What Heartburn or Acid Reflux Could Really Be Telling You

acid reflux autoimmune disease blog gerd heartburn indigestion rhe stomach acid Mar 21, 2019

Billions of dollars are spent every year on acid-blocking medications, including non-prescription medication, to relieve problems like indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).  This would appear to indicate that there is a major problem with too much stomach acid in the general population.

But the truth is that indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux or GERD could really be a problem with too little stomach acid, not too much. In the book Why Stomach Acid is Good For You, authors Jonathan Wright, MD and Lane Lenard, PH. D, point out that stomach acid production decreases significantly with age.  

In 25 years of conducting tests, Wright found that 90% of people over the age of 40 complaining of heartburn, indigestion and gas actually had inadequate stomach acid production.

“90% of people over the age of 40 complaining of heartburn, indigestion and gas actually had inadequate stomach acid production."

What? How could low stomach acid cause symptoms like indigestion, heartburn or acid reflux? 

Stomach acid is needed to help digest food, absorb proteins and keep a proper balance of micro-organisims (parasites, yeast, bacteria) in the digestive tract.  If stomach acid production is low, then food doesn’t get digested properly and overgrowths of bacteria can occur.  This results in increased bloating which pushes the contents of the stomach (including whatever stomach acid is present) into the esophagus. The esophagus is very sensitive to any acid, even if it is a small amount, therefore it FEELS like too much acid. 

The sad thing is that the medications taken to reduce stomach acid will make the situation even worse if the person actually had low stomach acid to begin with, resulting in further aggravation.

What are the consequences of having low stomach acid?  Besides indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux or GERD, low stomach acid can result in some serious conditions.  If not corrected, low stomach acid can cause bloating, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, food sensitivities, skin issues, anemia and other malabsorption issues, and leaky gut.  

I talked about leaky gut in another article and how leaky gut is the common denominator in all autoimmune diseases.  So a simple little condition like low stomach acid can have major repercussions, like autoimmune disease. 

This was exactly the cascade which led to my own development of rheumatoid arthritis. 

What causes low stomach acid to begin with?  As pointed out above, there is a correlation between increasing age and decreasing stomach acid production, so age is a factor.  Other contributors are stress (being in fight/flight mode rather than rest/digest so signals to produce stomach acid are not firing), eating too quickly, eating too many hard-to-digest carbohydrates and, of course, taking acid-blocking medications.  

Understanding the causes of low stomach acid helps light the path to fixing the problem and increasing stomach acid production.  Here are some suggestions:

  • Reduce stress

  • Eat slowly, chewing food thoroughly

  • Avoid processed foods, sugar and other high-carb foods

  • Limit drinking liquids with meals

  • Avoid acid blocking medication

  • Consider HCL supplementation (see below)

  • Drink celery juice (click here to see a video I did about making celery juice)

While I recommend that you consult your doctor for any health issues, including any concerns about stomach acid production, there are a couple of simple at-home tests you could try to determine if you have low stomach acid.  Keep in mind that these are not highly accurate but may give you some idea of your level of stomach acid.  Here is a link to Dr. Jocker’s website with instructions on how to do the Baking Soda Test and the Betaine HCL Challenge Test (scroll down to find these tests) which can both be done at home. 


Under the supervision of my naturopath, I used the Betaine HCL Challenge Test and determined that I had very low stomach acid. I began taking four Betaine HCL capsules with each meal.  Gradually the dose has reduced over time with food and lifestyle changes, and also by drinking celery juice to encourage acid production. 

Here is a link to a video where I talk about low stomach acid and the at-home tests.  

Do you know anyone who complains of heartburn or acid reflux?  Share this article with them.  They might be surprised that it could actually be low stomach acid causing the problem, and that by taking action they could prevent further health problems.

Did you find this article informative? Any a-ha moments? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! :)



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  2. All information in this post is based on my personal experiences. Please discuss any changes to your diet with your healthcare team. No information in this article is meant to replace medical advice. Please read my Terms and Conditions.