Stomach Acid 2 of 4 – How do we know when we have too little stomach acid?

Recovery from bipolar or any other disorder depends on our digestive system working well.

Ideally our stomach valves remain closed most of the time. How tightly these valves close depends a lot on the fullness and acidity of the stomach. The top valve only needs to open and then close again each time we swallow a mouthful of food or drink. When the stomach is full this top valve needs to close tightly. Ideally the bottom valve will remain tightly closed until a meal has been bathed in acid long enough to:

1) kill the vast majority of the harmful organisms that can be present in food,

2) break up much of the protein with the help of the stomach enzyme, pepsin.

Stress can cause any part of the digestive system to malfunction as energy is diverted from elsewhere in the body. One effect of stress is a lack of stomach acid when it is most needed and this may contribute to the valve at the bottom of the stomach opening too soon and letting partially digested foods through. This can lead to abdominal pains as partially digested foods tend to irritate the gut lining. It can also lead to a need to get to the toilet sooner than you would normally or even to what seems like frequent diarrhoea. From a survival point of view diarrhoea is a sensible reaction to under digested food as it is more likely to contain harmful bacteria.

Food not being in contact with strong enough stomach acid for long enough can cause Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). For everyone I have worked with who has had bad IBS, treating their low stomach acid that has lessened any pain, diarrhoea and bouts of constipation.

With low stomach acid the top stomach valve tends not to close so tightly which allows small amounts of stomach contents up into the oesophagus. The acid may be weak but with pepsin present it can start to dissolve any part of a body that is not stomach lining. This hurts! As the part of the oesophagus affected is near the heart, this pain is often called ‘heart-burn’. For some the pain is mild but can be frequent. For others the pain is severe and can even cause people to believe they are having a heart attack when it first happens.

Contrary to popular belief, pain due to too much acid or acid that is too strong is extremely rare. Here are some reasons for this:

  1. It takes a lot of energy to make stomach acid so our bodies do not waste energy making any more than is needed.
  2. The stronger the acid in your stomach the tighter the top valve should be closed to stop it coming out to burn the oesophagus.
  3. There are many disorders, illness and deficiencies that slow down stomach acid production but no common disorders (that I am aware of) that lead to the speeding up of acid production.

If you get chest pains related to your digestive system then it is almost certainly due to weak stomach acid and not your stomach making excess acid. (Low acid is even more likely as you get older and is affecting 50% of those over 60.*)

If you are feeling very stressed your body will almost certainly have too little stomach acid. Saying, “Be less stressed” is not going to help, instead I want to share simple ways to improve your digestion over the next few pages.

(Next article to be added about 13th July)

Roger Smith – – article updated 30th June 2014

Ref*… see slide 9 of:

Stomach Acid 3 of 4 – Topping Up Your Acid #notjustbipolar

Stomach Acid 3 of 4 – Topping Up Your Acid – Not just Bipolar Disorder

If you are suffering from any kind of long-term disorder, whether; arteriosclerosis, arthritis, bipolar, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression (or any of hundreds of others) then having your digestive system work something like it should work is going to aid recovery.

For our digestive systems to work well we need to have enough stomach acid, right when we need it and not have that stomach acid or stomach contents anywhere other than in the stomach until our food is sufficiently digested to move on. Both stress and eating too frequently can cause the stomach valves to open at the wrong times. The top valve allowing acid up that burns the oesophagus leading many people to believe indigestion and heartburn to be due to stomach acid being too strong. It is usual weaker acid, just acid in the wrong place.

I want to share two remedies for low stomach acid. The first option is quick, simple and only costs about 50p/day (about $0.35/day). The second costs nothing. In the longer term I am hoping everyone who has this problem will follow me in my move to this zero cost option, which I will describe in my next blog. First though, if you are in pain or struggling with your moods you are likely to want a quick fix along with the good news that this does not involve any additional artificial drugs.

My personal experience:

I remember well my first acute problem with stomach acid. It was summer 1984 and I was working and staying in a hotel 100+ miles from home. One evening I chose the ‘mixed grill’ from the menu and was overwhelmed by the amount presented. It was huge! However, I grew up in a household where everyone was expected to clear their plate. I ate sausages, bacon, liver, kidney, black sausage a piece of steak and a whole lot more. The meal went on until midnight. I had never eaten so much! I went to bed and as always in those days slept right through the night and got up about 6:30am. Then suddenly I had the most extreme and frightening pain in the chest. This gradually eased over about an hour. Later I mentioned the pain to a colleague, who guessed the pain will have been linked to all the protein I had the night before and I would not have had enough acid to digest it all.

After this I avoided huge meals and my digestive system was fine until 1992 when a new neighbour moved in, removed our garden fence and claimed he owned part of our garden. He insisted we only communicate through solicitors which resulted in 3½ years of stress before a court case that allowed the boundary to go back to where it had always been. During the court case we had to leave the home we owned and move into rented accommodation 20 miles away as we feared this ‘mad’ neighbour so much. We were never able to return. I had not experienced stress like this before and ended up hardly sleeping at all.

Meanwhile I was experiencing indigestion every evening and this was horrible. I went to my doctor for various tests. Eventually, in 1996, I was incorrectly diagnosed as having too much stomach acid and was prescribed an acid lowering Protein Pump Inhibitor (PPI) drug.

Did I need a PPI drug? Most certainly not! It was the stress of the court case and house move that had lowered my stomach acid and was leading to the valve at the top of my stomach not closing. It was 20 years after this all started that I eventually paid for time with a nutritionist and came to better understand low stomach acid.

The nutritionist recommended Nutrigest® to be taken prior to any meal containing more than a few grams of protein. Nutrigest® is one of many tablets now available that contain natural digestive enzymes along with a source of stomach acid to aid digestion by temporarily boosting acidity, which helps with the tight closure of the top valve.  If your meals are not massive then Nutrigest® tends to be very effective. For me it eliminated all IBS symptoms and all indigestion.

Nutrigest®: In the UK, expect to pay £15 for 90 tablets. At 3 per day (one per meal) that is 30 days supply costing 50p/day. Other similar tablets are available with the same acid and enzyme combination.

As I say, this is a quick fix and certainly one I was grateful for after years of suffering.  – On the next page I will be sharing an even more effective zero cost option.

Warning: When stomach acid is too weak the bacteria that cause stomach ulcers can thrive, but stomach ulcers cannot be treated using additional acid. If you get more pain than usual after taking a Nutrigest® or similar tablet then stop taking these tablets as it could be due to a stomach ulcer or a severely damaged oesophagus, both of which need specialist help to ensure these conditions do not get worse. If you were ever told you had a stomach ulcer without appropriate testing then now could be a good time to ask to have your stomach checked by a specialist.

Disclaimer: Most people easily tolerate Nutrigest® because it is a natural product, however you still need to research and read the information that comes with the tablets. If in doubt consult a local nutritionist or a doctor with good knowledge of stomach acid. I am only putting stomach acid/enzyme tablets forward as one option, while the option I prefer and highly recommend is one I will write about next.

Roger Smith – – article updated 3rd July 2014

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