Yes, you read that correctly.
Hypochlorhydria or low stomach acid is almost a certainty if you have autoimmune disease.
Some symptoms you may have include constipation, diarrhea, nausea, fullness after eating, bloating, fatigue, and yes… heartburn.
That makes you want to think twice before you pop a few antacids after eating, doesn’t it?
Low stomach acid also leads to poor absorption of nutrients, leading to common nutritional deficiencies like Vitamin B, D, K2, iron and many others.
You can be eating as well as you can, but you cannot absorb your nutrients without adequate stomach acid.
What happens when we eat?
To digest food properly, our stomach acid creates an enzyme called pepsin. Pepsin breaks food proteins down so they can be easily digested. When we don’t absorb our needed proteins and amino acids, our muscles do not get the nutrients they need, leading to increased recovery time and fatigue. In addition to our muscles, our adrenal glands are left wanting, which leads to more fatigue and inability to handle stress.
Low stomach acid -> low pepsin ->low absorption -> fatigue + weakness + stress
We intake bacteria with our food and our stomach acid kills this bacteria so there is not an imbalance.
Low stomach acid -> bacterial overgrowth
The pyloric sphincter is the door that connects the stomach to the intestines. The pH of your food has to be low enough to get the door open and let your food pass and continue with digestion. Because there is low stomach acid, it takes longer for the door to open, and food consequently backs up and puts pressure on the esophageal sphincter (upper door), leading to heartburn.
Low stomach acid -> slower digestion
How do we increase our stomach acid?
It’s important to get your stomach acid tested so you can assess how much stomach acid you have. See your functional medicine doctor for testing.
Some ways to increase stomach acid include:
· Eating meat: if you are vegan or vegetarian, you most likely are deficient in zinc and B1 which are essential to making stomach acid. They are easily obtained and absorbed from eating meat.
· Eating bitters: These are natural herbs including caraway, dandelion, fennel, ginger, goldenseal, milk thistle, peppermint, and yellow dock. (They must be tasted to stimulate stomach acid production)
· Drink apple cider vinegar: Just take a few tablespoons before a meal to help acidify your food
· With severe cases: you can take supplementary HCL tablets
Autoimmune disease is always gut related and gut health can be complicated! However, maintaining adequate stomach acid levels is a great start to improving gut health and autoimmune health.