Stomach acid has a bad reputation – after all, it is to blame for the dreaded heartburn – but did you know that having too little of this stuff can be equally as bad for your health? There are a number of painful symptoms that arise as a result of low stomach acid – take a look at 5 of the most common ones to keep an eye out for.
Despite its bad rap, stomach acid plays a significant role in keeping our whole body healthy by maintaining the pH balance of our digestive system, ensuring everything works as it should, from nutrient absorption to regulated bowel movements. When our acid levels get thrown off, we start to see a wide variety of health issues crop up – and you’ll find they affect the whole body! From your hair to your gut, low stomach acid will make itself known in some less-than-convenient ways.
The causes of low stomach acid
There are a range of contributors to low stomach acid, but one of the most common involves the use of antacids – these are a popular crutch for heartburn and reflux-sufferers, but unfortunately, they have a tendency to raise the stomach’s pH level. The result? A reduction of stomach acid – otherwise known as gastric acid – concentration by a whopping 100 times. But that’s not the only cause for low stomach acid; take a look at a few of the other culprits below:
- Alcohol and cigarettes
- Highly-processed, sugar-laden foods: These wreak havoc on the gut microbiome and pH balance, resulting in a range of gut issues, including low stomach acid.
- Stress: In some cases, stress can lead to a lower production of hydrochloric acid, resulting in low stomach acid.
Let’s take a look at the 5 signs something’s amiss with your stomach acid.
If you’ve been having digestive issues lately, it could be a glaring sign that your stomach acid levels are too low. Any of the following symptoms commonly arise in the case of low stomach acid:
- Food sensitivities
- Undigested food
- Heart burn
- Feeling nauseous after eating
Sound familiar? These common ailments could be caused by reduced stomach acid levels, and the reason for this comes down to the effect of stomach acid on digestive health. Your stomach acid is split into 3 parts including hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride and sodium chloride – but it’s the hydrochloric acid that plays the primary role in maintaining a healthy digestive system. When your stomach isn’t producing enough of this stuff, improper digestion can lead to a host of issues including constipation, bloating and cramping.
Skin and hair issues
As we mentioned above, when our stomach acid is on the side of low, we tend to have difficulties digesting food properly – this can also mean that our bodies don’t absorb nutrients the way they should. Zinc in particular is one such nutrient we tend to take in insufficiently – but this mineral plays a significant role in not only our immune system and thyroid function, but also in our skin, hair and nail health. If you’ve noticed your skin is showing signs of premature aging or breaking out in acne, or perhaps your hair is feeling brittle or damaged lately, low stomach acid could be the cause. Some may even experience hair loss and thinning as a result of numerous deficiencies, from vitamin B12 to vitamin C.
We all know low iron stores contribute to anaemia, but what may come as a surprise is that low stomach acid can inhibit iron absorption. So, if you’ve been eating iron-rich foods like eggs, meat, legumes and supplements but still seeing no improvement to your condition, it’s worth taking a look into your stomach acid levels. Low stomach acid, as we mentioned above, inhibits the absorption from all manner of nutrients, including protein – and this stuff plays an important role in aiding with iron absorption. The lack of iron will also have a knock-on effect with vitamins B6 and B12, as it’s essential for metabolising these nutrients. Hydrochloric acid is another must-have for absorbing vitamin B12, so if you’ve got low levels of this acid, chances are you’re not getting that B12 you need to keep anaemia at bay. Other consequences of this malabsorption include improper function of the nervous system, poor circulation and inhibited brain function. Yikes!
Gut dysbiosis and infections
Our gut microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria which exist in an ongoing balancing act between good and bad microbes. Stomach acid remains one of our best defences against infections and pathogens that we take in from our food or water sources – or anything we consume – but if our acid levels are too low, our defences end up low too. We end up with imbalanced gut bacteria as a result of out-of-whack pH levels and nutritional malabsorption, all of which can result in a higher frequency of infections, along with a serious case of gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis is when our gut bacteria are leaning in favour of the bad guys instead of the good guys – this puts us at risk for a range of disease and digestive discomfort. Take a look at some of the symptoms you’ll come up against:
- Constipation, diarrhoea and bloating
- Difficulty urinating
- Acid reflux, heartburn and indigestion
- Food intolerances
- Aches and pains
- Skin rashes
Undigested food in stool and difficulty digesting meat
If you’ve started noticing undigested food in your stool, it’s worth putting your stomach acid under the microscope. The lack of stomach acid can result in improperly digested food, meaning we don’t absorb the energy or nutrients our bodies need. Stomach acid helps break down your food, so having too little of it can make it harder to digest high-protein foods like meat. It can often result in feeling tired or nauseous after consuming a meat-based dish, or may even leave you with a poor appetite for the red stuff.
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