My Gut Feeling is You Need More Stomach Acid

Dear Pharmacist,

In a previous column on apple cider vinegar (ACV), you stated that “heartburn and reflux can sometimes be related to insufficient levels of stomach acid, not high levels like many of you who take acid blockers assume.” Really Suzy? I’ve been on Omeprazole for years for heartburn. My doctor says you’re nuts and got angry when I questioned him.

--T.B. Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

Answer: Doctors who thoroughly understand gastrointestinal function know this basic principle of physiology. A simple blood test evaluates stomach acid levels. Most physicians don’t test your “gastrin” level, they just hand you a prescription for medication. This bothers me.

Judging from the millions of pills that are dispensed from American pharmacies on a daily basis, the business of convincing you that “stomach acid is bad”  is working. Don’t misunderstand, acid blocking drugs are effective and necessary for certain individuals, but they are way overprescribed. As a nation, we should spend more money educating the public on how to eat healthier, rather than drugging people up each day, and advertising double-bacon triple-bypass cheeseburgers. I’m just saying...

Anyway, the signs of low acid (termed hypochlorhydria) may be heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, burping, cramps, food sensitivities and a higher risk for autoimmune disorders, gallbladder disease, pancreatitis and cancer. Hypochlorhydria is a huge problem in this country and it’s getting more widespread, especially since the advent of acid blocking meds. Insufficient acid (whether it is drug-induced or not) can also cause:

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Elevated homocysteine
  • Rosacea and acne
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Eczema and psoriasis
  • Yeast infections
  • Adrenal exhaustion
  • Vitiligo

Why does acid help? Many reasons, and one of them is that it keeps the tiny trap door shut between your stomach and esophagus. This sphincter is pH sensitive and in a healthy person, it stays shut because of the natural stomach acid. With acid deficiency, the stomach pH increases and this may cause the trap door to swing open, causing that familiar burn. Many people swear by the vinegar trick because it provides various acids including “acetic” acid, but gulping ACV forever is not my preference because it may be too caustic.

Digestive acids are sold at health food stores by names such as “betaine hydrochloride,” “betaine with pepsin” or “trimethylglycine.” Begin supplementation slowly and increase your dosage upward based on symptom relief. Take acid supplements at the end of each meal, not the beginning.  Ask a knowledgeable physician if acid supplements are appropriate for you, especially if you take medications of any sort.  Acid supplements aren’t right for everyone and should be approached with caution.

Betaine supplements work best when you eat healthy foods; you may also need to be gluten and casein free. Depending on your condition, you could also greatly benefit from probiotics, digestive enzymes, ginger, cayenne pepper, glutamine, bile salts and/or DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice). 

Did You Know?

A new study concludes that bisphenol-containing plastics (some water bottles) make men four times more likely to have erectile dysfunction. 

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About the author


I'm a graduate of the University of Florida and has been a licensed pharmacist for nearly 20 years.  People call me “America’s Most Trusted Pharmacist” because I've spent the last 10 years writing a syndicated column on health which reaches millions of people each week.

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Anonymous's picture


I have re-occuring pain on the left side that hurts with movement. I thought it was gall bladder but the gall bladder is on the right side.
This pain is above my abdomen. I don't do doctors unless the situation is extreme. This pain last for at least a week or more at a time. Thanks

Anonymous's picture

dentist reviews

I gotta agree on the vinegar fix. I have used it and it works.

I read somewhere that a large % of doctors use wikipedia at times for reference which is frightening. Doctors are delivered so much information from various sources on the "fixes" for ailments with groups like pharma working harder than most. Drugs have their place but it is not in their interest to have a spoon of vinegar fix something where a drug might. Someone is working hard sending in the "newest fix" to docs whereas no one is really working hard at sending the home remedies with the same vim and vigor.

thecompounder's picture

Larry J. Frieders, pharmacist

I agree 100% with Suzy's comments. Like her, doctors have said I was nuts - one even called me a WITCH DOCTOR. The fact remains that too many people take too many drugs. Acid lowering PPIs are among the more dangerous - especially when taken "for years". The human body does not develop an omeprazole deficiency.

Anonymous's picture


Years ago I was diagnosed as having acid reflux disease. My doctor scared me into taking Zantac and later Tagamet for the condition. He also recommended that I avoid certain foods like chocolate, grapefruit, fatty foods... I am sure anyone who is reading this knows the drill. I have had other health issues and so started to research the cause(s) of my poor health. FYI I am also obese. I took the drugs for about a year or so, but found other solutions that included taking hydrochloric acid (HCl) AND apple cider vinegar. Both helped MUCH more than any drug. Over the years I have discovered that what was missing was a healthy diet, but not the one prescribed by most doctors who know NOTHING about nutrition and health. But a real food diet that goes back to what our ancestors ate, such as pastured RAW dairy, wholesome saturated animal fats, pastured meat and eggs, organic veggies and some fruit. If I eat grain at all it has usually been soaked or sprouted. Add to this coconut oil and you have one heck of a change. I no longer have heart burn - foods that I couldn't eat like tomatoes and grapefruit are now back on the menu. I have started to eat spicy food again, something I sorely missed for those 20 years! I have a very strong immune system, since most of it resides in the stomach and rarely get sick anymore. I have lost 60 lbs already. People, we've listened to the so called health gurus who told us that saturated fat was dangerous and causes heart disease. One of the REAL dangers to us is all of the toxic oils they insist you use like soy, corn, canola, and other vegetable oils. Our bodies are STARVING for good wholesome saturated fats like butter and lard. I would say to anyone who wants to feel better, look into books like "Eat Fat, Look Thin", by Bruce Fife, "Eat Fat Lose Fat" by Sally Fallon. Also, check out for some really good information about food and diet in general.

Anonymous's picture


Research suggesting that statins cause low Vit D levels? people with low cholesterol levels also have low vit D levels because of less absorption? Both these statements may be correct but are they related? Statins decrease endogenous production of cholesterol, nothing to do with absorption of cholesterol and vit D) from foods

Anonymous's picture


Statin drugs affect much more than cholesterol levels. For example, they also almost completely eliminate the formation of CoQ10, an essential nutrient for heart and brain particularly.

See Dr. Wayne Graveline's web site for his own experience with Lipitor. It was a nightmare for him and not too long ago he said he is still having physical problems related to that. He is also one of the most vocal statin critics.

Merck has a patent to combine their statin with CoQ10 and do you think they have come out with such a drug? No way. You might stay too healthy if the CoQ10 levels were kept up.

Anonymous's picture


i take supplements. this one particular i take after meals is 800mcg. of FOLIC ACID it helps me burp.and settles my stomach. WILL THE FOLIC ACID DAMAGE THE INNER LINEING OF MY STOMACH? I HAVE A LARGE HIATAL HERNIA WHICH DOES NOT BOTHER ME. THANKS . BERNARD

Anonymous's picture


I have read Dr. Wright's book "Why Stomach Acid is good for you" and and now presently using the HCL tablets with fenugreek. After having heartburn for about 2 months, the burning immediately stopped once I started using the tablets - I am presently using 3 per meal and it seems to do the trick. I am also eating a healthy diet, hardly any meat, using apple cidar vinegar, not eating after 6 pm, etc. I have been following this pattern for about 2 weeks now. My question is how long will I have to take the HCL tablets for? Will my stomach eventually become healthy or will I have to take the tablets for life?

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