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8 Signs Your Nutrition Clients Have Low HCL

Updated: Apr 30, 2022

Many symptoms common to several dis-ease processes can be attributed to low stomach acid. Low stomach acid is a symptom of something else going on in the body, but working to correct stomach acid levels can reveal valuable information about our clients root cause, while also providing symptomatic relief. The first step is identifying low stomach acid. This blog covers key indicators that HCL production is less than optimal. If stomach acid production is low, increasing stomach acid acutely would be indicated followed by an investigation into the reason for low production. Here are 8 tell-tale signs stomach acid should be addressed in your protocol:

1. Lost the taste for meat

A gradual or sudden loss of appetite for meat is a prime indicator of low stomach acid. In order for the body to efficiently digest meat, adequate levels of HCL need to be present. When there is insufficient stomach acid, and therefore lower secretion of digestive enzymes, appetite for meat will dwindle because the resources for successful digestion aren't available.

In line with this, if there is discomfort or a heavy feeling specifically after consuming animal-based protein, looking to stomach acid production as a key intervention is recommended.

2. Plant-Based Dietary Pattern

To piggyback on the last point, stomach acid is something to be mindful of and to assess in our plant-based clientele. While stomach acid is required for more than digestion of animal proteins, when there is a low intake of animal protein for extended periods of time, we can start to see a decline in HCL as an energy conservation tool.

3. Burping after eating

This is a classic, tell-tale sign of low HCL production. An important function of stomach acid is to communicate with the pyloric sphincter- which is responsible for allowing the passage of chyme from the stomach into the small intestine. The cells of the pyloric sphincter are acid-sensitive, and while there are other factors to consider in the opening of this valve, without the acidic signal to trigger its opening, food can sit in the stomach for longer than it is meant to. The fermentation that results causes gas which then leaves the body through belching.

4. Bloating and cramps after a meal

Bloating can have a myriad root causes, but similar to belching, bloating can be caused by a buildup of fermented food in the stomach and through undigested food in the small intestine. If bloating is present in conjunction with the other signs listed here. looking to stomach acid as a driving factor can be beneficial.

5. Heartburn or acid reflux

Just as HCL acts as a trigger for the function of the pyloric sphincter, it is also a trigger for the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES separates the esophagus from the stomach. It opens to allow food to go from the oral cavity into the stomach, and is meant to support the unidirectional flow of food through the GI tract. Food opens the LES, and HCL triggers its closure. When there is insufficient HCL, the LES doesn’t get the trigger to close and as a result the contents from the stomach can “splash” up, including residual amounts of HCL which are responsible for the feeling of heartburn.

6. Bad Breath

Halitosis can be a downstream symptom of hypochloridia. Undigested food produces metabolites and by-products that can add to the toxic load in the body and burden the liver. Bad breath is often a secondary symptom that is accompanied by other symptoms. It is a sign of long standing “stomach acid deficiency”. Bad breath is often the result of a high toxic load and a sluggish liver. Looking to stomach acid can be an integral part of bad breath resolution as through doing so we reduce endogenous toxin production.

7. Hunger even when eating enough

This is a big one to look out for. Calories are important to ensure we have enough substrates for energy production, but when it comes down to it, we primarily consume food for the nutrients. Adequate stomach acid is needed to break minerals out of the food matrix and to break protein down into amino acids. When these two actions aren't happening, as in the case of low stomach acid, despite caloric intake, hunger will be present because the body needs fuel in the form of minerals and amino acids.

8. Undigested food in stools

If food is making it through the entirety of the digestive process still intact and undigested, we must look to stomach acid. The majority of food should be unidentifiable when it passes through the stomach into the intestine. With this in mind, the stomach acid's role in digestion isn’t isolated to the stomach. The acidity of the stomach and the acidity of the chyme signal downstream digestive processes such as the release of pancreatic enzymes. When stomach acid is low, we see impaired digestion in the intestine and the combination of poor digestion in the stomach and intestines is responsible for intact food in the stool.

This is not an exhaustive list, but if these signs are present in our clients working to increase stomach acid is an essential pillar. Stayed tuned for a blog that covers how to naturally increase stomach acid levels!

Author: Lisa Kowalyk, Co-Founder Fiore Health

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