Low stomach acid, or hypochlorhydria, is a serious medical condition. Stomach acid is produced naturally within our bodies, and everyone produces different amounts. As we get older, our bodies produce even less. In addition to age, a poor diet high in sodium and processed foods also causes a decrease in stomach acid.
Stomach acid allows our bodies to digest food, breaking down protein into amino acids and allowing our bodies to use or absorb other elements. It also kills harmful bacteria in foods before they can affect an individual's health.
There are several symptoms related to low stomach acid, and they differ in intensity. The most common include heartburn, indigestion, bloating, food allergies, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, autoimmune disorders and fatigue.
Most people assume that when they experience heartburn or indigestion it is because they have too much acid in their stomach, but it is frequently the opposite problem—that they don’t have enough acid. Consequently, taking an antacid worsens the symptoms because it further depletes what little acid is left. According to Jigsaw Health, low stomach acid is actually more common—affecting up to half of the U.S. population.
Vitamins and minerals are required to produce stomach acid, so deficiencies of these elements in the diet can cause hypochlorhydria. Other causes include chronic stress and frequent alcohol consumption.
There are several ways to naturally increase production of acid in the stomach. The first is to take control of your diet. Avoid refined carbohydrates such as white pastas, breads and rice and switch to whole-wheat products instead. Heavily processed foods, such as lunch meat, hot dogs and fast food, are also to be avoided, as are carbonated beverages, alcohol and excessive amounts of caffeine.
In addition, eat smaller meals throughout the day instead of three larges meals, at least until symptoms improve, and don’t lie down immediately after eating. Sitting in an upright position promotes easier digestion.
There are several over-the-counter medications to alleviate symptoms from low stomach acid, but you should talk to your health care provider about which is right for you. The downside of these medications is that they only relieve the symptoms temporarily and don't get to the root of the problem.