Hypochlorhydria – Essential Low Acid Symptoms and TreatmentsDec 14, 2021
by Mia Zivkovic and Doc Mok
Gut health plays an extremely important role in overall well-being. For this reason, treating and managing digestive conditions is paramount to maintaining optimal wellness. One such condition is hypochlorhydria, a common digestive issue that also impacts other systems within the body.
You might be wondering what hypochlorhydria is in the first place. In order to define it, one must first understand the chemistry of the digestive system. The human stomach has evolved to be a highly acidic environment, typically measuring about 1.5 on the pH scale. This extremely low pH is created by the presence of hydrochloric acid in gastric juice, which also contains pepsin and lipase.
The high acidity of the human stomach is an interesting characteristic because completely herbivorous animals usually have lower stomach pH levels than carnivorous ones. However, it seems that humans have such low gastric pH for a different reason- killing harmful bacteria. Since there is a large number of pathogens that can infect the human digestive system, an extremely acidic environment was naturally selected during the evolutionary process in order to fight them off. Therefore, the main purpose of the stomach’s high acidity is to prevent bacterial infection rather than be suited to diet.
Not only does the presence of hydrochloric acid in the stomach prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, but it also aids in absorption of nutrients such as zinc and vitamin B12, among several others. Additionally, the acidity of the stomach initiates important hormonal signals within the digestive system.
Hypochlorhydria is a condition that occurs when the stomach loses acidity and its pH becomes too high. It has several possible causes and can bring about a slew of health problems if left untreated. The acidity of the stomach is clearly an important characteristic of the entire digestive system; when this characteristic is lost, various consequences can result.
Causes of Hypochlorhydria
Hypochlorhydria can arise from several different causes, including:
- Use of certain medications: Use of proton pump inhibitors and overuse of antacids can cause decreases in stomach acidity in the long term.
- Stomach surgeries: A specific surgery that causes hypochlorhydria is gastric bypass, which removes about 60% of the stomach in order to induce weight loss. Reduced acidity in the stomach can be an unwanted consequence of this procedure; a recent study reveals that those who have undergone gastric bypass have stomach pH levels of 5.7 to 6.8.
- Age: It has been shown that both infants and the elderly have higher stomach pH levels. Infants often have a stomach pH greater than 4, and 80% of subjects in a study on elderly people had a pH of 6.6.
- Lack of essential vitamins and nutrients: Several lifestyle choices can reduce vitamins and minerals within the body, such as smoking, drinking, chronically high-stress levels, and poor diet. This lack of nutrients can lead to low stomach acidity as well.
- Bacterial infections: Bacterial infections, specifically H. pylori infections, can also be a cause of increased stomach pH.
Health Consequences of Hypochlorhydria
There are a wide variety of health issues that can result from hypochlorhydria. Some such problems are:
- Increased infections within the digestive system: A common function of stomach acidity, and the reason why it evolved in the first place, is to kill harmful pathogens within the digestive tract. Therefore, it follows that an increase in the pH of the stomach is associated with higher risk of infections.
- Osteoporosis: Hypochlorhydria reduces the body’s ability to absorb calcium, which may result in bone loss. It can also cause osteoporosis, a condition where small pores form in the bones and cause fragility.
- Food allergies: The presence of hydrochloric acid in the stomach allows for the breakdown of proteins. When acidity is reduced, food allergies associated with the digestion of protein can present.
- Acid reflux: Although this may seem counterintuitive, low acidity of the stomach can actually cause acid reflux to occur. Acid reflux can be caused by various other factors, such as delayed stomach emptying, hernias, and disorders of the connective tissue, and does not necessarily mean that one has high levels of stomach acid.
Treating and Managing Hypochlorhydria
Although hypochlorhydria does have some serious health consequences, there are ways to treat and manage this disorder. Some of these treatment methods include:
- Taking HCl and other supplements: A recent study revealed that taking an oral, anhydrous form of hydrochloric acid as a supplement can aid in re-acidification of the stomach for those experiencing hypochlorhydria. Taking supplements of other essential nutrients may also help reverse hypochlorhydria caused by lack of essential vitamins and minerals.
- Taking antibiotics: Antibiotics can help with hypochlorhydria caused by bacterial infections such as H. pylori. Once the infecting bacteria is killed, acidity can be restored to the stomach.
- Changing your diet: Eating foods rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, cottage cheese, and kombucha can increase stomach acidity. Fiber and nutrient-rich foods are also recommended, and refined carbohydrates should be avoided to maintain digestive health. Chewing food thoroughly can assist with digestion impaired by hypochlorhydria.
- Improving lifestyle: Reducing stress and limiting alcohol and smoking can also restore stomach acid, as these factors cause hypochlorhydria by lowering amounts of essential nutrients within the body.
- Changing medications: Since some medications cause hypochlorhydria, an obvious solution to the condition would be to switch medications. However, this is not always possible, as other health issues also need to be addressed.
Ultimately, hypochlorhydria is a common yet complex digestive disease with various causes and consequences. Maintaining a highly acidic environment in the stomach is vital to nutrient absorption, preventing infection, and overall health.
Hypochlorhydria can be caused by several different factors, including medications, gastric surgery, age, lack of nutrients, and bacterial infections. It can result in various health complications such as increased infections, osteoporosis, food allergies, and acid reflux.
Luckily, hypochlorhydria can be managed and treated with fairly simple methods. Taking supplements, taking antibiotics, changing diet, improving lifestyle, and switching medications can all lead to restored stomach acidity and improved gut health.