As a nutritionist, Hypochlorhydria (underactive stomach) is something I see in many of my clients.
Underactive stomach is when the stomach does not produce and/or secrete enough hydrochloric acid, which then affects our ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients, especially protein, minerals, and Vitamin B12.
It is very important to be aware of this condition since so many people experience indigestion and heartburn, which they then take acid suppressing medication for.
The common misconception, even in the medical community, is that heartburn is the result of too much acid in the stomach, however, this is may not always be the case.
So, I know what you are thinking, 'how can low stomach acid cause heartburn?'
When the stomach does not have enough acid it will not be able to signal the sphincter that separates the esophagus and stomach to close. This sphincter is triggered by a certain pH to stay closed when we are not swallowing food, so when it remains slightly open due to insufficient stomach acid then the small amount of acid that is in the stomach can enter the esophagus, leading to the burning sensation.
Insufficient stomach acid may also result in excessive bloating. This build up of pressure can push the small amount of acid that is on the stomach up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation since the lining of the esophagus does not have the same type of protective mucus layer that the stomach does.
Longterm, this can lead to malnutrition due to malabsorption, intestinal permeability, dysbiosis, SIBO, and esophageal irritation.
Signs of underactive stomach and steps to take to help reduce symptoms:
*Please note, it is important to distinguish between over- and under-active stomach before following recommendations. You can do the Acid Self-Test by taking 1 Tbsp of apple cider vinegar in 1/4 cup water 5-10 mins before a meal. If your symptoms improve you most likely have underactive stomach and not overactive stomach. You can also ask your doctor for a Heidelberg test to precisely assess your stomach acid levels.
Shawna Barker BSc., RHN is a nutritionist specializing in vegan diets.