Maintaining your digestive health is a crucial part of maintaining your overall health; many health issues we experience can be traced back to digestion. It is a key factor in identifying and addressing the underlying causes of these health issues.
Digestion is an intricate process involving the gastrointestinal tract, which consists of many organs working together. Each organ has a specific responsibility to fulfill to help digest the food you ingest. This process relies heavily on Hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach; it helps your body break down food, absorb nutrients, and acts as a defence mechanism against viruses and bacteria that may cause illness.
When you ingest food (or even think about it), your stomach lining produces HCl to help with digestion. This brings the pH level of the stomach acid down to an extremely acidic level of 1-2. This highly acidic environment facilitates the breaking-down process of your food by activating your digestive enzymes which allow for the absorption of nutrients.
The importance of HCl’s role in digestion cannot be overstated, which is why it is important to identify and address Hypochlorhydria.
Hypochlorhydria is a deficiency of stomach acid — specifically of HCl. This may lead to digestive health issues, that may detrimentally impact your overall health. A deficiency in HCl would mean your body would no longer be able to break down your food and extract the nutrients you need — which leaves you with undigested food in your gastrointestinal tract and may lead to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and deficiencies of protein and vitamins that your body need.
The most common causes of hypochlorhydria are old age, chronic stress, stomach surgery, chronic gastritis, bacterial infections (H. Pylori), and misuse/chronic use of acid-reducing medications.
Some symptoms that you may immediately notice if you are experiencing hypochlorhydria are:
- Abdominal Pain
- Undigested food in stool
If left untreated, hypochlorhydria would cause nutritional deficiency, resulting in long-term symptoms:
- Irritable mood
- Hair loss
- Feeling weak
- Frequent Headaches
- Memory Loss
- Frequent illness/infections
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and suspect that you have hypochlorhydria, you can try The Baking Soda Test (Bicarb test) — It is a DIY test you can try at home to determine whether you have hypochlorhydria:
Mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 4–6 ounces of water and drink it on an empty stomach and time how long it takes you to burp. If you start burping within 3-5 minutes, you have sufficient levels of stomach acid. If it takes longer than 5 minutes to burp, then you may have low levels of stomach acid.
Managing hypochlorhydria starts by testing to identify the underlying causes; addressing those issues will inadvertently help you restore your digestive health. Your naturopathic doctor may also recommend some HCl supplements to offset the low acid levels in your stomach, along with other supplements to make up for any deficiencies caused by indigestion resulting from hypochlorhydria.
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Dr Tasreen Alibhai, ND
1) https://www.livestrong.com/article/419261-role-of-hydrochloric-acid-i n-the-stomach/