An upset stomach is a common complaint. From a sour stomach to bloating and gas, tummy troubles might be more than a temporary source of discomfort. Instead, they could be warning signs of a deeper issue: low stomach acid.
Stomach acid is essential to proper digestion. Low stomach acidity, also known as hypochlorhydria, inhibits the proper absorption of necessary nutrients and vitamins. Low stomach acid also leaves the body vulnerable to infection, and having an imbalance in stomach acid levels can cause digestive problems.
And, if you’re suddenly noticing that your hair is looking, well, a little sparse, that nagging sensation in the pit of your stomach could signify more than just belly woes. In fact, there may be a direct connection between low stomach acid and hair loss or thinning hair.
What Stomach Acid Does
Also known as hydrochloric acid, gastric acid is a watery digestive fluid. As one of the main solutions secreted by the stomach, this gastric acid has many important functions such as:
- Activation of pepsin, the primary enzyme in your stomach
- Breaking down of proteins (a process known as proteolysis) into digestible amino acids
- Stimulating the pancreas to release the enzymes that break down food
- Killing potentially harmful bacteria and parasites before they reach the intestines
- Preventing food from backing up into the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat with the stomach
The Pitfalls of Low Stomach Acid
Suffering from low stomach acid levels is, well, the pits. And, surprisingly, having low — rather than too much — stomach acid can wreak more havoc on your digestive system.
The health of your stomach can “absolutely” impact the health of your hair and scalp, said Savannah St. Jean, beauty expert and owner of Savannah Rae Beauty.
“A low stomach acidity level will prevent your food from being digested properly, leaving your body with nutrient deficiencies, including a lack of amino acids and minerals that it needs to promote healthy hair, scalp and skin,” said St. Jean. “What this means is that even if you are eating the right foods and taking the right multivitamins, if your stomach acid levels are not where they should be, they will not be having the impact on your overall health, including your hair, scalp and skin, that they should and could be.”
What Happens When Stomach Acid Dips
If stomach acid levels get too low, a range of noticeable symptoms can occur — and those signs are not necessarily only found within the gut. The following are among the most common symptoms of low stomach acid:
- Bloating, gas, diarrhea
- Acid reflux or heartburn
- Skin problems
- Undigested food within the stool
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Hair loss, thinning hair or brittle fingernails
- Food allergies or intolerance
- Leaky gut syndrome
As with many things in life, stress might be the culprit if you’re experiencing low stomach acid levels. Low stomach acid can be linked to a number of causes, notably stress — which has been at an all-time high for many the past year. When stressed, the body shifts its processes that aren’t critical for survival at the moment — like digestion — to the back burner. Chronic stress is a root cause that ultimately leads to digestion that is constantly being interrupted, including inhibiting gastric acid secretion.
Other causes of low stomach acid levels may include:
- Age, as acid levels may decrease as we grow older
- Long-term use of antacids and proton pump inhibitors used to treat ulcers and acid reflux
- Infections such as H. pylori which is a common cause of stomach ulcers
- Increased sugar intake
Adding stress-busting techniques such as regular exercise, yoga, meditation or breathwork may be just what the doctor ordered to minimize the negative symptoms.
8 Signs of Low Stomach Acid
While most signs of low stomach acid are related to your digestive system, some are not. Here's what you should look for.
1. Bloating, Gas or Diarrhea
When stomach acid levels are low, food is not broken down properly. This, in turn, increases gas production, leading to that uncomfortable feeling of bloating. Excessive flatulence or bloating is a sign of hypoacidity.
2. Acid Reflux and Heartburn
Another common side effect of low stomach acid is heartburn or acid refuel. According to The Mayo Clinic, gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD isn’t necessarily caused by an acidic stomach. Instead, that painful burning sensation is likely connected to symptoms within the GI tract caused by low stomach acid. Without enough of this helpful stomach acid to break down food, poorly digested food can get into the GI tract and cause GI pathogens to overgrow.
3. Skin Problems
A healthy gut helps keep your skin healthy. Low stomach acid leads to excessive bacteria growth, which can cause skin issues such as acne or even yeast infections.
4. Undigested Food in the Stool
If you notice undigested food in the stool, it's highly likely that your stomach acid levels are low. One of the most noticeable effects of low stomach acid is the way it interferes with the ability to digest or break down nutrients, especially protein, into digestible amino acids. This lack of acid in the stomach may lead to folic acid or amino acid deficiencies, as the absorption of key nutrients is lacking.
5. Nutrient Deficiencies
In some cases, digestive problems in protein digestion can lead to a protein deficiency, which can, in turn, cause deficiencies in vitamin B-12, iron, magnesium and zinc. Vitamin B-12, for example, needs help from stomach acid to detach from the protein that carries it. If it doesn’t detach, it can’t bind with other substances that carry it through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream. The body requires both B vitamins and iron for healthy red blood cells.
6. Hair Loss, Thinning Hair or Brittle Fingernails
A vitamin B-12 deficiency can also cause hair loss or thinning hair, as well as other symptoms such as brittle nails. If you notice more hair on your brush or sink, consider taking supplements such as GRO Biotin Gummies for Hair or GRO+ Advanced Gummies with CBD along with a topical serum like GRO Hair Serum or GRO+ Advanced Hair Serum, which encourage thicker, fuller hair.
7. Food Allergies or Intolerance
If you suddenly develop food intolerance or food allergies, it may be correlated with low stomach acid. Head to a physician to have your stomach acid levels tested if you have any food sensitivities or allergies.
8. Leaky Gut
When stomach acid levels are low, the body's ability to filter out harmful bacteria and toxins from invading the rest of the GI tract is inhibited. This translates to an increased risk of GI infections such as E. coli, salmonella or H. pylori. When hydrochloric acid levels are hampered, a trickle-down effect can occur in the GI tract, leading to an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut or a leaky gut.
Home Remedies for Low Stomach Acid
If you think you have low stomach acid, make an appointment with a physician who can test stomach pH (or acidity), as well as look for other digestive issues or nutrient deficiencies. Your doctor may suggest remedies such as including bitter greens or fermented foods to your meals, limiting processed foods, taking supplements and using sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) as a treatment for reflux relief. Slowing down and properly chewing your meals can also help to improve stomach acid levels and stimulate your digestive enzymes.
Look to your kitchen for other alternatives to treat your symptoms at home. Apple cider vinegar is enzyme-rich and can help break down bacteria in food. Raw apple cider vinegar that includes "the mother" has acidic properties that introduce more acid into the digestive tract. Ginger is another alternative: This herb is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, which may reduce the inflammation caused by low stomach acid. While treatment will vary from person to person, incorporating healthy lifestyle changes can improve your overall wellness from head to toe.
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