Hypochlorhydria. It’s a fancy way of saying you have low stomach acid: not enough of it, or the PH of your stomach acid is too high (the higher the PH, the less acidic and closer to neutral), so your food is not properly broken down. You see, your stomach is a very acidic environment, with a PH of about 2, more acidic than battery acid. This is good and necessary because an acidic environment is needed to properly break down food and kill bacteria and pathogens that may be present in your food.
Causes of hypochlorhydria
- too much alcohol
- the presence of H. Pylori (bacteria that causes ulcers & reflux)
- poor diet
- eating foods that contribute to inflammation, such as gluten and dairy
- not chewing thoroughly
You’ll know you have it if you see undigested food fibers in your stool (that’s right, have a look–it can give you significant clues about your health), if you’re gassy and belch a lot after meals, or if you are prone to eczema, acne, or heartburn/reflux.
Low stomach acid can be problematic because if you’re not properly digesting your food, your body isn’t absorbing the nutrients your food provides, so deficiencies develop over time. Not to mention the waste of money! If you’re buying and eating great organic meals and taking high quality vitamins but not absorbing them, it’s a waste! That’s right, this undigested food is just excreted by the body and you don’t absorb it. This can cause iron or calcium deficiency over time, or if you are not breaking down proteins, you have no raw material for tissue repair and neurotransmitter manufacture. Neurotransmitters are the feel good chemicals in the brain like serotonin and dopamine. Deficiencies can cause depression, cravings, poor sex drive, weight gain, insomnia, and anxiety.
Even worse, hypochlorhydria can contribute to leaky gut syndrome and dysbiosis over time. Dysbiosis means the bad bacteria has overtaken the good bacteria in the gut, and this can cause all sorts of unsavory digestive issues such as inflammation, constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and leaky gut. Leaky gut is a condition that develops over time as food particles leak through the permeable intestinal membrane into the blood stream and are attacked by the body’s immune system. This can create a lot of system-wide problems like allergies, cravings, malabsorption, and auto-immune issues.
SO. What to do? Chew thoroughly. Remove gluten, dairy, and sugars from the diet; they contribute to the inflammation that prevents good digestion and absorption. Try a spoonful of apple cider vinegar to simulate stomach acid production, or drink ginger tea before meals for the same effect. Take a digestive enzyme with betaine hydrochloride. Try swedish bitters or a bitter herb combo before or after meals. Probiotics help, too. Digestion is a cornerstone of good health. Does yours need a tune-up?
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.