Low Stomach Acid: A Surprising Cause of Indigestion Symptoms

Low stomach acid is more to blame than too much stomach acid for the common indigestion symptoms associated with aging.

Man suffering from low stomach acid

Causes of low stomach acid can vary.

© Ene | Dreamstime.com

A University of Manchester study published in Cambridge Journal confirmed that low stomach acid is more to blame than too much stomach acid for the common indigestion symptoms associated with aging.[1]

What makes some people able to handle the occasional gastronomical indulgence while others seem doomed to pay a high price? The answer may lie in how much stomach acid that individual produces or whether they have shut off that production with “the purple pill,” thinking it’s the right thing to do for relief from indigestion symptoms.

Can Low Stomach Acid Really Cause Heartburn?

The fact is that what causes heartburn and other signs of poor digestion may be the common age-related problem of low stomach acid. Another research study published in 2012 concluded there was a direct association between indigestion symptoms and low stomach acid, especially in the female patients who participated in the study.[2]

Low Stomach Acid Causes

The condition of low stomach acid production is officially known as hypochlorhydria. When the Gastrointestinal Center at the University of Manchester in Manchester, England, conducted the aforementioned study on low stomach acid, its authors detailed recent discoveries about how aging affects digestive function. The researchers confirmed what many naturopathic and integrative medicine practitioners have been championing for years—that aging and other factors lead to decreased stomach acid production, and hypochlorhydria symptoms can cause not only uncomfortable digestive issues but more serious problems as well.[1]

According to the University of Manchester researchers, low stomach acid is the primary age-related change that occurs in the stomach and may predispose aging individuals to malabsorption or bacterial overgrowth further along the GI tract.[1]

Despite the common belief that most people have too much stomach acid, the truth is that most actually have low stomach acid. It is estimated that between 23 and 35 percent of those over 65 have symptoms of low stomach acid as a result of just getting older, while others have it as a result of taking drugs designed to reduce stomach acid production or infections with h. pylori, the bacteria that causes stomach inflammation and ulcers.[3]

Low Stomach Acid Symptoms

Can low stomach acid cause gastritis? The consequences of low acid symptoms or hypochlorhydria include indigestion symptoms, gastritis symptoms, and low stomach acid pain.

Hydrochloric acid is normally secreted by the stomach to perform a very important function: to enhance the breakdown and subsequent absorption of the food and nutrients consumed. So part of the cost of low stomach acid is malabsorption or an inability to properly digest and absorb vitamins and minerals. This is not only what causes heartburn and leads to the indigestion symptoms, gastritis symptoms, and other symptoms described above; it also leads to osteoporosis, weakness, fatigue, cramps, anemia, and other nutritional disorders.

Stomach acid also serves a protective function, killing various pathogenic microorganisms that might otherwise cause infection in the gastrointestinal tract. The strong acid kills the various fungi and bacteria that are on the foods we eat. With too little stomach acid, you lack this protective function and you get an overgrowth of “bad” bugs, such clostridium difficile or candida in your GI tract. The result of low stomach acid is often a loss of the friendly bacteria, nausea, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and other symptoms.

Consult your primary physician to develop a plan to treat low stomach acid.

[1] Proc Nutr Soc. 2012 Nov 12:1-5.
[2] J Gastroenterol. 2012 Jul 25.
[3] J Gastroenterol. 2012 Jun;47(6):609-18.

Originally published in 2013, this post is regularly updated.

As a service to our readers, University Health News offers a vast archive of free digital content. Please note the date published or last update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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UHN Staff

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  • I found this article very informative and I am suffering from stomach problems for years but now I am making changes to improve my diet and keeping record of your recommendations, thank you.

  • The problem is the medical experts don’t recognise low acid stomach as a condition. Not even Gastroenteroligists recognise it as a condition. So who can you go to for help?

  • Diagonised with chronic non specific gastritis since last two years. There is absolutely no acidity but with lots of indigestion. chronic severe loss of appetite. Suspect low stomach acid. Please suggest treatment. Best regards,
    Dr SK Das

  • Please could you tell me where I can read this study of the University of Cambridge about low stomach acid? Thank you

  • I am glad i came across this .i am in menopause and 8 months ago was treated for Helecobacter Pylori bacterial infection by Nexium HP 7 It killed the bacteria and my stomach I have gastritis and do get acid reflux i am still on waiting list for an Endoscopy I was told by a doctor that i have too much stomach acid I disagree as H Pylori converts urea into ammonia and carbon dioxide and amonia neutralises stomach acid Therefore i should have low stomach acid i hope the endoscopy will show this .I am on a waiting list for another 2 months

  • Hello, do you know of a doctor in Maryland they will test for low stomach acid. GI docs are all saying high stomach acid.

  • I was diagnosed with acid reflux and have been on medication for 3 years and its getting worse have also lost 55 lbs how can i get them to test for this i am desperate

  • I read this and I was amazed:
    To diagnose hypochlorhydria, a doctor will typically take a person’s medical history and perform a physical exam.

    They can also test the acidity of the stomach with a small capsule that contains a transmitter. The person swallows the capsule, and the transmitter reports the amount of acid in the gastrointestinal tract.

    Doctors measure acidity using the pH scale. A pH value of 3–5 suggests hypochlorhydria, while a pH level of less than 3 indicates normal levels of stomach acid.

    If the pH value is greater than 5, this suggests an almost complete absence of stomach acid, which is termed achlorhydria.

    If the results show hypochlorhydria or achlorhydria, the doctor may take blood tests to check for a deficiency in iron or other nutrients.

    A doctor may prescribe HCL supplements to confirm a diagnosis. If a person feels better when taking the supplements, low stomach acid is likely the cause of symptoms.

    I think I’m going to try this HCL supplement as feedback seems promising. I have been suffering with digestive issues since I was a child and I feel that my condition it’s getting worse! Fed up going to my GP as they only prescribe you proton pump inhibitors and then fob you off. Now I know why my symptoms did not improve after taking omeprozole.
    Not sure if you can purchase this in USA but most likely you can in the UK. It’s called Holland & Barrett MultiDigestive
    Multi-digestive Enzyme supplement with added benefits of Betaine HCl
    Suitable for vegetarians and vegans
    Quality Assured; high quality and rigorously tested
    These tablets contain protein, fat and carbohydrate digesting enzymes with additional Betaine HCl. Best taken just before or directly after eating, the enzymes help to break down different food types and the betaine HCl.

    I’ll definitely give them a try, all the best to all of you!

  • I have barrats esophagus i have dropped to 15 mg lansparazole do i take this with the lansparazole or not please by cutting the ppi i feel better all ready no cough and sleeping change to no carb because of the candida thank you

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