Excess Stomach Acid (Hyperchlorhydria): Causes, Symptoms and How to Lower It

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Excess Stomach Acid (Hyperchlorhydria): Causes, Symptoms and How to Lower It
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Your body can produce excess stomach acid if you have a gastric infection (such as Helicobacter pylori), too much gastrin hormone or under stress. Having too much acid in your stomach (medical name hyperchlorhydria) can also cause a lot of gastric discomfort. For example, excess stomach acid symptoms include burning sensation in your chest, abdominal pain, too much gas, or constipation.

Lowering high stomach acid levels usually requires a combination of treatment and preventative measures. If the stomach acid is excessively high, doctors may provide medication to reduce stomach acid levels. However, there are also some home remedies that help to lower stomach acid naturally. In most cases, people with high stomach acid symptoms also need to avoid foods that cause an acidic stomach.

In some cases, it can be a challenge to know if your gastric upset is caused by excess stomach acid (hyperchlorhydria) or low stomach acid levels (hypochlorhydria). This is because both low and high stomach acid can cause symptoms such as bloating, heartburn or indigestion.

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In this article, I will look at the function of stomach acid and the symptoms of having too much acid in the stomach. At the end of this article, you will find home remedies to help reduce stomach acid naturally.

Functions of Stomach Acid

The medical name for stomach acid is hydrochloric acid (HCL), and excess stomach acid is called hyperchlorhydria. Other names for stomach acid are gastric acid, stomach juice, or gastric juice.

The normal volume of the gastric fluid is 20 to 100 mL and its pH is acidic (1.5 to 3.5).2

The journal Surgical Clinics of North America says that the function of stomach acid is to break down food to be digested. The highly acidic properties of the gastric juice, together with digestive enzymes, help with food breakdown so that the body can extract nutrients from food.1

According to the journal Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology, stomach acid also helps to protect against many infectious gastrointestinal diseases.3

What is Excess Acid in Stomach (Hyperchlorhydria)?

Hyperchlorhydria is described as an excess stomach acid in the absence of food.5 Having too much acid in your stomach happens when certain processes stimulate the overproduction of stomach acid. Gastrin is a key hormone that regulates gastric acid secretion and having too much gastrin can cause hyperchlorhydria.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica says that your stomach produces about 1.5 liters of gastric acid per day. It’s normal that eating food will increase the amount of stomach acid that is produced. Also, stimuli like taste, smell, and sight can cause more acid to be produced.4

However, too much stomach acid can be a result of food sensitivities, emotional disturbances, or too much gastrin hormone.5

Symptoms of Too Much Acid in Stomach

Having excess stomach acid in your digestive system very often causes varying degrees of gastrointestinal discomfort. The side effects of too much acid in the stomach usually causes damage to the stomach lining. In some cases, other gastric infections can raise gastric juice levels.

The journal Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology reported about some of the symptoms accompanying the causes of excess stomach acid (hyperchlorhydria). These include:6

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Can low stomach acid cause acid reflux?

In many cases, low stomach acid in the digestive system is a major cause of acid reflux, not excess gastric juice.

Low stomach acid is called hypochlorhydria and is often to blame for symptoms of heartburn and indigestion. The journal Proceedings of the Nutritional Society published a study showing that a lack of stomach acid can cause stomach pain, gastritis, and other symptoms of acid reflux. In fact, low stomach acid can also lead to bacterial overgrowth in the digestive tract, osteoporosis, and anemia.8

Can Excess Stomach Acid Mimic Hunger?

According to the Encyclopedia of Nutrition and Good Health, excessive stomach acid (hyperchlorhydria) is associated with hunger pain.5

The journal Frontiers in Pharmacology reports that hunger causes various hormones (such as gastrin) and enzymes to be released in the stomach. These can cause contractions in the stomach and increase appetite. Some clinical trials suggest that these factors can increase stomach acid secretion.7

Causes of Excess Stomach Acid (Hyperchlorhydria)

What can cause you to have excess levels of stomach acid? Here are some of the main reasons that doctors point to.

Helicobacter pylori infection and peptic ulcer disease

One of the main causes of having too much stomach acid (hyperchlorhydria) is a Helicobacter pylori infection in your stomach. The H. pylori strain of bacteria causes peptic ulcers and inflammation of the stomach lining.

The journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews published a study showing the connection between excess gastric juice and H. pylori. It was found that a long-term H. pylori infection can result in hyperchlorhydria. In some cases, it can also cause low stomach acid levels. This can increase a person’s risk of developing duodenal ulcers, peptic ulcers, and cramping under the ribs.9

Other studies also confirm that people with H. pylori infections often have an acid buildup in the stomach.10

If you have symptoms of an H. pylori infection, you can try taking probiotics or Manuka honey as a natural remedy for stomach ulcers. Also, research into the therapeutic effects of Ashwagandha has shown that this herb can help prevent peptic ulcers.

Too much gastrin hormone secretion

Excessive amounts of gastric acid in your stomach could be due to a hormonal imbalance where too much gastrin is produced.

Gastrin is a key hormone that controls the release of stomach acid. Having too much gastrin can cause hyperchlorhydria.11

The journal Gastroenterology Report says that one of the causes of too much gastrin secretion is the use of a common medication such as proton pump inhibitors. These drugs are used to reduce excess stomach acid. In some cases, certain digestive syndromes (e.g., Zollinger-Ellison syndrome) can cause both an increase in gastrin hormone and gastric acid.12

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Stress

Stress can have a significant effect on the amount of gastric juice that you have in your stomach. Nerves in your stomach that stimulate gastric acid production are directly affected by feelings of emotional or physical stress. If a person is under a lot of stress, their body usually produces more stomach acid than normal.

The Journal of Stress Physiology & Biochemistry showed that stress is connected to a number of gastrointestinal diseases. In clinical trials, physical and emotional stress increased levels of gastric acid in the stomach.13

Also, the journal Regulatory Peptides reported that physical stress can also include excess stomach acid secretion. Other reasons cited that can cause an acid buildup in the stomach were not getting enough sleep and not consuming enough calories.14

There are many ways to relax and get rid of stress naturally. You may also find that taking steps to improve your sleep patterns can help deal with stress and anxiety better.

Drinking too many caffeinated drinks

Coffee, tea, colas and other caffeinated drinks can cause excess stomach acid and aggravate the symptoms of acid reflux.

According to research published in 2017, the bitter taste of caffeinated drinks stimulates the stomach to produce more gastric acid. Scientists also discovered that caffeine pills can have a similar effect on gastric acid secretion.15

Some researchers are divided in their opinion on the effect of caffeinated drinks if a person has excess stomach acid and a peptic ulcer. Some studies seem to suggest that people with ulcers should avoid caffeinated drinks.16

However, recent research has suggested that people with peptic ulcers can drink coffee in moderation (no more than 3 cups a day). Even though caffeine stimulates gastric acid production, there is scant evidence that it affects acid reflux.17

Other Causes of too much Stomach Acid

Fatty foods

If you commonly have a burning sensation in your chest after eating a meal, it could be that fatty foods have cause too much acid in your stomach.

According to the journal Advanced Biomedical Research, the intake of fat-laden foods can cause indigestion. Studies have shown that fatty foods increase stomach acid secretion and stimulate gastrointestinal hormones. In some cases, eating foods containing high levels of fat can also worsen symptoms of peptic ulcers.20

Fatty food can also cause other digestive problems like passing greasy stool or causing nausea after eating.

Milk

Research published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine shows that milk and certain dairy products can increase gastric acid secretion.

This was true with low-fat milk, non-fat milk, and low-calcium milk. However, increased levels of gastric acid caused by milk products were mainly found in people with pre-existing digestive conditions.31

Even though milk is a good source of calcium, many people can’t ingest milk or dairy products because of lactose intolerance. Please read this article to find some great calcium-rich alternatives to milk.

Consumption of beer or wine

The journal Gut reports that some alcoholic beverages such as beer or wine can increase levels of stomach acid.

Researchers have found that fermented alcoholic products like beer and wine are the worst culprits. Beer and wine are stimulants and increase gastrin release and stomach acid secretion.21 However, chronic alcohol drinking can lead to hypochlorhydria.

Lack of sleep

Research has shown that a lack of sleep can cause hyperchlorhydria and aggravate reflux symptoms.14

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According to the World Journal of Gastroenterology, not getting enough sleep can increase gastric secretion. Scientists report that disrupted sleep patterns and poor sleep quality can also increase the frequency of heartburn during the night.22

Foods and Acid Reflux

It is normal that any type of food will cause more stomach acid to be produced. However, there are some foods that can increase the flow of gastric juices and aggravate symptoms of heartburn (acid reflux) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

For people who don’t have symptoms of heartburn or GERD, these foods probably won’t increase stomach acid levels too high. This is because acid reflux is generally caused by weakness of the muscle that stops stomach acid escaping back up the esophagus. In cases of heartburn and ulcers, doctors try to neutralize the acid or reduce the amount of gastric acid the stomach produces.

Acidic and citrus foods

To help manage symptoms of excess stomach acid and acid reflux, it is best to avoid some foods that stimulate excessive amounts of gastric juice.

Dr. Louise Chang on WebMD says that some foods that can increase stomach acid and cause heartburn symptoms to get worse can include:18

  • Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits
  • Tomatoes because they are fairly acidic and can cause heartburn in some people
  • Onions and garlic as they can aggravate reflux symptoms
  • Red peppers have been shown to increase gastric acid secretion19
  • Spicy foods
  • Peppermint

However, it’s good to remember that not all of the above-mentioned foods cause the same symptoms in heartburn sufferers. So, it’s important to find out what triggers your symptoms and then try and avoid it.

Dr. Bonnie Taub-Dix from the American Dietetic Association says that other factors that can affect heartburn are when you eat and how much you eat.18

Excessive Stomach Acid During Pregnancy

Can pregnancy cause an overproduction of stomach acid? Many pregnant women seem to think so because heartburn and pregnancy are often connected.

However, according to the journal Gastroenterology, secretion of gastric juice reduces during pregnancy due to changes in hormone levels.23

The reason that acid reflux symptoms can be more severe during pregnancy is connected to low stomach acid or stomach juices escaping up the esophagus.

The journal Canadian Family Physician reports that hormonal changes can also cause food to be digested slower which can increase GERD symptoms. Also, the weight of the growing baby can force excess stomach acid into the esophagus.24

How to Reduce Excessive Stomach Acid

There are a number of ways to help you lower high levels of stomach acid and reduce gastrointestinal discomfort.

Medication

If you have excessively high levels of stomach acid (hyperchlorhydria) due to an ulcer or other digestive issue, doctors usually prescribe medication.

The journal Biomarker Research reports that some of the common ways to treat excess gastric acid in the stomach include antibiotics and medication to lower stomach acid. For example, proton pump inhibitors help to reduce production of hydrochloric acid. Also, antibiotic medicine can kill off strains of H. pylori that are causing irritation of the stomach lining.32

If you have to take antibiotics, it is also important to take probiotics to prevent antibiotic medication causing more digestive upset.

Baking soda

If you have occasional symptoms of heartburn from stress or eating the wrong foods, baking soda can help to neutralize excess stomach acid.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health say that baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) is used to treat an upset stomach, acid indigestion, or symptoms of heartburn. Baking soda is a natural antacid which can also help manage symptoms of peptic or duodenal ulcers.25

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Mix half a teaspoon of baking soda in an 8-oz. glass of water. Mix until completely dissolved and drink up to 7 glasses of baking soda and water in a 24-hour period.

Please read this article of precautions on using baking soda for heartburn and stomach ulcers.

Mediterranean diet to lower stomach acid

The Mediterranean diet can help to lower stomach acid and even reduce the need to take proton pump inhibitors.

A study published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery found that the Mediterranean diet can help to lower levels of gastric acid. It was found that in many cases, a change in diet had the same effect as taking proton pump inhibitors. The acid-reducing effect of the diet was also boosted by drinking alkaline water.26

Apple cider vinegar

You can also drink diluted apple cider vinegar regularly to reduce the frequency of heartburn and acid reflux.

A study published by the Arizona State University found that apple cider vinegar has a natural antacid effect when ingested. The research found that apple cider vinegar helps to regulate the stomach’s pH levels. Many of the participants in the study found that the frequency of their heartburn symptoms was reduced.27

Mix 1 – 2 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar in a large glass of water and drink daily to help remedy heartburn symptoms. If the strong taste of apple cider vinegar is too much, try drinking apple cider vinegar and honey for even more health benefits. Some people have found that apple cider vinegar pills are also effective in getting rid of acid reflux.

Aloe vera juice

Drinking aloe vera juice can also help to soothe gastrointestinal upset that is connected with increased levels of stomach acid.

The Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine reported that aloe vera helps to protect the digestive tract. The study showed that people taking aloe vera capsules experienced a significant reduction in their symptoms of GERD. The researchers concluded that aloe vera can be used a safe natural treatment for reflux symptoms.28

How to Prevent Excess Stomach Acid

In many cases, you can reduce the uncomfortable effects of excess gastric juice in your stomach. With a few simple lifestyle changes, you may be able to prevent the symptoms of stomach ulcers, heartburn, and indigestion.

Dr. P. John Simic on eMedicineHealth recommends some of the following tips to prevent acid reflux naturally:29

  • Try avoid eating large meals but eat smaller frequent meals throughout the day
  • Don’t skip meals
  • Don’t go to bed for 3 hours after eating your meal
  • Avoid foods that trigger your symptoms
  • Lose excess weight to prevent heartburn and boost your overall health
  • Put blocks under the head of your bed to elevate it by 6 inches.

When to See a Doctor

For occasional bouts of heartburn, home remedies are usually sufficient to reduce any digestive discomfort. However, in some cases, you should see a doctor about any serious symptoms associated with excess acid in the stomach.

Dr. Jennifer Robinson on WebMD recommends seeing your doctor if you have signs of too much stomach acid. These include:30

Related articles:

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