You may have heard that increasing stomach acid levels will help your IBS.
But how do you increase your levels? And, how do you know if your levels are too low in the first place?
In this article, I will explain how to increase your stomach acid levels to aid digestion. I will also explain if you even need to worry about this!
Table of Contents
What Causes Low Stomach Acid Level?
H.pylori is a type of bacteria which can survive normal stomach acid levels.
An H.pylori infection will then reduce your stomach acid levels as it starts to grow in numbers (1).
Autoimmune Atrophic Gastritis
This is rare condition where the immune system destroys the cells in your stomach which make gastric acid.
Proton Pump Inhibitors
Proton pump inhibitors are commonly prescribed medication used for acid reflux and peptic ulcers. In fact, you can even buy them over the counter.
Diet and Lifestyle
Despite there being multiple ‘health’ websites stating that bad diet and lifestyle will reduce stomach acid levels, there is no credible evidence to support this.
What are the Symptoms of a Low Stomach Acid Level?
The symptoms of a low stomach acid level vary greatly but include;
- Nutritional deficiencies e.g. folate, B12 and iron (2, 3).
- Nausea (4).
- Feeling of fullness in upper abdomen after meals.
- Pernicious anemia.
How Do I Test My Stomach Acid Levels?
If you are having any of these symptoms then please see your doctor.
Your doctor will start with a medical assessment – taking your history and a physical examination.
If your symptoms and history suggest that you may have a low stomach acid level, they will then perform a test with a capsule (5).
You swallow this capsule like a small pill and it tests the pH of your stomach acid.
A stomach acid level of 3-5 suggests that your levels are too low.
At this point the doctor may prescribe hydrochloric acid supplements. If you feel better after these, this will confirm their diagnosis.
Following these tests, your doctor may also want to check some your nutritional bloods which can be affected by low stomach acid levels.
Why Do You Need To Increase Stomach Acid Levels?
Stomach acid (AKA gastric acid) is the fluid in your stomach. It is usually around a pH of 1-2 and is designed to (6);
- Kill pathogens
- Digestive food
- Signalling to allow food to pass from the stomach into the next part of the gut.
If your stomach acid levels are too low, this is known as hypochlorhydria.
Low stomach acid levels will increase your risk of bacteria surviving in your gut and causing problems.
Conditions such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) have been directly linked to taking PPI medications (7).
How Can I Increase My Stomach Acid Levels?
How you increase your stomach acid levels will depend on what has caused them to reduce in the first place.
H.pylori: you will need a prescribed course of antibiotics from your doctor to eradicate the bacteria which is reducing your stomach acid levels.
PPI: if your stomach acid levels are low because of being on a long-term PPI then you will need to work with your doctor and dietitian. There are several lifestyle and dietary changes which may control your acid reflux and allow you to wean off the medication.
I have personally worked with many clients who have successfully been able to come off these medications with just a few changes to their routines.
Diet and Lifestyle
Other than managing your acid reflux so you can come off a PPI, there are no ways to increase stomach acid levels through lifestyle and diet.
You may find mentions of things like stress or certain foods – these are all based on little to no evidence at all. So please do not stress out trying to do this!
Having reduced stomach acid levels is a symptom of some common and some not so common conditions.
Symptoms vary depending on your underlying cause but can include nutritional deficiencies, so it is important to get checked by your doctor.
Sadly, there are no direct ways to increase stomach acid levels through diet or lifestyle.
Kirsten Jackson is a UK registered Consultant Gastroenterology Dietitian and founder of The Food Treatment Clinic. She has undergone many qualifications to get where she is today, including a UK BSc Honours Degree in Dietetics and Post-Graduate Certificate in Advanced Dietetics. In addition to this, she has FODMAP Training from Kings College London University. Kirsten set up The Food Treatment Clinic in 2015 after first experiencing digestive problems herself. She felt that the NHS was unable to provide the support individuals needed and went on to specialise in this area before opening a bespoke IBS service. Kirsten also participates in charity work as an Expert Advisor for the IBS Network. In addition, she can be seen in publications such as Cosmopolitan and The Telegraph discussing IBS as an Official Media Spokesperson to the IBS Network.