Hypochlorhydria: 5 signs of low stomach acid that cause indigestion

Hypochlorhydria is a condition that causes low stomach acid, making it tough to digest food properly. Know the symptoms of the condition and its treatment.
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Low stomach acid can cause digestive problems! Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Aayushi Gupta Updated: 20 Feb 2024, 18:08 pm IST
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You’re probably familiar with stomach issues like acid reflux and heartburn, which occur when there’s too much stomach acid. But did you know that low stomach acid can also be a problem? Hypochlorhydria, or stomach acid deficiency, specifically low hydrochloric acid (HCl), is the most powerful acid your stomach produces. It helps kill bacteria and other harmful chemicals that may affect your digestive system and immunity. However, when your body doesn’t make enough stomach acid, it can make it tough to digest food properly or absorb nutrients. Let us tell you about its symptoms and how to deal with it.

What is hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid)?

Hypochlorhydria hampers the digestive process, which can lead to numerous symptoms. When someone struggles with this condition, they may experience indigestion, bloating, and discomfort after consuming meals due to the inability of the body to break down the food. Furthermore, it can even decrease nutrient absorption, potentially resulting in deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals. Over time, untreated hypochlorhydria can lead to more serious health issues, such as malnutrition and gastrointestinal problems, impacting overall well-being and quality of life.

What causes hypochlorhydria?

Low stomach acid can be caused by various factors. Dr Manjusha Agarwal, an Internal Medicine Physician explains, “Chronic stress has been found to disrupt the balance of gastric secretions and reduce stomach acid production. Another common cause is the frequent use of antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to manage acid reflux or heartburn. While these medications provide temporary relief from symptoms, they can gradually lead to decreased stomach acid production over time.”

Woman with gut health problems
A low stomach can cause several gut health problems. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

As one gets older, bodies naturally produce fewer digestive enzymes and acids, which means ageing is also one of the causes of it. Additionally, dietary mistakes such as excessive alcohol consumption, nutrient deficiency, and a diet low in protein can also contribute.

Symptoms of hypochlorhydria

While stomach acid is crucial for breaking down food, aiding in nutrient absorption, and protecting against harmful bacteria, inadequate levels can disrupt these processes. Here are 5 common symptoms of low stomach acid you should know:

1. Indigestion

Hypochlorhydria can cause indigestion symptoms such as bloating, gas, and discomfort after eating meals. It happens because it becomes difficult to break down food without enough stomach acid, and this in turn causes the food to remain longer in the stomach, leading to indigestion.

2. Frequent burping or belching

When the stomach struggles to digest food, it can produce excess gas, leading to frequent burping or belching.

3. Heartburn

Contrary to common belief, hypochlorhydria can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, leading to acid reflux and a burning sensation.

4. Weaken the immune system

Insufficient stomach acid increases the risk of bacterial overgrowth in the digestive tract, which can affect your immune system. This increases the risk of infections and gastrointestinal issues like diarrhoea or constipation.

weak immunity
Hypochlorhydria can take a toll on your immunity. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

5. Poor nutrient absorption

Stomach acid is vital for breaking down proteins and activating enzymes necessary for absorbing nutrients like iron, calcium, and B vitamins. Deficiencies in these nutrients can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, and brittle bones.

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Treatment for low stomach acid

Instead of solely relying on antacids or medications that suppress stomach acid production, adopting a holistic approach to managing hypochlorhydria is crucial for long-term well-being, says Dr Agarwal. Here are 6 tips to manage the condition:

1. Dietary changes

Incorporate foods that support digestion, such as fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt. These foods contain probiotics that aids digestion. Additionally, include fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to promote regular bowel movements.

2. Chew thoroughly

Properly chewing food stimulates the production of gastric juices, including stomach acid. Take your time to chew each bite thoroughly before swallowing to aid digestion.

3. Avoid overeating

Eating large meals can overwhelm a compromised digestive system. Opt for smaller, more frequent meals to reduce the burden on your stomach and aid digestion.

4. Manage stress

Chronic stress can impair digestion and reduce acid production in the stomach. Practise stress-reducing techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature to support overall digestive health.

a worried woman
Stress increases your risk of digestive problems. Image courtesy: Freepik

5. Apple cider vinegar

Consuming diluted apple cider vinegar before meals may help stimulate stomach acid production. Mix one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with water and drink it about 15–20 minutes before meals.

6. Hydrochloric acid supplements

Your doctor may prescribe supplements, such as betaine hydrochloride, to restore the pH of your stomach.

Apart from these tips, avoid or reduce the intake of foods that can suppress acid production, such as caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods. To help regulate stress levels and improve overall gut health, also practise relaxation activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or engaging in enjoyable activities.

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About the Author

Aayushi Gupta is a health writer with a special interest in trends related to diet, fitness, beauty and intimate health. With around 2 years of experience in the wellness industry, she is connected to leading experts and doctors to provide our readers with factually correct information. ...Read More

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