An introduction to the consequences of low stomach acid
Hypochlorhydria is the medical term for low levels of stomach acid. Although not as well known as having ‘too much acid’ in the stomach, we now know that it is a common condition.
Hypochlorhydria can affect many aspects of our health apart from giving us some common digestive symptoms.
Stomach acid is essential for digesting the food we eat so it can be absorbed and utilised. Stomach acid is also of great importance for the proper breakdown of protein in particular.
Protein is significant for a number of reasons. Proteins are made up of building blocks called amino acids which are needed for many bodily produces including the activation of neurotransmitters which are important for regulating our mood.
Amino acids are also necessary for the manufacture of many enzymes around the body and for general growth and repair. The failure to absorb and utilise trace minerals as well as macronutrients can also be a problem.
Intrinsic factor is a substance also released from the parietal cells of the stomach.
It supports the absorption of vitamin B12 and if the parietal cells are failing to produce sufficient amounts - a deficiency in B12 could arise. Iron is found in high amounts in meat and other protein-rich foods and is commonly malabsorbed if stomach acid is low, this can result in anaemia.
Calcium malabsorption can affect bone health, the list goes on...
Low stomach acid can give rise to acid reflux. It can also increase the intra-abdominal pressure (bacterial overgrowth as a result of hypochlorhydria may have a big part to play in this) which causes the lower-oesophageal sphincter to open and acid reflux occurs.
If partially undigested food travels into the intestines having not been broken down properly, bacteria naturally residing in the gut can attack it. This can result in problems throughout the digest system including, bloating which can give rise to flatulence or the food moving too quickly through the digestive system which can result in diarrhoea.
Food intolerance and allergies are more likely to materialise if this is the case as the immune system is stimulated. If this happens, problems can manifest elsewhere around the body, for example in the skin.
The gut contains hundreds, even thousands, of different strains of bacteria. These can be categorised into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ strains. In the presence of undigested food, the bad bacteria are able to flourish.
As bacteria digests food in a process called fermentation, gas is produced and digestive complaints are therefore common. Bacterial overgrowth can give rise to a host of problems and is thought to impact many systems of the body including the immune system, blood sugar control, weight management and even your mood.
Functions of other digestive organs are affected
The presence of stomach acid and its distinctive, low pH, have important effects on other organs further down in the digestive tract. This includes the liver and pancreas. These are important for the release of bile and pancreatic enzymes which are required for the breakdown of macronutrients. Further problems can materialisze if their function is impaired.