Having enough HCL (hydrochloric acid or stomach acid) is critical for good digestion and immune health. Without adequate HCL food is incompletely digested and failure of assimilation occurs. If this happens, we become vitamin and mineral deficient. When a person starts to eat, the stomach is stimulated to start producing HCL. The HCL activates the chief cells in the middle portion of the stomach to start secreting a protein-digesting enzyme known as pepsinogen. Pepsinogen requires the presence of hydrochloric acid in order to begin digesting protein. The major role of HCL is to activate pepsinogen (not digest food), which now becomes known as pepsin.
Stomach acid gradually increases during a meal. When the stomach acid amount is elevated, which normally takes about 20-30 minutes after eating, it neutralizes enzymes from the mouth, helps to kill bacteria, parasites, viruses that enter with the food, carbohydrate digestion is reduced, and protein digestion starts. There are many consequences when HCL production is not adequate. See “Do You Have Enough Stomach Acid?”
Causes of Low Hydrochloric Acid (Low Stomach Acid)
- Eating when upset. Hydrochloric acid secretion may be completely inhibited by stress, emotion, or worry. It is the low-grade, long-term, emotionally-oriented life stress that is more the culprit here. NOTE: Intense stress caused by high stress situations or desire for high achievement is associated more with HCL over (hyper) secretion and peptic ulcer disease (at least initially). As the stress continues, the body is exhausted and HCL production is no longer adequate.
- Eating a nutritionally-deficient diet of processed and fast foods.
- Lack of sufficient minerals in the daily diet.
- Excess carbohydrate consumption and poor food combining.
- Zinc deficiency.
- B vitamin deficiency especially thiamine deficiency.
- Refined sugar, which depletes minerals. Replace mineral-depleting refined sugar and sweeteners with maple syrup, honey, or stevia.
- Chronic illness.
- Drinking ice water with meals.
- Age – as you get older, stomach acid production tends to decrease especially if there is any chronic illness.
- Antacid use.
- Taking prescription and over the counter drugs that suppress HCL production either directly or indirectly.
Ways to Increase Stomach Acid Production
1. Relax at Mealtimes
Make sure that when you eat, you are relaxed and at peace. Avoid eating when upset as stress and emotional upset can stop the production of HCL. Try doing The Relaxation Response twice a day, if possible before breakfast and dinner. This technique helps counter stress and will prepare you for a calm meal.
2. Add Fermented Veggies to Your Diet
Eat unpasteurized, unheated, salt-free sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables like kimchi. Fermented vegetables help to raise stomach acid “if” it is too low, and lower stomach acid “if” it is too high. Eating 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sauerkraut with meals is very helpful to the digestive system. I recommend making your own or buying Rejuvenative Foods. As awareness of these important vegetables has grown, you can find great fermented vegetable options near you. Look for fermented veggies at your grocery store or local farmer’s market.
3. Eat wholesome, real foods and real salt
Eating wholesome, real foods is a great way to increase your stomach acid production. Eliminate processed foods, genetically modified (GMO) foods, fast foods, additives, dyes, and artificial flavorings, all of which are devoid of nutrition. You should also eliminate white flour, refined sugars, and artificial sweeteners and avoid overeating (even healthy, nutrient foods). Use good quality sea salt, which stimulates stomach acid production. Our favorite is pink himalayan sea salt, which provides a good dose of important minerals for your health, like magnesium.
4. Increase Zinc Intake
Zinc is critical for the production of HCL. You can increase your zinc intake through whole foods. Pumpkin seeds are the most concentrated, non-meat food source of zinc. Most foods that are high in zinc are animal foods such as beef, lamb, crabmeat, turkey, chicken, lobster, clams and salmon. Zinc food sources aside from meats are dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, cheese, nutritional yeast, peanuts, beans, wholegrain cereals, brown rice, whole wheat bread, and potatoes. Vitamin C, E, B6, and minerals such as magnesium can increase zinc absorption in the body. So adding whole food supplements will also help assimilation.
5. Choose a Whole Food Multivitamin
Take a whole food, superfood multi-vitamin to help restore the vitamins and minerals that are needed for HCL production. B vitamins are especially important. Look for niacin, thiamine, and pyridoxal-5-phosphate (the active form of vitamin B6).
6. Use Food Combining Techniques for proper digestion
Proper food combining takes pressure off your digestive system. Do not eat proteins and carbohydrates/starches together. Carbohydrates reduce the production of HCL and protein requires HCL to be digested. Instead, pair proteins with low-starch vegetables. To aid the body in digesting animal protein, soak meats in acidic mediums such as lemon or lime juice, tomato juice, apple cider vinegar, etc. Marinating meats is a good way to pre-digest or pre-cook them. Always eat good fats when you eat proteins. Protein stimulates stomach acid production, and protein and fats stimulate the gall bladder to dump bile into the small intestines. Good fats also are needed by the liver in order to produce bile. Eat starches/carbohydrates with vegetables, but eat fruit alone – not with meals. When possible, eat dandelion greens with meals in soups or as greens to increase production of HCL. You should also consider the spices you use in cooking, which can stimulate stomach acid production and appetite.
7. Chew Thoroughly
Did you know digestion starts in the mouth? Chew foods thoroughly to stimulate digestive enzymes in the mouth and to break up foods into the smallest particles possible for better digestion.
8. Stop eating before bedtime
Try to eat three to four hours before bedtime. If you eat too late, the body struggles to complete the digestive process during the time it is naturally trying to rest. Don’t lie down immediately after eating. If you must lie down, prop yourself up with pillows so that head and upper torso are raised to aid the digestion. Avoid snacking in between meals in order to allow time for your body to digest foods properly.
9. Drink Hot Tea with your meal – not Cold Water
Never drink ice water with meals as it inhibits production of stomach acid and slows down digestion. If you would like a drink with your meal, try adding warm ginger tea, which increases the production of HCL. You can also drink dandelion root tea to increase production of HCL.
If you don’t prefer tea, make a warm lemon water (use the juice of 1/2 lemon) at the beginning of your meal. You can even drink 4 ounces of freshly juiced cabbage juice to help with digestion and stomach acid production.
10. Use a live-source Hydrochloric Acid Supplement
Another way to boost HCL is to take a live-source hydrochloric acid supplement after your meals. The goal is to restore the body’s ability to produce its own HCL, but until this occurs take Betaine HCL. See “Do You Have Enough Stomach Acid?” NOTE: If you are taking medications, consult with your physician to make sure that Betaine hydrochloride supplements will not cause adverse reactions in tandem with certain medications.
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