Having low levels of stomach acid can lead to a range of unpleasant side effects and leave the body vulnerable to infections. However, there are several things a person can try to help increase their stomach acid.
Stomach, or gastric, acid is a digestive fluid containing hydrochloric acid (HCL) and digestive enzymes. Stomach acid breaks down food and kills harmful bacteria.
The medical term for low stomach acid is hypochlorhydria. When this happens, the other digestive organs cannot absorb essential nutrients from the food a person eats.
This article will discuss six natural ways to increase stomach acid. It will also examine the causes of low stomach acid and some associated risk factors.
Treatments for low stomach acid depend on the underlying cause. However, there are some methods a person can try at home to improve stomach acid levels.
Below are six things a person can try to increase stomach acid naturally.
1. Try HCL supplements
According to a 2015 review, older adults have a higher risk of developing digestive conditions that reduce their stomach acid levels.
Digestive conditions that may decrease stomach acid levels include Helicobacter pylori infection (a bacterial infection of the stomach) and atrophic gastritis (which is characterized by chronic inflammation of the lining of the stomach).
As a person ages, their stomach also produces less pepsin. Pepsin is an enzyme that breaks down proteins and aids digestion.
People with low levels of stomach acid may benefit from taking HCL supplements. Digestive enzyme supplements that also contain pepsin may be especially beneficial for older adults.
However, a person should speak with a doctor before taking any supplements. Although supplements may alleviate symptoms, the hypochlorhydria may be due to an underlying health condition that requires medical attention.
2. Increase zinc intake
Zinc is an essential mineral present in human cells. The stomach uses zinc to produce HCL.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommend that adults consume 8–11 milligrams of zinc each day.
People who do not get enough zinc in their diets and those with poor zinc absorption may have low stomach acid levels. Addressing a zinc deficiency could help increase stomach acidity.
People can increase their zinc intake by making dietary changes or taking zinc supplements. However, they should speak with their healthcare provider before starting any new supplements.
Some zinc-rich foods a person can add to their diet include:
- nuts and seed cashews
- fortified breakfast cereal
3. Take probiotics
Probiotics are microorganisms that support a healthful balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
A 2017 review article found evidence of an association between low stomach acidity and bacterial overgrowth in the gut.
Taking probiotics may inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and help increase levels of stomach acid.
Foods that naturally contain probiotics include:
- cottage cheese
4. Eat ginger
Ginger possesses anti-inflammatory properties that may help alleviate stomach inflammation due to low stomach acid.
Some proponents suggest that ginger may stimulate the production and secretion of essential digestive enzymes and increase movement through the intestines.
However, there is not enough scientific evidence to fully support these claims. More high quality studies are necessary.
5. Limit refined carbohydrate intake
Making certain dietary changes may help increase stomach acidity. For example, diets that are high in refined carbohydrates (sugars and low fiber, starchy foods) may lead to inflammation in the stomach and other digestive organs.
Although some research suggests that the inflammation is directly due to refined carbohydrates and excess sugar, some experts suggest that it may be due to an overgrowth of yeast fungi in the stomach that causes diarrhea, bloating, and constipation.
Proponents may suggest trying the candida diet, which involves eliminating gluten, sugar, and certain dairy products. However, there is little scientific evidence to prove that this can prevent an overgrowth of yeast fungi in the gut.
6. Chew thoroughly
Mastication is the technical term for chewing food, and it is the first step in the digestive process. Chewing breaks down food into smaller pieces. These pieces then mix with saliva, which leads to the next step of the digestive process.
People who experience symptoms of low stomach acid may want to consider taking smaller bites and chewing their food thoroughly. This may allow for adequate digestion.
Hypochlorhydria is a condition that occurs when a person has low levels of HCL in their stomach. It can lead to symptoms such as:
Several factors can contribute to low stomach acid. These may include:
Although anyone can have low stomach acid, hypochlorhydria is most common in adults aged 60 years and over.
Some other factors that may increase a person’s risk of low levels of stomach acid include:
- chronic use of antacids and certain prescription medications
- zinc deficiency
- regular high levels of stress
- H. pylori infection of the stomach cells
- a history of gastric bypass surgery
Although occasional bloating and stomach pain can lead to discomfort, these symptoms tend to resolve on their own with time.
However, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) recommend that people contact their doctor if they experience indigestion for longer than 2 weeks.
The NIDDK also suggest that people seek immediate medical attention for the following symptoms:
- blood in the stool or vomit
- frequent vomiting
- unintentional weight loss
- pain or difficulty when swallowing
- pain in the chest, jaw, neck, or arm
- severe, constant stomach pain
- shortness of breath
- jaundice, or yellowing of the eyes or skin
Hypochlorhydria is a relatively common condition that can lead to bloating, indigestion, and changes in bowel habits.
Low stomach acid is not a life threatening condition. However, it can result in chronic stomach inflammation and severely reduce a person’s quality of life.
People can manage symptoms of hypochlorhydria and increase their levels of stomach acid by making certain dietary and lifestyle changes.
Older adults may benefit from taking HCL supplements that contain pepsin, which is an essential digestive enzyme.
People who experience indigestion that lasts longer than 2 weeks may wish to consider speaking with a healthcare professional.
There are a few things that people can try to naturally increase their levels of stomach acid. However, there is not much evidence supporting these methods.
People should speak with a doctor before taking any new supplements or making any significant dietary changes.
They should also contact a healthcare professional if they have indigestion that lasts longer than 2 weeks and seek medical attention if they experience blood in the stool, frequent vomiting, or unintentional weight loss.