomach Acid Levels?
In most cases, your stomach acid levels reflect your dietary and lifestyle habits. High or low stomach acid levels can be caused by a poor diet or unhealthy lifestyle practices. In contrast, healthy stomach acid levels are a natural byproduct of a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Some of the best dietary and lifestyle practices, in particular, include:
- Chewing your food thoroughly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Avoid laying down after eating for 2 hours
- Avoid, quit, or cut back on smoking
- Reduce alcohol intake
- Eat smaller meals
- Avoid overeating
- Allow for 3 to 4 hours between meals to allow for proper digestion
- Avoid unnecessary pressure on the stomach (sleeping on the stomach or wearing tight clothing)
- Add more fiber to your diet
- Eat a whole foods diet
- Be moderate with your consumption of animal products
- Avoid processed foods
- Limit exposure to toxins
- Maintain a healthy gut
- Avoid antibiotics unless necessary (and always follow with a round of probiotics)
Health starts in the gut. If you have a healthy heart and healthy digestion, you will be able to get all the nutrients you need from your food and can maintain good health. Unfortunately, the disease also starts in the gut. You can develop many serious health issues if you have an unhealthy gut and poor digestion.
Your stomach acid is a significant indicator of your gut health. If it is too low, you may be unable to break down the food you eat properly. This means you will not get the nutrients from that food, and the food will just become waste in your system.
Not only does stomach acid break down food, but it also protects your stomach from bacteria, parasites, and other pathogens that threaten your health. However, suppose your stomach acid isn’t strong enough. In that case, it could allow these organisms to inhabit your gut and result in intestinal infections.
If stomach acid is too high, it can damage stomach tissue and result in health issues like ulcers, acid reflux, and GERD.
While it may seem like keeping your stomach acid levels balanced is difficult, your body is always trying to maintain balance. Therefore, you are only likely to experience high or low stomach acid if something interferes with your body’s self-regulating ability. This is why it is important to avoid unhealthy dietary and lifestyle habits and to take good care of your health.
If you take care of your body, your body will take care of you. For example, healthy stomach acid levels result in a healthy gut—a healthy gut results in a healthy body. A healthy body results in a happy you.