Stomach acid is needed for protein digestion, absorption of vitamin B12 and many minerals, and to kill bacteria and other pathogens that may enter the digestive tract along with the foods we eat.
We produce less stomach acid as we age, but other factors can also cause it to be low. Adrenal fatigue or an under-functioning thyroid gland can both cause production to decrease, as can stress, or a deficiency in the mineral zinc, which is needed to make stomach acid.
Symptoms of low stomach acid
Common symptoms of low stomach acidity include bloating, flatulence or a burning sensation shortly after eating (especially meals high in protein), foul smelling gas and stools, rectal itching, chronic parasite or yeast infections, a feeling that food ‘just sits there’ or an inability to eat more than a small amount at one sitting. Decreased levels are associated with symptoms beyond the digestive system, including eczema, hives, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and rosacea.
How to test your stomach acid levels
To establish if you have low stomach acid, the following simple test can be undertaken at home in a few minutes. Bicarbonate of soda is used in baking and can be found in most supermarkets. The test should be carried out on an empty stomach – 4 hours after eating.
- Dissolve a level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda into a glass of water and drink.
- Bicarbonate is rapidly converted into gas by the action of stomach acid, so a low stomach acid level can be suspected if no belching or stomach bloating occurs within 10 minutes of drinking the solution.
Please note: This test can cause immediate diarrhoea in some people. In case this happens to you, it is recommended to do the test when you plan to be at home. This occasional side effect is immediate but short-lived.
Harford WV (2000) Acute gastritis with hypochlorhydria: report of 35 cases with long term follow up, Gut, 47(4): 467-72