13 Signs you Have Hypochlorhydria

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Dinner was great, but I was uncomfortable. About 15 minutes after my last bite, the all-too-familiar feeling of a big bloating belly started to set in. I dreaded what was next: within the hour I’d have major gas cramps and I’d probably have to lie down for a while to rest until the pain peaked and started to wane while the gas “released”. Yeah, essentially I’d need to lie down and fart for an hour before I could move on with my day.

Pleasant? Not at all. Embarrassing? Completely. And very life-interrupting.

What on earth was going on? Why was something as simple as dinner throwing me into such turmoil?

It turns out I had a very common but widely misunderstood condition called “hypochlorhydria,” which is low stomach acid production. Hypo =  low; chlorhyde = hydrochloric acid (or HCl for short).

You see, the stomach needs to be very acidic – with an optimal pH of 1.5-3 – in order to activate pepsin, among other enzymes, to break down protein. If our stomachs aren’t sufficiently acidic, we don’t digest protein properly, we don’t access many of the minerals in our food, and we don’t properly trigger vitally important digestive functions further down the process. The secretion of HCl is an absolutely essential part of the digestive puzzle. Furthermore, this highly acidic environment is our body’s first line of defense against food-borne pathogens. It’s no accident that I used to be the first to succumb to any kind of food poisoning.

But wait a second, you might be thinking. What about all the heartburn and acid reflux that is absolutely rampant these days? Don’t we all suffer from too much acidity in our stomachs, not too little?

As hard as it is to believe with the heavy promotion of antacids and acid-blockers, most people with heartburn are actually hypo-chlorhydric, not hyper-chlorhydric (too much acidity). In fact, most people who are prescribed antacids by their doctors aren’t actually tested for stomach acidity levels. And when tested, it’s actually quite rare that the levels come back high.

What’s really important to know is that if you have ANY kind of digestive dysfunction you are likely also hypochlorhydric and you won’t get anywhere with your gut healing unless you address this issue. It’s at the root of many digestive issues from parasites, to food sensitivities, to SIBO, IBS, colitis, and more.

So the question is, do you have hypochlorhydria? Here are 13 signs that you may not be producing enough stomach acidity:

 13 Signs you Have Hypochlorhydria - and what to do about it. | eatnakednow.com

1. You’ve lost the taste for meat.

I see this all the time in my practice. Clients tell me they just don’t have the taste for meat like they used to. They usually assume that this is their body guiding them to a vegetarian diet. When we get into our work, 9 times out of 10 we find that they are deeply hypochlorhydric and with a little HCl support, they regain their appetite for, and ability to digest, animal protein.

2. You have a history (current or past) of a vegetarian or vegan diet.

Vegetarians don’t eat a lot of animal protein; vegans eat none. The body slows down production of HCl accordingly. This is one of the core reasons that a vegetarian diet (especially a vegan diet) can be very hard on the digestion: without that all important stomach acid, they’re not able to access the minerals from their food, properly trigger the production of pancreatic enzymes, or properly trigger the secretion of bile from the gallbladder. A whole host of trickle-down problems ensue. Remember: stomach acid has many roles above and beyond the digestion of protein, and with low stomach acidity, all of these functions will be compromised. Interestingly, it’s the secretion of HCl that triggers the release of intrinsic factor, which is essential to the absorption of vitamin B12 (yet another reason it’s so hard for vegetarians and vegans to get sufficient B12).

I was a vegetarian on and off for the better part of 12 years, so I know first hand how hard it is to introduce meat back into the diet. Without supplementing your stomach acidity, your body is going to struggle. The good news is that with a little priming, your body can produce its own HCl again.

3. You experience belching or gas about an hour after a meal.

Know anyone who immediately starts to let out some big belches after they’ve eaten? That’s often the result of hypochlorhydria. One of stomach acid’s important roles is to trigger the opening of the pyloric valve, the little valve that connects the stomach to the duodenum (the top of the small intestine). That little valve is very smart, and it knows not to open until the contents of the stomach are at the proper state of digestion. This includes a sufficiently acidic stomach environment.

If the pyloric valve is waiting and waiting for a level of stomach acidity that isn’t achievable due to low acid production, the contents of the stomach start to ferment. Fermentation, as we all know, creates gas, and gas needs to be released somehow. Whether it goes up or down depends on your constitution, but it will be released one way or the other.

4. You experience bloating or cramps within an hour after a meal.

As with #3, fermentation creates gas, and gas creates pressure. Pressure creates bloating and often significant discomfort. Your clothes don’t fit that well either. (I used to dress strategically to hide this.)

5. You get heartburn or acid reflux.

Contrary to popular opinion, acid reflux isn’t too much stomach acid. Most of the time, it’s actually too little stomach acid that leads to acid in the wrong place. Let me explain:

Your esophagus has a pH of about 7, which is very neutral. As I explained above, your stomach needs to be a pH of 1.5-3, very acidic, for optimal digestion. Now, your stomach prepares for such an acidic environment by secreting mucous to protect its lining so that you don’t literally digest yourself.

The esophagus has no such protective coating. If you’re not secreting enough acid, the pyloric valve doesn’t open, and the contents of your stomach start to ferment, this creates gas, which creates pressure. The gas has to be released one way or the other. If it goes up and leads to belching, that means the esophageal valve – the valve that connects the esophagus to the stomach – has opened and allowed that gas to travel up. Sometimes, along with the gas, a little bit of stomach juices splurge up into the esophagus. Ouch!!! The delicate lining of the esophagus is not equipped to handle such acidity.

This is why antacids work on symptoms but they actually exacerbate the root cause of the problem. Sure, an antacid will soothe that burning, but at the same time it’s lowering your stomach acid production, which was the root issue to begin with. You can see how this can spiral quickly downhill…

6. You have really bad breath even though you brush your teeth.

Ruling out poor dental hygiene, it makes perfect sense that halitosis (bad breath) would be the result of digestive dysfunction. If you’re not digesting the food in your stomach properly, it’s going to create toxic byproducts, which can quickly overload our body’s detoxification abilities. Let’s face it: we live in a very toxic world and our detoxification functions are massively overworked. Our livers have enough to do without having to handle the by-products of a malfunctioning digestive system. If you have really bad breath even with excellent oral hygiene, hypochlorhydria is probably the root of the problem.

7. Your sweat is stinky.

Sweat can be stinky for lots of reasons – it could be a sign of magnesium deficiency or often it’s a sign your liver and kidney (primary detoxification organs) need a little love. But, just like with bad breath, the more toxic the body, the more toxic the sweat. The question is: where are those toxins coming from?

The improperly digested protein resulting from hypochlorhydria is a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast to proliferate, and bacteria and yeast produce toxins. This is a condition we call bowel toxemia. It’s a case of endogenous toxicity or “toxicity from within”.

8. You’re not hungry for breakfast.

I see this pattern all the time in clients. They eat a really large dinner, usually late in the evening, and then they’re not hungry for breakfast. Hypochlorhydria is often at the root, leaving the food to sit in the stomach for a long time. They’re not hungry because it’s quite likely they’ve still got dinner in their belly when they wake up!

9. You’re hungry all the time, even when you feel full.

I know this one well. I was famous among my friends for eating massive amounts of food and being quite literally “full”, but still hungry. I can remember one particularly notable example of this from years ago. I was out to dinner at an Italian restaurant and ordered a huge dinner. It was rich and creamy and definitely “filling.” And yet, I finished it and was still hungry. Like, I’m-not-going-to-make-it-home-without-stopping-for-pizza hungry. And so, I ordered the dinner again. My friends and the waiter looked at me in disbelief. To their horror and amusement, I ate the entire thing a second time. How I never had a weight issue is beyond me.

All to say, I know what it is to be insatiable. If the body isn’t digesting protein or accessing minerals, it makes sense that you’d be hungry all the time – you’re not getting the nutrients you need from your meals, so your body is driving you to eat more. When I supported my body’s ability to produce stomach acid, my appetite dropped by at least half. It was shocking how little food I needed to feel full.

10. You get sleepy after meals.

Being sleepy after meals can mean a number of things: blood sugar dysregulation, improper macronutrient balance, or inadequate digestion, which leaves too much food in the digestive tract. It takes a lot of energy to digest, and more energy resources will be diverted there if your digestion is functioning less than optimally.

I have seen it time and again in my practice where clients who are sleepy after meals support their stomach acid levels and suddenly find they feel fabulous afterwards.

11. You have undigested food in your stools.

Low stomach acidity affects the digestion of everything you eat – not just proteins. You see, in addition to supporting the breakdown of protein, HCl triggers the release of pancreatic enzymes that essentially finish the breakdown of your dinner once it gets into the small intestine. If you don’t secrete enough pancreatic enzymes, you won’t finish breaking down your food and will see undigested food in your stool.

12. Your fingernails chip, peel, or break easily.

If you’re fingernails chip, peel, or break easily, it’s a clear sign of deficiencies in protein, minerals, and often also essential fatty acids. By now you’re well aware that deficiencies in protein and minerals are often due, at least in part, to low stomach acid production.

13. You have anemia that doesn’t respond to iron supplementation.

Here’s a very specific example of a mineral deficiency that is exacerbated by low stomach acid. If you’ve been diagnosed as anemic, given an iron supplement, and there was no change, there’s a good chance hypochlorhyria is the root of the problem. Sufficient HCl is a co-factor for iron absorption. This is an example of why it’s critical to have optimal digestion even to access the nutrients in your supplements.

Now you have a sense of whether you have hypochlorhydria or not. If you do, what next?

For some people, a few minor tweaks are all that’s needed to boost HCl levels naturally. For others, more targeted support is required. You can supplement with HCl, but I strongly recommend doing so only under the supervision of a health practitioner as it is a fine balance figuring out your specific dosage and there are some contra-indications.

Here are some starting points that you can easily do at home:

13 Signs you Have Hypochlorhydria - and what to do about it | eatnakednow.com

1. Drink a small glass of room temperature water with 1 Tbsp raw apple cider vinegar before meals. This stimulates the digestive process and encourages your stomach to secrete stomach acid.

2. Take some Swedish Bitters before meals, just like your great grandma did. This works along the same lines as the apple cider vinegar – the bitter taste stimulates the digestive process.

3. Eat sitting down, slowly, in a relaxed state. It cannot be over-emphasized how important your physical and mental state is when you eat. Digestion is a parasympathetic process, meaning that it only happens when you’re in a relaxed state. If you’re under stress, your digestion is compromised. Sit down for your meals, take 10 deep belly breaths before you start eating to switch you into a relaxed state, and eat at a leisurely pace, chewing and savoring each mouthful. Digestion actually begins in our brains, and this allows our brains to initiate many important processes, including the release of HCl in the stomach.

4. Give yourself some time to digest – don’t rush right into the next activity. It’s no accident that most cultures (North America being a notable exception) structure their days such that they have some downtime after a meal. It’s important to give your body some time to get the digestive process under way. You don’t need a whole afternoon of siesta, but what about taking a nice 15 minute walk after lunch rather than diving right back into work?

5. Eat your last meal of the day at least 3 hours before you need to go to bed for the night. This gives your body a little time to digest before lying down. If you do suffer from heartburn, you’ll find that this strategy can help you reduce symptoms that are exacerbated when lying down.

Further reading:

If this topic intrigues you or if you think I’m crazy to suggest that we suffer from low rather than high levels of stomach acidity, then I highly recommend Dr. Jonathan V. Wright’s excellent book Why Stomach Acid Is Good For You.

Header photo credit: © B-d-s | Dreamstime.com



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94 Comments

  1. Brian

    May 9, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    I thought all amino acids came from plants. The animals eat the plants for their amino acids. So how can our stomach know if the amino acids came from plants or from meat? I found this very anecdotal.

    • Margaret Floyd

      May 15, 2017 at 3:07 pm

      Brian, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Those foods highest in protein, will be the highest in amino acids. Hence: animal proteins are the highest. This isn’t annecdotal – this is basic nutrition science.

      • Popa Eugen

        October 6, 2017 at 10:24 am

        Basic nutrition science is that beef has 15g/100g of protein and soya has 35g, nuts and seeds have 17-25g and other legumes as well. It’s a myth that meat is high in protein. Check it out yourself.
        Animal protein is very hard to digest while vegetable protein very easy.

        • Margaret Floyd

          October 8, 2017 at 9:27 pm

          I’m not sure where you’re getting your nutrition data, but 100g of grass-fed steak has 23g of protein. 100g of tofu has 15.8g of protein.

  2. Verity

    June 17, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    I experience many of the listed symptoms – especially the feeling of dinner still being in my stomach by morning and having no appetite for breakfast. But the food product that I can not tolerate at all is yeast. I gave up eating breads 18months ago and have felt so much the better for it. I can eat flour/gluten-containing food without issues so long as it doesn’t contain yeast and is not fermented (soughdour bread is also out). Pizza and Indian naan bread are the worst because they are very doughy (not fully cooked) – just 15mins after eating these I would burp continuously for hours which made me feel nauseated. Where was all this gas coming from? It had to be fermentation in my stomach. I also don’t feel good after eating red meat. The burping from yeast-containing foodstuffs is only the beginning of my problem – what transpires next is a slowing of my digestive system with nothing passing for up to 4 days sometimes, making me feel heavy, sluggish and grumpy (I’m a once-a-day person usually!). Since I omitted yeast from my diet, my skin, especially the backs of my hands which were contantly dry, often with cracked knuckles, has improved dramatically. Whenever I eat soft cheeses like brie and camembert (that contain natural yeasts) my hands become dry again and I experience bowel slowing. I also want to mention that all my life I’ve loved acidic foods – anything pickled in vinegar, acidic fruits. I don’t crave acid but I prefer acidic foods over foods with a neutral pH  – I always assumed this was flavour-related but could it be my body knowing it needs extra acid in order to digest food? The downside to this predilection for acidic food is that my tooth enamel is badly worn requiring much dental restoration work every 12 months. I don’t normally contribute to web forums but I have not been able to find mention of my specific issues so I thought it might help others with similar symptoms to know they’re not alone.

  3. Val

    June 20, 2017 at 1:31 am

    Hi Margaret. I’m based in UK, never had tummy troubles other than a bit of bloating. Hadn’t vomited for 20 years until 6 months ago. A few months after that I had 2 courses of anti’bs for a supposed sinus infection. Since then I’ve had weird symptoms of burning in the eyes and tongue, almost like a vapour/acidic feeling – silent reflux, usually when I’m hungry, or a couple of hours after eating. I feel very full and bloated after eating with burping. GP prescribed Omeprozol which made it worse and nauseous. I don’t get any significant heartburn, but high ribcage pain sometimes, the burning is always in the eyes and mouth. I’m wondering if I have low stomach acidity rather than acid reflux. Desperate to get back to normal eating. Did two mornings bicarb test, no burping followed.

  4. Rachel H.

    June 24, 2017 at 5:46 am

    Thank you for your website and your time and information. You are a real Godsend.

  5. Jennifer

    July 11, 2017 at 4:07 am

    I’ve been on a WFPB diet for about three months now- recently I’ve had six incidents of stomach pain after eating that were resolved with drinking lemon water. I often eat in a rush with my crying baby as background “music”. I’m going to try the ACV as you mentioned and hope that will help further. Thank you!

  6. tracy

    July 30, 2017 at 2:20 am

    i recently had the 24hour ph test, highest i noted was 7.9, in the morning after having a banana and 2 cups of tea, lowest 5.5, mostly on the day the device was inserted, mastly stayed around 6 one i was able to eat and drink, im still waiting on the results of the test, barium meal swallow showed by gullet contracted in various places causing reflux, endoscopy showed some inflammation but within normal range, i never get hungary, all this started after being taken of my medication after 30+years, i was totally fine before then, ate what and when wanted, took about 5 monthes for me to wake up with bad heartburn and pain in my upper back that gradually got worse, ruled out h pylori 3 times, back on the meds am and pm and although symptons subsided the heartburn hasnt, some days better than others, would it be a good idea to try th baking soda test, i normally cant use toothpaste with that in as it makes me heave.

  7. Cathy Burgess

    August 8, 2017 at 3:06 am

    After having diverticulitis three times and being referred to a surgeon (which I refused) I decided to take my digestive health into my own hands. I’ve been taking HCI and Super Enzymes along with probiotics for years and haven’t had diverticulitis since. I also avoid grains (gave up cereal …a staple in my diet for many years) especially any with gluten. When I do eat gluten/grains I pay for it. I was born with eczema and have had increasing allergic reactions as I’ve aged. I’m positive that allergy meds are not helpful in the battle to balance out digestive issues.

    • Margaret Floyd

      August 8, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      Amazing testimonial, Cathy! Thank you so much for sharing. SO MANY digestive issues can be helped with this approach! I’m thrilled to hear you’re doing so well.

  8. Andrea

    August 9, 2017 at 10:32 am

    So I’m confused how this all works when you have leaky gut and no gallbladder? I have attempted to take 1 Now Super enzymes with each meal, or just an HCI tablet and i get the acid phlegm or tumny burning. I can’t digest meat or chicken or pork without the difficulties you describe in your article.
    I wake up choking on acid or sleep too long and its up my nose. 🙁
    I’ve been taking regular digestive enzymes, but i am confused, as you can see, about the addition of these other enzymes when just 1 of them sets me off.

    • Margaret Floyd

      August 9, 2017 at 5:00 pm

      Andrea, I’d strongly recommend that you work with a practitioner rather than try to troubleshoot this on your own. This is where the guidance of a functional nutritionist or doctor can be invaluable. I have lots of ideas for you, but I would need to do a full intake with you to know more background and make proper recommendations.

      What I will say is that without a gallbladder, digestive support is critical for the long term. Your ability to digest fats and detoxify is severely compromised without additional support – but for legal and safety reasons I can’t make clinical recommendations without knowing your full history.

  9. Savanah

    August 20, 2017 at 8:55 am

    You lost me pretty immediately on all the meat hype. Which is when i started to suspect “paid endorsment” which I now see you do infact take.
    I had stomach cancer and cured it by cutting out all meat and dairy. With my condition i had severe pain and gas and bloating all the time. I also was paleo, which was a decision i made to attempt to fix my severe gas and bloating, only to learn months later about my abdominal tumor.
    Through my journey i took nutiritonal classes and cooking classes to learn how to heal naturally, and I did.my naturopathic soctor recommended these things to me, she also inyroduced me to other patients of her who cured themselves through a plant based diet. Every class i took on holistic health/nutirion, at acredited colleges, we were taught the same facts, meat is carcenogenic. Period. Once animal protien is heated up to the point where ots’safe’ enough for us to consume, its been convertedvto a carcinogenic slab of “flavor.” Quitting meat literally cured my stomach cancer, after western doctors told me i needed chemo, which may have killed me and would have lowered my constitution for the rest of my life.
    Im sorry but if you are promoting meat, animal protien, you are not informed. Or, youre taking “endorsments” to push it.

    • Margaret Floyd

      August 21, 2017 at 1:44 pm

      Savanah, first off, as I think you’ll find reading through my site, I’m not a promoter of any one type of diet for everybody. There is no such thing. That is the beauty of bio-individuality. What can be a very healing and therapeutic diet for one (be it Paleo, ketogenic, vegan, vegetarian or something in between) can be a very health-challenging diet for another person. You have to take the whole picture into consideration. In your case, clearly a plant based diet was integral to your healing. But for others, that very same diet can be extremely challenging on the digestive tract. I’m not “pushing meat”, and I’m certainly not paid to push any one nutritional paradigm. This article is simply saying that the loss of taste for meat and a vegetarian diet are common signs of Hypochlorhydria.

  10. Phyllis

    September 1, 2017 at 12:11 am

    I have stopped eating animal meat for almost 10 years. I do eat sushi occasionally.

    I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetic 2014. I manage my blood sugar by food, no modern medicines.

    My diet choices are fairly simple: hard boiled eggs with vegetables, limited fruits.

    From my blood test results, I realized that my weight is a key factor to improve my health.

    My BMI is 21, an improvement from 17( due to diabetic). I am not over weight at all. But don’t mind to drop few pounds to improve my lipid and a1c readings.

    I adapted a low calorie diet this past weekend. For just two days, I experienced digestive discomfort: bloating, cramping. I was really confused if I were hungry or full everyday afterwards.

    I felt discomfort every time I sleeping change my position in bed. (on my back, left side, right side; it felt the stomach is settling each time).

    One night, 2am, I fed myself a little oatmeal to settle my stomach, but by dawn, I felt the sensation of throwing up and I threw up with acid juice which I never experienced in my life before.

    And my blood sugar reading were over 150 each morning, a way higher than my typical reading (110). I have stopped this diet immediately. Not knowing what is wrong with myself, I added boiled chicken/soup in my diet to ensure I got enough electrolytes, and I have no idea I thought that would help me.

    But my digestive challenge remains. I had few strawberries last night, boy, I pay the price.

    My question is: does adding meat back to the diet helps the stomach acid’s production?

    • Margaret Floyd

      September 2, 2017 at 1:52 pm

      Phyllis, often it’s not enough to add the meat back into your protocol without supporting stomach acid levels at the same time. I strongly encourage you to work with a functional practitioner experienced in helping vegetarians transition back into omnivorous diets, especially given the strong reaction you had.

  11. G. Berry

    September 7, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    I’ve noticed that when on a vegan diet, after about 2 weeks all issues with stinky sweat and reflux disappear completely. I’m not a vegan but when I do occasionally eat this way for an ongoing period I always feel better.

    • Margaret Floyd

      September 12, 2017 at 7:17 pm

      This is very common and part of the cleansing that happens on a vegan diet. It will depend on your biochemistry and diet history how long you’ll feel good on this diet, however. It’s not one that most people can sustain for a long period. For some, they can sustain it for weeks, some can sustain it for months, some (more rare) can sustain it for years. A vegan diet is a very cleansing diet, but the body needs to build as well. And the vegan diet isn’t a building diet. There are appropriate times for cleansing and appropriate times for building. So it’s all about balance and understanding the context.

  12. Kim

    September 16, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    So, would you recommend Hcl supplements if acv isn’t working and with or without pepsin? I am vegan but would do an hcl protocol to get my levels back on track…I’ve been diagnosed with Sibo, parasites…have tried everything under the sun and this could be the last part of the puzzle…do you need the pepsin?

    • Margaret Floyd

      September 18, 2017 at 2:41 pm

      Kim, I wish I had an easy answer for you, but the reality is that working with SIBO and parasites with a vegan diet is incredibly challenging. Yes, in your case I’d be looking at HCl supplementation, but I’d also be looking to add some animal proteins back into your diet. It is almost impossible in my clinical experience to resolve these issues on a vegan diet.

  13. Camille

    October 6, 2017 at 5:18 pm

    Hello, A month and a half ago I was diagnosed with GERD after going to the hospital. They didn’t fully diagnose me just went off what I said about my symptoms. Just this past week my acid has been horrible after eating fried pork and plantains. I never knew my acid was that bad, because I ate pork before. I went to the hospital they put me on prevacid made everything worse. Then the very next day I went to see a gastroenterologist. They prescribed me Omeprazole. It was the worst medicine I ever took. Made my back hurt, ribcage pain, and ears tingling. So my doctor switched the medicine. In a week I go in to take my endoscopy. But I think I have hyploclarida.Everytime I eat, I feel bloated,nausea, like the food has something bad

    • Margaret Floyd

      October 8, 2017 at 9:28 pm

      Yes, that does sound like classic hypochlorhydria – especially since the PPIs made it so much worse. I’d strongly recommend working with a functional practitioner who can help you bring things back into balance more naturally.

  14. Jack

    October 7, 2017 at 11:02 pm

    Can high ketones in urine also be caused by low stomach acid? I have been tested for diabities and do not have. I have most of the symptoms for Hypochlorhydria.

    • Margaret Floyd

      October 8, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      Elevated urinary ketones are usually a by-product of the body being in ketosis – which means it’s burning fat for fuel rather than carbohydrates. That actually doesn’t have a direct relationship with HCl production to my knowledge.

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