Updated: Sep 13
Stomach acid's main constituent is hydrochloric acid (HCl). It has many vital functions including aiding digestion, preventing infection and extracting vitamin B12 from our food.
In a previous post I discussed why you never want low stomach acid. Now, I want to give you some tips to improve digestion and increase stomach acid naturally. If you want less bloating and indigestion, plus, better absorption of nutrients and overall health then read on.
1. Slow down and sit to eat. Chew your food properly and give your body time to digest your food.
There is a reason we have teeth and strong jaw muscles. Human jaws are surprisingly strong and efficient. We just need to use them to help break down the food into smaller particles, which means less work for the rest of the digestive system.
Also, if you are stressed or in a hurry, the "fight or flight" part of your nervous system will kick in and interfere with your ability to digest your food. Blood supply and nerve input will be directed away from your digestive organs as your body will be more focused on getting your heart rate up and getting your muscles firing to get you out of that stressful situation. It is more important to run away from the tiger to avoid being eaten than to eat! You can do that later.
2. Eat until you are only 80% full & avoid lots of water or fluids right before a meal.
This is common sense, right? Don't overload your stomach with food and add stress to your digestive system. Plus, it takes 20 minutes to feel full once you start eating!
Increased water or fluid consumption before a meal may dilute the stomach juices, interfering with digestion.
3. Make sure you have adequate levels of zinc, vitamin B1 and B6.
These nutrients are needed to make stomach acid. It can be a bit of a vicious cycle. Poor digestion from low stomach acid leads to intestinal damage and poor absorption of nutrients, which leads to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which results in low stomach acid!
Supplementing with zinc and an active B complex can be very helpful. But, I'd suggest doing so with the help of a holistic health practitioner.
4. Fast 12-16 hrs each day.
There are many different ways of intermittent fasting, but one of the safest and easiest ways is to eat within a 12 hour window.
We normally fast overnight anyway, which is why breakfast is called break fast.
So, if you have an evening snack or eat late you may want to play around with your eating times. Can you eat no later than 7 pm and break your fast around 7 am?
Or if you often eat later, you may need to bring your breakfast to work. Preparation and planning is the key. Chia seed pudding, egg muffin or boiled egg and salad can be great breakfast options and are easily prepared the night before and pulled out of the fridge in the morning. (You an grab my healthy lunchbox and breakfast meal ideas here).
Why should we have a period of fasting?
Our gut clearing waves (migrating motor complex) only occurs when we are NOT eating. This reflex is important to move food and waste through the digestive system and to prevent a bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine (SIBO).
Fasting can encourage weight loss, improve insulin levels and insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation and more.
A study on mice found that limiting the feeding window to 8 hours protected them from obesity, inflammation, diabetes, and liver disease, even when they ate the same total number of calories as mice that ate whenever they wished.
When is fasting not recommended?
People who have malabsorption issues, are at risk of low blood sugar (diabetics), or have adrenal issues from excessive stress, may not do well fasting for longer than 12 hours.
Also if you frequently wake in the night, particularly around 2 am, it may be due to a drop in blood sugar. A high protein, low GI carb snack before bed may be helpful to prevent waking. (Sleep issues? Check out "Natural Solutions for a Better Night's Sleep").
5. Try digestive bitters or apple cider vinegar before meals.
To get the digestive juices flowing, bitter herbs are recommended.
Flora Swedish bitters from iHerb can be taken before meals to stimulate the stomach to improve digestion or after meals to relieve feelings of fullness or gas.
Self Heal NZ Bush Bitters from Healthpost.co.nz is another option.
Or there is Apple cider vinegar (ACV) in warm water.
Before a meal (up to 20 minutes before), place 1 teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar in a small glass of warm water. Sip it until you experience a warming feeling in your stomach.
Raw organic apple cider vinegar is recommended.
Consuming ACV not only acts a digestive aid when used before meals, it can promote a feeling of satiety and fullness, while lowering blood sugar levels. Some even use it to encourage weight loss!
6. Avoid omeprazole and reflux medications, if at all possible.
These may help with the symptoms of heartburn and reflux, but they lower stomach acid, interfere with digestion and prolonged use can have highly detrimental effects on health. For more information, read "Reflux, heartburn and the dangers or omeprazole medication" and "What you really need to know about reflux and heartburn".
Happy eating and digesting!