If your stomach doesn’t produce enough acid, you can use natural organic acids, such as vinegar and betaine hydrochloride, as replacements. But it’s important to remember that they’re only a temporary solution. Natural remedies may improve digestion, but they won’t treat any underlying health condition causing the problem. If left untreated, low stomach acid can lead to serious illnesses, so consult your health-care provider if you have digestive concerns.
Low Stomach Acid Overview
Low stomach acid, or hypochlorhydria, leads to nutritional deficiencies because you need the right amount of stomach acid to properly digest protein, vitamin B-12, iron and a variety of other nutrients. Stomach acid also kills bacteria, so hypochlorhydria increases your risk for bacterial infections.
The most common cause of hypochlorhydria is ongoing stomach inflammation, or gastritis, which may be the result of eating foods that irritate the stomach, reports MD Guidelines. But many different health conditions can cause hypochlorhydria, and the only way to permanently improve acid production is to treat the underlying condition.
Betaine hydrochloride is the acidic form of betaine, which naturally comes from beets, grains, shellfish, broccoli and spinach. Because it’s a supplemental form of hydrochloric acid, you should only take betaine hydrochloride if you have low stomach acid.
Supplements usually combine betaine hydrochloride with the protein-digesting enzyme pepsin, which needs acid to be activated. So if you're low in stomach acid, you may also need the extra pepsin.
Be aware that betaine hydrochloride can burn your stomach, so stop taking it if you feel any discomfort. If you take medications or have an ulcer, gastritis or other gastrointestinal problems such as heartburn, consult your health care provider before taking supplements.
Dietary or Supplemental Vinegar
On the pH scale, where a zero represents the most acidic score, stomach acid has a pH of 1 and vinegar is around 2 to 3. With this level of acidity, vinegar may temporarily replace stomach acid, as long as it’s consumed with a meal.
Never take vinegar straight out of the bottle, because it may irritate your mouth and throat. You could stir it into a little water, but water dilutes overall acidity, including any acid in your stomach, so use water sparingly. Consider adding extra vinegar to a vinaigrette.
If you can’t tolerate regular vinegar, try vinegar supplements. Just don’t take time-release or enteric-coated supplements -- they won’t break down and release the vinegar in your stomach.
Natural Organic Acids
Taking vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, may improve digestion by increasing acidity in your stomach, states Dr. Sarah Myhill in an article published on ProHealth. Ascorbic acid has a pH range of 5 to 6. With a pH of 4, citric acid is a little more acidic, so it's another natural acid you can try.
Like vinegar and betaine hydrochloride, the effect of ascorbic acid or citric acid only lasts for a short time after they enter your stomach. As a result, they must be consumed when you eat. You can take supplements, or you could try mixing vitamin C powder with orange juice to multiply the impact.
Organic acids may upset your stomach or cause heartburn when taken in large doses. Talk to your doctor before taking ascorbic acid if you have a history of kidney stones.
- MD Guidelines: Achlorhydria and Hypochlorhydria
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Betaine
- University of Michigan: Betaine Hydrochloride
- ProHealth: Lack of Stomach Acid -- Hypochlorhydria -- Can Cause Lots of Problems
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Approximate pH of Foods and Food Products
- Mountain Empire Community College: Acids and Bases
- Aqion: pH of Organic Acids
- MedlinePlus: Ascorbic Acid