My patient Leo came to me because his over-the-counter antacids stopped working for him. He wanted me to prescribe more powerful versions to stop his stomach acid from giving him a bad time. I explained to him that he was asking for the wrong solution to the wrong problem.
The pharmaceutical industry has repeated the “indigestion is caused by too much acid” myth so many times that it’s difficult for people to grasp that many times the problem is actually the opposite. People feel as if their stomach is burning, so the cure is obviously to have less acid. But, in fact, you need stomach acid for a variety of reasons.
Stomach Acid Facts
Digestion requires stomach acid. Without it, you can’t extract amino acids, vitamins, or minerals from food. You need stomach acid to get proper nutrition.
Stomach acid fights off bad bacteria which would otherwise infect your whole body. A recent study looked at records from more than 800 hospitalized, critically ill patients on breathing machines. (These patients are sometimes given acid-reducing drugs to prevent stress ulcers from developing.) 300 percent more of patients on the drugs got pneumonia! Why? Because there wasn’t enough stomach acid to kill dangerous bacteria.
Based on my own experience, I’d say probably 95 percent of people over 50—when our digestive (and other) systems slow down—have insufficient HCL.
Just to be sure, I recommend the Heidelberg Stomach Acid Test.
The Heidelberg Stomach Acid Test involves swallowing a tiny capsule with an even tinier radio transmitter inside. As it travels through your digestive system, it measures your HCL levels.
Heidelberg is the go-to diagnostic tool for HCL sufficiency—or lack of it. I highly recommend you talk it over with your doctor. You’d be surprised how many people think mild digestive distress isn’t serious—just the price you pay sometimes.
Speaking of price, the Heidelberg can be a bit expensive, and isn’t always covered by insurance. Before you hit the play button, know what you’ll pay.
Further, chronically low levels of stomach acid have been linked to serious ailments, like:
- Heart disease
- Skin problems
- Type 1 diabetes
- Rheumatoid arthritis
I didn’t give Leo a bunch of pills which, in addition to wrecking his natural digestion process, would have also killed off the good bacteria needed to be healthy and given side effects like diarrhea, skin reactions, and headaches. Instead, we talked about six simple lifestyle changes, natural antacid alternatives, that could bring his stomach back under control.
Fight low stomach acid with apple cider vinegar
If that’s you, some simple fixes should get you back on track.
You can start by topping the tank with HCL supplements, including natural ones like apple cider vinegar (ACV)—two tablespoons in a glass of warm water in the morning, with meals, or just sipping through the day.
You’ll get the benefits of more than 90 nutrients, including stomach-helping acids, probiotics, and specialized digestive enzymes.
For added certainty, find supplements that combine HCL, digestive enzymes, and probiotics.
Hold the Beverages
Drinking while eating dilutes digestive acids. A sip or two of room-temperature water is fine, but guzzling ice cold drinks with your meal leads to pain. Make a habit of eating first and drinking later. I think you’ll find that your digestion is much improved from this simple change.
Eat Less More Often
Big meals overwhelm your digestive systems. It also spikes your blood sugar out of control. You’ll feel better if you divide your daily food intake into four or five smaller meals throughout the day. You won’t get hungry and overeat, and your digestive system will work better. Also, try eating more slowly by taking smaller bites and chewing them more slowly. This lets the saliva in your mouth begin the process of breaking down your food.
Don’t Sleep On It
Lying down lets stomach secretions travel up into the esophagus, where they can damage tissue. Eating makes your stomach acid increase as you work to digest, so give yourself enough time for digestion and finish your last meal of the day three hours before bed time. Consider propping your head and chest up with a wedge pillow while you sleep, so gravity keeps your stomach acid in your stomach where it belongs.
Avoid Food Triggers
If you already know that eating a platter of rich, fatty beef stroganoff or a slice of devil’s food cake means a painful stomach later, don’t eat it. Think about the foods that don’t bother you, especially the fruits and vegetables that make you feel better after you eat them, and plan meals around those instead. If you don’t know what triggers you, keep a food diary for a month to find out what sets you off. Besides fatty food and chocolate, common food triggers are spicy dishes, citrus fruits and juices, and caffeine.
Take Supportive Supplements
- Betaine hydrochloride, a diluted form of HCL, comes in supplement form alone and in combination with the supplements below. I recommend going for the combo, and follow the dosage recommendations.
- Probiotics Good bacteria help digest food for you. Personally, I recommend a probiotic supplement containing at least 10 billion live organisms. Follow the dosage instructions on the product that you choose.
- Melatonin Normally I recommend melatonin to my patients who need more sleep, but studies show that melatonin also helps beat stomach problems. Melatonin protects against indigestion, gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), ulcers, lesions in the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth and stomach), and helps treat irritable bowel syndrome. I recommend a daily dose of 1 mg for women and 3 mg for men. Take it just before bed and sleep like a baby.
- Digestive enzymes Lipases help fat digestion, amylases help with carbohydrates, and proteolytics work on protein. These enzymes can be helpful for treating conditions ranging from lactose intolerance to pancreatic insufficiency. You can find these enzymes sold individually, as well as in combination or with betaine hydrochloride (a diluted form of hydrochloric acid). Choose one that targets your specific digestive issue and follow the dosage instructions.
After one month on this program, Leo’s stomach problems were a thing of the past. If your stomach feels out of sorts, these solutions will get you all straightened out.
- “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Digestive Enzymes” Whole 9. Published NA. Last accessed September 10, 2017.
- Yawitz, Kimberly. “What Is Betaine HCl And Does It Help With Digestion?” Diet vs Disease. Published NA. Last accessed September 10, 2017.
- Henderson, Kirstin. “What Roles Do Hydrochloric Acid & Bile Play in Digestion?” Updated: August 13, 2015. Last accessed September 10, 2017.
- “Hydrochloric Acid Deficiency: OvervIew.” Published NA. Last accessed September 10, 2017.
Last Updated: August 22, 2018
Originally Published: July 23, 2014