Do you have bloating, gas, heartburn, indigestion?

Understanding LOW STOMACH ACID

May is Digestive Diseases Awareness Month.  In order to talk about Digestive Diseases we must understand low stomach acid as it can attribute to acid indigestion, acid reflux, GERD symptoms, heartburn and more complicated issues such as irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease as well as contributing to other illness, conditions and disease.

Hydrochloric acid is useful, beneficial acid that you need for good digestive health; on the contrary, the antacid industry and their marketing campaigns would have you believe quite the opposite.

Hypochlorhydria, or low stomach acid, does not produce enough hydrochloric acid (HCL) and enzymes for the proper digestion of food. Pepsin, the enzyme responsible for the digestion of protein, is only activated in the presence of HCL in the stomach. HCL secreted by parietal cells in the stomach, converts pepsinogen into pepsin (breakdown of protein) and activates intrinsic factor -B12 digestion. After your stomach empties, cells in duodenum lining respond to acid trigger (secretin and cholycystokinin) to release pancreatin and bile. Under-activity therefore decreases secretions through the common bile duct and the pancreatic duct.

This results in maldigestion, since low HCL means low pepsin, intrinsic factor, pancreatin and bile and therefore low protein, fat soluble nutrients and minerals. In other words, you will not be able to break down protein into vital amino acids, and your body will not be able to utilize vital fatty acids, minerals and vitamins as well which in aid in repairing and building up your immune system and keeping you healthy.

The symptoms of a low stomach acid can sometimes be confused with those of an overactive stomach, leading to the use of antacids, which of course aggravate the condition. There is a marriage of sorts that exists between the stomach and the liver; the stomach being the yang organ (male) and the liver being the yin organ (female). In a well functioning digestive system the stomach signals the brain to send to the liver a message as to the quantity of HCl produced to enable the liver to support this process with the appropriate amount of bile to emulsify and alkalize at exactly the right timing.

It is a marvellously functional and intimate relationship that these two organs share when they are communicating well to each other. When the timing of these two organs is off internally it can be a powerful clue that the unity and communication of a marriage, partnership or close relationship outside of the body ceased to function well in the past and has not as yet been reunited or the energy blockage resolved, or is not functioning optimally in the present, and in either case is in need of some attention. The breakdown of this internal union will impair the breakdown of proteins, fats and carbohydrates and will eventually lead to binge eating, sugar cravings hypoglycaemia, and sometimes acid reflux symptoms, indigestion, heartburn, gas, bloating and other symptoms.

Food will digest in the absence of HCl by a fermentation process – when the food empties into the duodenum there will not be sufficient acid which will cause insufficient bile release and pancreatin, causing the food to stay acidic during the fermentation process. This process causes excess acid waste, which is damaging as it passes through the remainder of the digestion tract; however it is not excess HCl.  Hydrochloric acid needs to be in the stomach to breakdown proteins BEFORE it gets to the duodenum.

Causes of low Hydrochloric acid

A diet high in red meat, dairy products, refined and processed foods and fast foods

Cooking proteins in a microwave


Heavy meals

Insufficient water intake/dehydration


Poor food combining

Drinking chlorinated water, iced cold beverages, carbonated beverages, coffee, especially with meals

A diet void or low in fresh raw fruits and vegetables

Personal stress

Stressful home and work environment

Production of HCL in the stomach naturally decreases with age, so the condition is more common in people over 40. It is possible, however, to encounter young people, even children, with an under-active stomach because  their diet contains too much junk food, processed and refined foods, carbonated beverages, and too little raw fruits and vegetables.

There is also a link to stress at home or they are sensitive children living in unhappy home environments and internalizing the turmoil .Stress is an emotional factor that also contributes to under-active stomach as the stomach is an organ governed by the solar plexus chakra. The chakra is our emotional centre and very susceptible to the emotions of ourselves and others. It is the chakra most in need of protection. Poor food combining larger, heavier meals, coffee consumption and nicotine speeds transit and empties the stomach too quickly low salt intake dehydration, use of antacids.

Stay tuned for Part Two; The effects of Low Hydrochloric acid and what you can do about it.


The information provided in this article has not been approved by the FDA and is not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician. This article is not recommending changing any treatment or medication you are taking without consulting with your personal physician or qualified health care practitioner. Before implementing any suggestions seen here please consult with your physician or qualified health care practitioner

About Karen Langston

Karen Langston is an Arizona based nutritionist focusing on Crohn’s Disease and the connection between mind and body.


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