Hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid)       

All degenerative disease has its origin in malnutrition. "But, how can people in America be malnourished?" you may ask. Easily. Eat the typical American diet, and you will be borderline nourished. Eat worse than that, and  degenerative diseases appear sooner or later. Many people who eat a perfectly nourishing diet also are malnourished and end up with degenerative disease. How can that be?  Just because something goes down your throat does not mean that it will make it to the cells of your body.  First, it must be transported through the wall of your intestines to your blood stream. If it does not encounter the proper amounts of acid and enzymes, it will not digest and absorb properly, and you will become malnourished, making your body fertile ground for the development of infectious and degenerative diseases. 

Normal digestion is a complex cascade of events beginning when food is placed in the mouth and ending with elimination about 24 hours later. Normal digestion requires thorough chewing, mixing of food with enzymes,  swallowing, followed by exposure to a large quantity of acid and enzymes in the stomach. About two hours later, the chyme (food in the process of digestion) is moved on to the small intestine where it is bathed in bile, bile salts and more enzymes. More absorption occurs, and the chyme is mixed with good bacteria to aid in digestion. What’s left is moved to the colon and eliminated after the water is reabsorbed.  

Hypochlorhydria is the underproduction of hydrochloric acid by the stomach. Hydrochloric acid, or HCl as it is abbreviated, is responsible for two important functions: (1) it begins the breakdown of protein and (2) it activates an enzyme called "pepsin," which further breaks down protein. 

Many people who have too little stomach acid are being treated as if they have too much. The reason for this is that the symptoms are similar. Because ten to fifteen percent of the population is hypochlorhydric (“hypo” means too little; “hyper” means too much), there are many people out there who are being misdiagnosed and mistreated. A full fifty percent of people over age 60 are hypochlorhydric and, of all the patients coming to a doctor, up to fifty percent of these have underlying hypochlorhydria. The image of the overactive stomach is so common, many people are treating themselves with antacids without even bothering to consult their physicians. 

Stomach acid serves many important functions, not only in digestion, but also in keeping the body free from disease. Many bacteria enter the body with food. Some of them are not friendly to human life. In a normal stomach, these bacteria are doused with acid and die. In a person with hypochlorhydria, these bacteria are escorted into the small intestine along with a generous food supply. It has been shown that people with hypochlorhydria have more than their share of infections and “food poisonings”. The ever present yeast organism makes its entrance via the mouth. Many people with the so-called "yeast syndrome" are unable to get rid of their yeast because the organism continues to reinfect the body through the mouth. 

Frequently, stool analyses of people with hypochlorhydria reveal the presence of undigested protein fibers. While able to digest enough protein to live using their own pancreatic enzymes or enzyme supplements, these people are not getting the full benefit of the food they eat. The final result is that these people do not feel as good as they could and have no idea why. 

Some people have done all they can think of doing for their health: vitamins, exercise, etc., and still do not feel right due to the poor nutritional status of unrecognized hypochlorhydria. A voracious appetite may be related to hypochlorhydria simply because the person is not getting full nutritional value from what they eat. The body tries to solve this by demanding more food. "I am hungry all the time" should ring the hypochlorhydria bell. 

When incompletely digested food reaches the colon, the colon reacts by slowing down, causing chronic congestion of food in the colon and toxicity of the colon. After being stretched like this for a few years, the colon can hold amazing amounts of partially digested and putrefied food. John Wayne and Elvis Presley, after their autopsies, respectively had 46 lb. and 25 lb. of undigested junk in their colons!!!

Some people with hypochlorhydria report that food seems to sit in the stomach far too long after a meal. Others say they can eat only a small amount of food before feeling full. Still others are constipated while others have diarrhea. Many have no apparent problems with their digestion. That is not to say that they have no symptoms, however, because the number of non-intestinal disorders which are associated with hypochlorhydria is truly astounding. Because these diseases can be helped by nutritional means, it is reasonable to consider them nutritional in origin. Here is a list of those problems associated with hypochlorhydria: 

Autoimmune Diseases
Thyroid disorders
Diabetes mellitus
Gallbladder disease
Acne rosacea
Chronic hepatitis

Chronic fatigue
Weak nails
Dry skin
Poor night vision
Weak Adrenals
Rheumatic arthritis
Lupus erythematosis

The question is sometimes asked: what is the root cause of hypochlorhydria, and what can we do to restore function naturally so the stomach resumes its function of manufacturing acid? It is documented in research that hypochlorhydria is associated with increased risk of stomach cancer, and this may be due to the conversion of nitrites into cancer-inducing nitrosamines in an abnormally alkaline stomach. Also, intestinal overgrowth of bacteria and the incidence of parasitic infections is increased when stomach acid is low. Risk of cancer, risk of parasites, expected bacterial overgrowth and remember the always-present yeast organism, are ever ready to become a problem. 

Heartburn—a painful burning sensation in your upper abdomen or lower chest, often accompanied by a sour taste in the back of your throat—is one of the most common digestive problems. The “politically correct” term now for heartburn is “acid reflux disease”. Despite its name, heartburn doesn’t have anything to do with your heart. It’s actually your esophagus that’s the source of the discomfort.

Your esophagus is a ten-inch tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. When you eat, food travels down your esophagus and passes through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to enter your stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter is basically a one-way valve that opens to let in the food and then closes tightly shut again to keep the powerful hydrochloric acid of your digestive juices safely inside the stomach. Sometimes, however, the LES does not close completely or doesn’t stay closed. Stomach acid can then back up (reflux) into your esophagus. The pain of heartburn is sometimes so severe that it is mistaken for a heart attack. Even worse, sometimes heart attack pain is dismissed as just heartburn. If you have heartburn pain so severe that it makes you break out into a sweat, or if the pain extends from your chest into your neck or left shoulder or arm, or if the pain is accompanied by a crushing or viselike sensation in the chest, you might be having a heart attack. Let a trained professional decide what’s causing the pain—get emergency medical help at once.

Traditional Treatments

Heartburn can be avoided, at least some of the time, with some simple self-help steps. If you smoke, stop. If alcoholic beverages give you heartburn, stop your drinking. Many of our patients find that eating smaller, more frequent meals helps their heartburn quite a bit. So does eating more slowly and chewing your food slowly and thoroughly. If you are overweight losing some pounds will probably reduce your incidence of heartburn. The extra weight puts pressure on your abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter. For the same reason, avoid wearing tight clothes that press on the abdomen. Moderate exercise after eating, such as walking a mile or two at a normal pace, may aid digestion and prevent heartburn, but avoid vigorous exercise just after a meal. Don’t bend over or lie down soon after eating—these positions make it much easier for acid to flow upward. Since most people produce a lot of stomach acid at night while they sleep, avoid eating for at least three hours before bedtime. 

Magnesium hydroxide, the active ingredient in antacids such as Maalox, Mylanta, milk of magnesia, Di-Gel, Riopan, and many other products, is a very effective heartburn reliever. By itself, magnesium hydroxide causes diarrhea, so almost all magnesium antacid formulations also contain aluminum hydroxide to counterbalance the laxative effect. Even so, large or frequent doses of a magnesium-aluminum antacid can give you diarrhea. (Large doses can also be dangerous if you have kidney disease.) Aluminum-based antacids such as Rolaids or Amphojel are effective heartburn relievers, but they are slower and less potent than aluminum-magnesium compounds. Aluminum hydroxide can be constipating, so these products usually contain some magnesium as a counterbalance. Despite this, frequent use of aluminum-based antacids can lead to constipation. There is also evidence that links aluminum to the development of Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

If you have persistent heartburn for more than two weeks, if you have trouble swallowing or have persistent abdominal pain, if you vomit blood, or if your stools are bloody or black, you may have a more serious problem. See your doctor at once.

H2 blockers, drugs that sharply reduce the stomach’s acid production by blocking the effects of histamine, were introduced in the late 1970s. Tagamet, Zantac, Pepcid, and Axid quickly came on the market. Long term use of antacids has been implicated as the cause of certain auto-immune diseases such as thrombocytopenia, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. The disruption of digestion caused by hypochlorhydria has also been implicated as the cause of many forms of arthritis and degenerative conditions. 

Belching, bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence, constipation and diarrhea are uncomfortable symptoms that signify altered metabolic processes that slowly erode health and eventually manifest in more serious conditions. These symptoms can have a multitude of causes, and therefore, thorough investigation is necessary to allow for targeted treatment. 

The digestive process actually begins with our mental state before we eat. If we are relaxed and looking forward to an enjoyable meal, there is a very different effect on our physiology than if we are stressed out and have to eat in a rush. The body does not digest food well when under stress. Stress causes an activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the "fight or flight” reaction. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, digestive secretions slow, blood flow is diverted away from the gastrointestinal tract, and the speed at which food moves through the system is slowed. Many relaxation techniques are effective in reducing stress.  Chiropractic also balances nervous system activity, and I have seen first-hand the benefits for gastrointestinal symptoms. To aid relaxation at mealtime, before you start to eat, take a deep breath and exhale. Avoid stressful environments and conversation when you eat. Pay attention to your food - don't watch or read anything stressful while eating. 

The next step in the digestive process is chewing food, which produces greater surface area for digestive enzymes to work on. Food should be chewed thoroughly. Do not drink too much with your food as this can dilute digestive fluids. 

The lack of proper production of digestive secretions can also cause gastrointestinal symptoms. Insufficiency of stomach acid secretion is particularly common, especially with age. Stress, bacterial infection, and deficiencies of zinc and vitamin B1 can result in reduction of stomach acid output. Patients are often prescribed acid blocking or antacid medications for symptoms that are actually caused by inadequate hydrochloric acid! These antacids only compound the problem. Without adequate stomach acid, food is not properly digested, many nutrients are not properly absorbed, toxic organisms that contaminate our food are not destroyed, and the next step in the digestive process, the release of digestive enzymes by the pancreas, is not activated. The undigested food continues through the intestinal tract and becomes a food supply for toxic bacteria and yeast, fostering their overgrowth.  

When hydrochloric acid is injected into the body in very dilute, physiologic amounts, the white blood cell systems increase their activity, the blood pH returns to normal regardless of whether it is too acid or too alkaline and the number of white cells increase. 

In the treatment of all functional metabolic, endocrine, allergic, chronic and degenerative disease, once the production of hydrochloric acid becomes restored to normal there takes place a restoration of the normal acid base balance, reversal of the declining vital processes, followed by repair of all injured and diseased tissues with restoration of good health. 

Good health and the presence of healthy immunity depend on the existence of a normal production of hydrochloric acid and its presence in the bloodstream and other fluids of the body. When the HCl acid production falls short, and a progressive decrease takes place, we find a loss of healthy immunity, a decreasing degree of tissue susceptibility, an imbalance of blood chemistry, and poor digestion and assimilation. This is the starting point of general ill-health and malnutrition. It is a logical assumption that a lack of sufficient minerals in the daily diet must of necessity give rise to a deficiency in the hydrochloric acid production. It is known that certain minerals, such as calcium and potassium, are needed by the glands responsible for HCl acid production. The decreased production of HCl acid is a negative feed back loop: less HCl = less digestion/absorption of essential minerals and proteins = less HCl = less nutrients = less HCl and so on and so on.

It is also known that when the hydrochloric acid production falls short the required amount necessary to maintain the acidity of the white cells and the acid-base balance becomes insufficient and hydrogen chloride eventually vanishes from the circulation. When hydrogen chloride disappears from the circulation some other acid must take its place immediately in order to maintain the pH of the circulating fluids. The acid wastes assume the role of hydrogen chloride in the blood chemistry. This is followed by an imbalance of the blood chemistry. The acid wastes can not be thrown off as quickly as they are formed so they begin to accumulate in the fluids and tissues of the body with the resultant struggle between these and the alkaline reserve. The result is a depletion of the alkaline reserves. Functional disorders of a metabolic, endocrine and allergic nature and the condition of acidosis become manifest. The person loses his natural immunity and is highly prone to develop focal infections followed by acute disease. In this depleted condition they lack the necessary reserve to destroy the invading microorganisms completely. It has been well established that in all cases of malnutrition the condition of acidosis is always present. There follows a reduction of physiologic functions and the EVER INCREASING accumulation of acid metabolic wastes in the bloodstream. The hydrogen chloride production becomes diminished. The hydrogen ions necessary for the maintenance of a normal pH fall short and sooner or later hydrochloric acid is replaced by the waste acids in the maintenance of the acid base balance. These acid wastes include carbonic acid, diacetic acid, lactic acid, acetic acids, fatty acids, uric acid, etc. These acid wastes, however, are abnormal constituents of the bloodstream and will act as a disruptor of the natural blood chemistry. 

Recent studies in Germany and in this country demonstrate that cancer, diabetes, acute infection, neuroses, congestions, gastric inflammation, anemia, arteriosclerosis, hypertension, chemical poisoning, heart problems, tumors, metabolic and endocrine disorders, senility, dyspepsia, chronic ulcers, cholecystitis (gall bladder inflammation), appendicitis, worry, anxiety and pyloric obstruction show pronounced improvements when the hydrochloric acid production is normalized. 

Statistical surveys have been made of the gastric acidity of patients of all ages and it was found that 25-30% of those over the age of 45 showed no free or combined hydrochloric acid. The incidence of achlorhydria (no HCl acid at all in stomach) in the whole series of more than 3,000 patients examined was more than 10%. We know that pepsin (the enzyme necessary to break down protein) is inactive unless a considerable amount of hydrochloric acid is present. We also know that very few bacteria can survive the acid conditions in the stomach and that the gastric juice partially sterilizes the food preventing putrefaction during the gastric phase of digestion. Without acid in the stomach the benefit of this action is not obtained. The normal gastric juices in man contains some two to three parts of hydrochloric acid per thousand. In healthy dogs five parts is found. A healthy dog can eat rotten meat and, if its stomach is opened one half hour later, the foul odor of the meat will be gone. The acidity and the germicidal quality of the chorides perform this action. Too often, however, acidity of the stomach is not due to an excess of hydrochloric acid but rather to an excess of lactic acid, oxibuteric acid, diacetic acid, butyric acid, formic acid, acetic acid and other acids due to putrefaction processes  present. Hydrochloric acid is the ONLY normal inorganic acid in the body's economy. All other acids such as lactic, carbonic, uric, etc. are WASTE PRODUCTS to be eliminated as quickly as possible.  

Hydrochloric acid secretion is SUPPRESSED by emotions or worry, nerve interference from a spinal misalign- ment, a poor diet, and low salt diets to name a few reasons. Achlorhydria (absence of HCl acid in stomach) occurs in some cases of apparently healthy persons and in many cases of gastrointestinal disease. It is also stressed that it appears frequently in diabetes and with still greater frequency in thyroid problems as well as in certain anemias. Absence of hydrochloric acid in the gastric juice is a common symptom in depression. It is frequently associated with mental fatigue, persistent worry and strain. The symptoms are very vague; lack of appetite, fullness after eating, gas and flatulence and diarrhea are more common than constipation. Pain is usually absent. 

Hydrochloric acid reacts with the duodenal membrane to produce a hormone called secretin which stimulates the pancreas to release insulin, increase the formation of bile and upgrade the activity of the gallbladder. Most of our digestion depends on the production of HCl acid. Improper digestion means an unbalanced assimilation, an unbalanced mineral content of the body. What are some of the symptoms of mineral imbalance? 

First a surplus of sodium. This is followed by tissues that become waterlogged; swelling; a tendency to asthma, flabby muscles and a lack of chlorine. A deficiency of calcium means an excess of sodium and a deficiency of potassium. The net result of this activity is the production of toxemia and the reduction of the final line of defense and repair. It is interesting to note that within two hours of the injection of hydrogen chloride intravenously, 32% of the white cells were showing pronounced phagocytic activity and engulfing microorganisms. Twenty-four hours after the injection, 69% of the white cells were in phagocytic activity. The average human has 7,000-8,000 white blood cells per milliliter of blood. For a 160 pound male with six liters of blood we would arrive at a white blood cell population of around 48 billion cells. With the use of hydrochloride supplements we can predictably increase the white blood cell population by another 2,000 per milliliter and add around 10 billion more cells into the fight, whatever it may be. We, of course, know that there are many things which can produce a similar reaction. Gamma globulin, pancreatic extracts, nucleic acids and so on. But none of these is as effective as a hydrochloric acid supplement.

The presence of hydrochloric acid in the stomach is necessary for absorption of all the minerals we need for health: iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium, copper, potassium, manganese, iodine. We know that Vitamin B-1 is unstable in neutral or alkaline solutions and for this reason hydrochloric acid plays some part in the efficient utilization of this nutrient.

All disease processes, whether functional, metabolic, endocrine, allergic, acute, chronic or degenerative are accompanied by the condition of acidosis and the deficiency of the hydrochloric acid production. Use of hydrogen chloride therapy in rheumatism and arthritis is rewarding. Faulty digestion and assimilation due to a deficiency of the hydrogen chloride production in the stomach brings about a resulting serious depletion of the alkaline reserve, malnutrition, impaired metabolism, and a derangement of the physiologic functions of the varied tissues. Clinically there becomes manifest the condition of advanced acidosis and toxemia. There are complaints of marked general weakness, nervousness, insomnia, digestive disorders, various functional disturbances of a metabolic and endocrine nature, functional disturbances of the heart, severe headache, allergic manifestations, malnutrition, vague pains all over the body and in addition the symptoms of any inflammatory or organic lesions present. The patient is advised to consult his/her surgeon, neurologist, endocrinologist, allergist, or stomach specialist. In due time, having made the rounds of the various specialists, the patient finds himself relieved of various body parts or appendages and certain sums of money. His condition, however, continues to get progressively worse. There may be backache, bellyache, severe headace, dizzy spells, muscular pains and weakness, dyspepsia, extreme nervousness and irritability, sexual disorders, mental disturbances, numbness of hands, fingers and toes, clammy hands and feet, vague pains all over the body, subnormal or above normal temperature, high or low blood pressure and various functional heart disorders. By this time one or more allergic diseases have already become manifest.
A reduction or absence of stomach acid (HCl) may seem to be no big deal initially. But it is a VERY BIG DEAL when it comes to your health and it is such a simple thing to treat if you only know how to properly treat it! If you have ANY questions, please contact Dr Hurst who will be very happy to answer ANY questions you may have.

Dr. Rickey W. Hurst, D.C.
Chiropractic Holistic Physician; Nutritional Analyst
330 Towles Ave.
McMinnville, TN. 37110
(931) 473-7805
Website: <>
Email: [email protected] <mailto:[email protected]>
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Oliver TH, Wilkinson JF Critical review achlorhydria Quarterly Journal of Medicine, vol. 2;1933: 431-455.
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Dotevall G, Walan A Gastric secretion of acid and intrinsic factor in patients with hyper- and hypothyroidism Acta Med Scan, vol. 186;1969:529-533.
Matthews DM, linnell JC Vitamin B12: an area of darkness Brit Med Jour, Sept. 1, 1979:533-535.
Jacobs A, Rhodes J, Eakins JD Gastric factors influencing iron absorption in anemic patients Scan Jour Haematology, vol. 4, 1967:105-110.
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Ruddell WSJ Gastric juice nitrite Lancet, Nov. 13;1976: 1037-1039.
Rabinowitch IM Achlorhydria and its clinical significance in diabetes mellitus Amer Jour of Diges Dis, Sept. 1949:322-332.
Gianelli RA Broitman SA Zamcheck N Influence of gastric acidity on bacterial, and parasitic enteric infections Ann of Int Med, vol. 78;1973:271-276.
DeWitte TJ Hypochlorhydria and Hypergastrinemia in rheumatoid arthritis Ann of the Rheu Dis, vol. 38;1979:14-17.
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The following sources also contributed to this informational article edited by Dr Hurst: Dr. Joseph A. Debé and Physicians' Guides to Healing: Treating Digestive Conditions  <>
Note: This information is not a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a qualified healthcare provider.

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