The Unusual Link Between Low Stomach Acid and Osteoporosis

If stomach acid is low, your body won't be able to absorb calcium, strontium, magnesium and the other minerals critical to good bone health.

illustration of the digestive system

Good health is determined not only by what you eat, but also by what you absorb.

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Dr. Jonathan Wright, MD, a well-known natural healing physician in Renton, Washington reports that 90 percent of his patients with osteoporosis have low stomach acid. What’s the link? If stomach acid is low, he explains, your body won’t be able to absorb calcium, strontium, magnesium and the other minerals critical to good bone health. Good health is determined not only by what you eat, but also by what you absorb.

Your Stomach’s Role in Bone Health

Your stomach produces hydrochloric acid, which is used to digest food. This stomach acid along with the digestive enzyme pepsin can reduce even the toughest piece of meat to liquid. As we grow older, the stomach’s capacity to secrete hydrochloric acid sometimes becomes impaired and the result is lower acid and impaired digestion. Dr. Wright observes that many patients do not respond well to a nutritional program until hydrochloric acid and pepsin are added to their regimen. The same is true regarding a person’s response to some herbal remedies or nutritional supplements. Herbs and supplements can’t exert their therapeutic effects until the active ingredients are released by the action of hydrochloric acid and pepsin in the stomach. 

How to Know If You Have Low Stomach Acid

Hydrochloric acid levels decrease with age, when you are under a lot of stress, and/or when you are taking acid-suppressing medications such as Zantac or Pepcid. A procedure called the Heidelberg test measures the acidity of the stomach, but it is not widely available. You may have low stomach acid if you demonstrate some of the common symptoms of this condition:

  • broken fingernails
  • thinning hair
  • heartburn
  • bloating after meals
  • belching or a feeling that the food is just sitting in your stomach after meals.

We have been taught that those gastrointestinal symptoms are caused by too much acid, but the exact opposite may be more accurate.

Increasing Stomach Acid

If you think you would benefit by more stomach acid, you can conduct a therapeutic trial of betaine hydrochloric acid. Available in capsules or tablets, betaine hydrochloric acid is derived from beets and can be found at any health food store or online supplement retailer. Start by taking one capsule in the early part of each of your meals. Then gradually increase the dose by one capsule every few days until you feel a warming or burning sensation within 30 to 60 minutes of taking the dose. Then cut back by one capsule, and stay at this dosage.

Remember, the more stomach acid you have, the better you will be able to digest foods and absorb minerals. Many older adults have a low level of stomach acid as a chronic health condition and it may be necessary for them to continue taking betaine hydrochloric acid tablets indefinitely. Work with your nutritionally oriented doctor to determine if this is necessary or if there is a root cause for you low stomach acid production that can be corrected.

This technique of using betaine hydrochloric acid tablets should not be used by people who have active ulcers, gastritis or heartburn; it may further irritate the stomach lining. Those who are regularly taking medications that can cause ulcers such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other anti-inflammatory drugs should work with their integrative physician to optimize stomach acid production. Remember, without adequate stomach acid, you are just wasting your hard earned dollars on calcium and other bone building supplements.

Learn more about treating osteoporosis naturally in these blogs:

Trace Minerals and Osteoporosis

The Osteoporosis Superfood

Share Your Experience with Low Stomach Acid

Have you used a natural remedy or non-pharmaceutical approach to preventing or treating osteoporosis? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

This blog originally appear in 2011 and has been updated.

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UHN Staff

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