Stomach acid, also referred to as gastric acid, is essential for the digestive process. When the stomach cannot produce enough acid, key minerals and proteins can’t be absorbed into this body. Low stomach acid is medically referred to as hypochlorhydria.
If the body doesn’t receive necessary nutrients, you can become vitamin or mineral deficient. Stomach acid is also responsible for killing harmful bacteria from foods and neutralizing enzymes. Low gastric acid can leave the body vulnerable to a number of diseases and health complications.
Inadequate stomach acid levels have been associated with a number of health conditions, including:
- upset stomach
- acid reflux
- skin issues
- leaky gut syndrome
- rheumatoid arthritis
- small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
There are a number of contributing factors for low stomach acid. Stress and a poor diet are two of the more common reasons that can directly affect your digestive process.
Other factors that may cause low stomach acid include:
- eating too quickly
- high sugar intake
- zinc deficiency
- antacid medication and prescription drugs
- food sensitivities or allergies
- chronic illness
Addressing these issues can not only increase and normalize your stomach acid levels, but also improve your digestive health and reduce stress on your body.
Low stomach acid is a trigger for poor digestive activity. Because food and nutrients can’t be broken down, they sit in the stomach and cause bacteria to build up. The main symptoms from this process are gas and bloating.
Other symptoms you may experience from low stomach acid include:
- acid reflux
- undigested food in stools
- bad breath
- weak hair and nails
- dry skin
- hair loss
Treating low stomach acid depends on the underlying cause. If you’ve been prescribed antacid medication for your heartburn symptoms, your doctor may change your prescription to avoid triggering hypochlorhydria symptoms.
However, there are a few steps you can follow to help increase stomach acid levels on your own.
1. Chew your food
A simple but overlooked tip to improve stomach acid levels and digestion is to thoroughly chew your food. Digestion begins at your mouth. Racing through your meals can affect how your body digests your food.
Chew your food and take smaller bites to stimulate your digestive enzymes. This can eliminate symptoms associated with low stomach acid and help maintain a positive level in your stomach.
2. Limit processed foods
A balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables can also increase your stomach acid levels. Processed foods and sugars can cause inflammation in your stomach, decrease acid activity, and trigger acid reflux symptoms.
Incorporating a healthy diet can also improve your digestive process, allowing the stomach to adequately break down food and absorb essential proteins into the body. Consider limiting alcohol intake for added benefits.
3. Eat fermented vegetables
Fermented vegetables — such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and pickles — can naturally improve your stomach acid levels. Fermented vegetables and foods have probiotic effects that can improve digestion, fight harmful bacteria and reduce inflammation from low stomach acid.
Other than improving digestion, fermented vegetables have been associated with strengthening immune function, promoting weight loss, and lowering blood pressure. Before incorporating fermented foods into your diet, discuss the risks and benefits with your doctor.
4. Drink apple cider vinegar
Raw apple cider vinegar is a fermented liquid made from crushed apples, bacteria, and yeast. It’s rich in protein and enzymes that can help break down bacteria in food. Raw apple cider vinegar can increase stomach acid levels because its acidic properties introduce more acid into the digestive tract.
Other than increasing stomach acid levels, raw apple cider vinegar has been associated with reducing symptoms from acid reflux, diabetes, and high blood sugar.
To use apple cider vinegar, dilute a small amount with water and drink it before your meal. Without water or another solvent, apple cider vinegar can damage the enamel on your teeth.
5. Eat ginger
Ginger is widely known for its anti-inflammatory properties, an essential quality for reducing inflammation from low stomach acid. It has also been recognized as an alternative treatment for acid reflux and other gastrointestinal disorders. However, more research is needed to confirm its effects on improving stomach acid.
You can slice, grate, or steep ginger into tea and foods. It’s also available as an oral supplement and as a powder. Consult with your doctor before incorporating ginger into your diet.
Stomach acid is essential to proper digestion. Low amounts prevent the stomach from absorbing necessary nutrients and vitamins. Low stomach acid also leaves the body vulnerable to infection.
While treatment depends on the underlying cause, incorporating lifestyle changes and improving your diet can help you increase stomach acid levels on your own.
Before pursuing any alternative treatment, discuss your options with your doctor. Your condition may require a more conventional approach.