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Symptoms and Solutions for Low Stomach Acid

by Penny Crowther(more info)

listed in nutrition, originally published in issue 235 - January 2017

“To eat is human, to digest is divine”. These words were uttered by the famous American writer, Mark Twain (1835-1910) and how true they are. Even the most nutritious food will not nourish the body if it cannot be assimilated. Efficient digestion is absolutely fundamental to good health. 

Penny Crowther 235 Stomach

The Function of Stomach Acid

The stomach plays a vital role early on in the digestive process, by providing an acid medium in which to break down protein and extract minerals such as iron and calcium from food. It also releases vitamin B12 from food. In addition to being a digestive aid in its own right, stomach acid sets the right pH for the pancreas to release its digestive enzymes. If the pH is too alkaline in the stomach the pancreatic enzymes will not be able to function.

Even though the stomach secretes acid and enzymes which are powerful enough to break down heavy animal proteins, when the stomach is healthy, its lining remains intact due to the protective mucous layer coating its surface. Ulceration of the stomach occurs when the lining breaks down and not, as is commonly suggested, due to excessive production of stomach acid. Too often I hear from clients who have been taking antacid pills, sometimes over a long time period. Not only have their symptoms not improved but they often feel worse. Medications that shut down the production of stomach acid often cause more problems than they solve because without adequate acid, digestion is severely compromised, leading to bloating and increased risk of stomach bugs.

In addition to its digestive function, stomach acid performs an immune related function because it destroys unhealthy bacteria and prevents them entering the intestines.

What are the Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid?

Low stomach acid leads to incompletely digested food particles in the intestines that irritate the delicate lining of the intestinal wall. Low stomach acid is relatively common, particularly as we age; 50% of people over 60 have low stomach acid.

Symptoms in which low stomach acid is likely to be a factor, are abdominal bloating or excess fullness immediately after eating, belching, burping or vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, food intolerances, undigested food in stools, yeast overgrowth (candida), iron deficiency, intestinal parasites, skin rashes, acne, anal itching, peeling or cracking fingernails, bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine, mineral deficiencies and B12 deficiency.  People with gluten allergy/intolerance often have low stomach acid.

Sub optimal stomach acid affects absorption of iron, calcium and B12, leading to deficiencies of these nutrients.

Stomach Acid and Stress

Being stressed is often associated with increased stomach acid. Studies don’t generally confirm this. Stress weakens the protective lining of the stomach. This produces a feeling of excess acid, when in fact levels are normal or actually too low, but the stomach becomes sensitive to the acid, causing discomfort.


Crowther 235 Low Stomach Acid


Natural Solutions for Supporting Healthy  Levels of Stomach Acid

Apple Cider Vinegar

This is a natural home remedy for supporting digestion and creating the right acid alkaline balance. Use in salad dressings or put 3 teaspoons into a cup of lukewarm or boiling water and sip, during and after a meal. It’s important to get raw, unpasteurised cider vinegar which will be slightly cloudy. The Higher Nature vinegar below is naturally fermented and not filtered or pasteurised which means it contains a substance called ‘mother’. This is why it is a cloudy colour instead of clear. It is ‘raw’ and contains the beneficial bacteria, trace minerals and enzymes which are inactivated in the pasteurised vinegar.  If you experience any discomfort stop taking it immediately. You shouldn’t take cider vinegar if you have stomach ulcers; your GP should always be the first option if you are experiencing any pain or discomfort.

Slippery Elm Ulmus rubra ulmaceae

  • Slippery elm is a wonderful soothing herb for the digestive tract and a nutritious food in its own right. It is known as a mucilaginous herb which soothes and coats irritated membranes, promoting healing. Slippery elm brings immediate relief to acid discomfort and it is useful for weak or hyper-sensitive digestion. Slippery elm comes in capsule or powder form and is best taken in between meals or just before a meal. The powder mixed into lukewarm water is ideal, if you don’t mind the slightly gloopy consistency!

Healing Foods

Include soups and green juices or green smoothies (adding ginger according to ancient Chinese medicine helps enhance the digestive process). Whilst fibre is beneficial, sensitive individuals can only tolerate small amounts before bloating occurs. Plant fibre is not designed to be digested and absorbed in the human intestine.  Juices have most of the fibre extracted from them. Smoothies contain all the fibre but it is blended into tiny particles. The nutrients in soups and juices are easily assimilated by the body.

Digestion begins in the mouth. Chewing as an action lasts just 20-30 seconds yet it is absolutely vital to the digestive process. Chewing thoroughly will take some of the pressure off the stomach. A good tip is to put the knife and fork down after each mouthful and only pick them up again when full chewing has taken place!

Finally, the digestive process is incredibly sensitive to emotional and environmental influences. Eat in as relaxed an atmosphere as possible and focus fully on the food.


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About Penny Crowther

Penny Crowther BANT CNHC qualified as a nutritional therapist in 1997 and has been in clinical practice ever since. She has seen several thousand clients over the years, at her practice in London and online. Penny now specializes in nutrition for women in their 40s and beyond, particularly around peri and post menopause. Mid Life for women can be a time when fluctuating hormones play havoc with your wellbeing. In the midst of all the publicity around HRT, it's easy to forget just how powerful diet and lifestyle changes can be when it comes to navigating the menopausal years.

Penny will guide and support you through specific changes to your diet, targeted to you specifically, in midlife. She provides practical, easy to follow menu plans with easy and delicious recipes. The food you eat affects every cell and system in your body. It optimizes how you look and feel, both mentally and physically.

To book an appointment view consultation options here >>

As well as being a regular columnist for Positive Health, Penny has written for Holland and Barrett, and contributed to articles for the Daily TelegraphThe Times Literary supplement, Pregnancy & Birth and Marie Claire. She has been featured in the Daily Express, Daily Mirror and on local radio.

Penny is a registered nutritional therapist with standards of training endorsed by BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and CNHC. This includes completing 30 hours of continuing professional development, annually.

Penny’s approach to health is holistic, and takes into account emotional, mental and environmental factors as well as nutrition. She has trained in coaching and studied many complementary therapies before qualifying as a nutritionist, which provides a broad foundation of knowledge in her nutrition practice. Penny may be contacted on Tel: 07761 768 754;

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