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Low Stomach Acid
(Hypochlorhydria)

Hypochlorhydria, also known as low stomach acid, is a condition characterized by a decrease in the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Hydrochloric acid is essential for proper digestion as it helps break down food, sterilise the stomach, and facilitate the absorption of nutrients.

Causes of Hypochlorhydria:

  • Aging: Stomach acid production tends to decrease with age.

  • Chronic stress: Prolonged stress can negatively impact stomach acid production.

  • Medications: Certain medications, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and antacids, can reduce stomach acid production.

  • Helicobacter pylori infection: This bacterial infection can lead to decreased stomach acid levels.

  • Autoimmune conditions: Conditions like autoimmune gastritis can damage the cells responsible for producing stomach acid.

Implications of Hypochlorhydria: Low stomach acid can have several implications for digestion and overall health. Insufficient breakdown of food can lead to malabsorption of nutrients, contributing to deficiencies and related health issues.

Incomplete digestion may also result in the overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, leading to conditions such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Treatment options for hypochlorhydria may include:

  • Dietary modifications: Consuming smaller, well-balanced meals, chewing food thoroughly, and avoiding trigger foods can support digestion.

  • Supplementation: In some cases, healthcare professionals may recommend supplements like betaine hydrochloride or digestive enzymes to support stomach acid production and enhance digestion.

  • Managing stress: Stress reduction techniques, such as mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation exercises, can help support healthy digestion.

  • Addressing underlying causes: Treating any underlying conditions, such as H. pylori infection or autoimmune gastritis, can help restore normal stomach acid levels.

Symptoms of hypochlorhydria, or low stomach acid, can vary from person to person.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Digestive issues: Bloating, belching, and flatulence (excessive gas) after meals.

  • Acid reflux and heartburn: Contrary to popular belief, low stomach acid can sometimes cause acid reflux symptoms. This occurs when undigested food sits in the stomach for longer periods, leading to pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter and reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus.

  • Feeling full quickly: A sense of early fullness or being unable to eat a normal-sized meal due to discomfort or bloating.

  • Undigested food particles in stool: Insufficient stomach acid can hinder proper breakdown and digestion of food, resulting in the presence of undigested food particles in the stool.

  • Nutrient deficiencies: Low stomach acid can impact the absorption of key nutrients such as iron, calcium, and vitamin B12, potentially leading to deficiencies in these essential nutrients.

  • Weak or brittle nails and hair: Inadequate nutrient absorption due to low stomach acid can affect the health of nails and hair, making them weak or brittle.

  • Fatigue and low energy levels: Nutrient deficiencies resulting from poor absorption can contribute to fatigue and low energy levels.

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Hypochlorhydria and H Pylori

Hypochlorhydria, or low stomach acid, can potentially be associated with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, a bacterial infection that commonly affects the stomach lining.

Here are some key points regarding the relationship between hypochlorhydria and H. pylori:

  • H. pylori infection and stomach acid: H. pylori is known to affect the production and secretion of stomach acid. In some cases, the presence of H. pylori can lead to a decrease in stomach acid production, resulting in hypochlorhydria. This is because H. pylori has mechanisms that allow it to survive and thrive in the stomach's acidic environment.

  • Impact on digestion and symptoms: Hypochlorhydria resulting from H. pylori infection can affect the digestive process. Insufficient stomach acid may lead to impaired protein digestion, decreased absorption of certain nutrients (such as iron and vitamin B12), and alterations in gut motility. Symptoms associated with H. pylori infection and hypochlorhydria can include abdominal pain, indigestion, bloating, and discomfort after meals.

  • Relationship with treatment: Treating H. pylori infection typically involves a combination of antibiotics and acid-suppressing medications. While this approach aims to eradicate the bacteria, it may temporarily exacerbate hypochlorhydria. Once the infection is successfully treated, stomach acid production may gradually return to normal levels.

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Hypochlorhydria & IBS

Hypochlorhydria, or low stomach acid, can potentially contribute to the development or exacerbation of symptoms in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

While the exact relationship between hypochlorhydria and IBS is complex and multifactorial, here are a few ways in which low stomach acid may impact IBS:

  • Impaired digestion: Stomach acid plays a crucial role in the initial breakdown of food and the activation of digestive enzymes. Insufficient stomach acid can lead to incomplete digestion of food, which may contribute to symptoms such as bloating, gas, and altered bowel movements in individuals with IBS.

  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO): Low stomach acid can create an environment in the stomach and small intestine that is less hostile to bacteria, potentially increasing the risk of SIBO. SIBO is characterized by an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, which can result in symptoms similar to IBS, including abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits.

  • Nutrient deficiencies: Stomach acid is necessary for the proper absorption of various nutrients, including iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and magnesium. Inadequate absorption of these nutrients due to hypochlorhydria can lead to deficiencies that may worsen symptoms in individuals with IBS.

It is important to note that while hypochlorhydria may contribute to IBS symptoms in some individuals, it is not the sole cause of IBS. IBS is a multifactorial condition with various contributing factors, including gut dysbiosis, food sensitivities, stress, and genetic factors.

If you suspect you have hypochlorhydria and IBS, get in touch with us. We can perform a comprehensive evaluation, including medical history, and potentially specialised testing, to determine the underlying causes of your symptoms.

Treatment strategies may include addressing hypochlorhydria through dietary modifications, lifestyle changes, and targeted supplementation, in addition to other interventions specific to managing IBS symptoms.

"Nourish your gut, nourish your body."

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