A lot of factors influence the amount of stomach acid or hydrochloric acid (HCI) our body produces. As we grow older, our bodies naturally produce less but this is also likely a function of our diet and lifestyles as well. Common factors that inhibit HCl production include stress, excess sugar and alcohol consumption, nutritional deficiencies or allergies.
HCl is a critically important part of digestion. It is a gastric secretion originated in the stomach that enables the body to break down proteins (into amino acids to be used for neurotransmitters), activate important enzymes and hormones, and acts as a first line of defense against pathogens, parasites and bacterial overgrowth in the gut. Given that HCl is such a critical part of the process at such an early stage, not having enough can really wreak havoc on the entire digestive chain.
You might be surprised to know that symptoms of low stomach acid include heartburn, indigestion and bloating. Conventional wisdom has led us to believe that these symptoms are caused by too much stomach acid and doctors commonly provide us with prescriptions for antacids, H-2 receptor blockers and proton pump inhibitors all of which are designed to reduce or block stomach acid. Most of the time, people with these symptoms actually have low stomach acid, and not high. These drugs end up masking the problem instead of actually trying to help it and often make the problem even worse.
Other symptoms of low stomach acid may include a desire to eat when not hungry, a sense of fullness after meals, flatulence, constipation and diarrhea. So many of my clients have at least a couple of these symptoms. So how do we best support our bodies to allow them to naturally increase HCl production?
Here are my top three suggestions to naturally and easily support HCl production without adding another supplement to your diet. All of these strategies will work best if done 10-15 minutes before you sit down to eat a meal.
Drink warm water with lemon. This will stimulate the production of gastric juices. Use the juice of half a lemon, in warm, but not hot, pure, filtered water. This is my favorite way to start the morning and set myself up for good digestion throughout the day.
Drink apple cider vinegar. Take one to two teaspoons diluted in about a half cup of room temperature water. The key here is, raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (preferably organic).
Take bitters before meals. Bitter flavors stimulate the digestive flow, increasing the production of saliva and salivary amylase and triggering stomach acid and other digestive juices. Take about ¼ teaspoon of bitters before your meal (or suggested serving size) straight or diluted in a half cup of water. Make sure to use real bitters (my favorite is Urban Moonshine) that are made from organic ingredients and don’t contain fillers or additives. These days I keep the travel-sized bitters in my bag and use it on the go. Instead of the dropper, it is in a convenient spray able bottle. I use my larger bottle to refill the travel bottle when it runs low.
These strategies are great for supporting your HCI production and digestion in general, but make sure that you are also in a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state when you eat, eat slowly and chew your food well in order to truly fire up your digestion and have it function the way that it is meant to.