Can Heartburn Come From an Underactive Stomach?
It seems natural to assume that the unpleasant, painful, and distressing symptoms of heartburn come from too much stomach acid. Medical professionals often prescribe drugs that will suppress stomach acid to reduce heartburn. Antacids and drugs like Zantac or Nexium may provide short-term heartburn relief, but they don’t address the underlying cause of heartburn, which can be an underactive stomach that makes too little digestive acid and poorly digests food.
The name for the condition that may often result in heartburn is Hypochlorhydria or insufficient stomach acid. Our modern lifestyles encourage Hypochlorhydria by introducing constant stressors like busy lifestyles, sugar, caffeine, nicotine, and processed foods. When we feel stressed, our bodies naturally direct attention away from digestion and toward the famed “fight or flight” response.
In ancient times when humans were running from tigers, their bodies would shut down digestion to direct maximum energy toward escaping the threat. Today, our bodies may be telling us we are running from tigers 24-7. The result is underactive digestion, Hypochlorhydria, and potentially, heartburn.
How can you have too little stomach acid but get heartburn? The mechanism is simple. Food stays in your stomach longer because acid isn’t digesting your food quickly enough. The food begins to chemically change while your stomach is working to break it up, producing gas which pushes up on your esophageal valve. The small amount of acid you do have in your stomach is pushed upward creating heartburn. The amount of stomach acid we produce naturally decreases with age — another reason why we may experience more heartburn as we grow older.
Other symptoms of insufficient stomach acid and an underactive stomach in addition to heartburn include:
- Bloating, feeling full after a meal, and belching
- Feeling heavy and sleepy after a meal
- Longitudinal striations on fingernails, thin and brittle nails and hair
- Undigested food in stool
- Frequent constipation
- Problems with Candida (yeast)
What can be done to boost your stomach acid and digestive activity?
- Eat small meals more frequently throughout the day.
- Avoid overeating: eat only until you are 80% full
- Avoid eating large amounts of red meat in a single meal.
- Pair animal protein with non-starchy vegetables instead of bread and potatoes.
- Drink only enough fluid to comfortably enjoy your meal — excessive liquids with a meal will dilute digestive acids and enzymes.
- Take a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar mixed with water before meals to stimulate stomach acids.
- Skip dessert: sugar slows digestion and if you’ve eaten meat, will produce undesirable putrefaction (food rotting) that can lead to heartburn.
Eat mindfully: slow down, chew food well, and avoid technology at mealtimes. Expressing gratitude before meals is healthy for your body and spirit. Invoking positive feelings before and as you eat will support your parasympathetic nervous system and enable it to do its work of digesting food by stimulating stomach acid production. Your body will relax and be better prepared to use the nutrition you are consuming at mealtime.
If you’ve made these changes and still experience symptoms like heartburn, you could need extra support. Talk to a nutritionist and learn how a supplement with HCL and digestive enzymes can improve your diet. When we cook our food, we eliminate a number of helpful enzymes that can also hinder digestion and promote undesirable symptoms that include heartburn, weight gain, gas, and more. Find a diet that works for your body and your digestion.