I’m constantly being asked, “Why do you think your SIBO kept relapsing?” Honestly, I think it’s hard to ever truly know for sure. But we narrowed it down to low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria). Because I believe that this could be the bottleneck reason for so many of your own relapses, I wanted to investigate even more on all things stomach acid. I began in one place, and while there, it took me to achlorhydria. So I’m starting here today.
SIBO and Stomach Acid
If you’ve never considered a lack of stomach acid to be the bottleneck for SIBO relapses, please consider this:
A reduction in gastric acid can result in bacterial overgrowth in the stomach and proximal small bowel, and the number of organisms rises as the intragastric pH rises.
Adequate stomach acid is critical. While the pH levels in our body run on a scale of 0 – 14 (0 being most acidic and 14 most alkaline), the GI tract varies from just 1 – 8.
This is because we want and need acid in the GI tract in order to appropriately break down food for digestion. For those of you who are highly visual learners as I am, this is a fantastic graphic (and information from the National Institutes of Health back it up perfectly).
So how do you know if you have adequate stomach acid? You could start with my 33 Ways to Tell if You Have Low Stomach Acid.
What is Achlorhydria
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Achlorhydria is when there is the absence of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. In other words, whereas hypochlorhydria indicates very little stomach acid, achlorhydria indicates almost no stomach acid.
Hypochlorhydria is already associated with all the low-stomach acid problems, but with achlorhydria, there might be even more. Here is a list of some problems associated with achlorhydria (not necessarily comprehensive):
- acid reflux
- bacterial overgrowth (<– there you go!)
- changes in vision
- general weakness
- hair loss
- severe nutritional deficiencies (B12 is probably the most common)
- undigested food in stools
- weak, brittle nails
Like hypochlorhydria, the risk for achlorhydria increases with age (stomach acid decreases with age). Other risk factors include: hypothyroidism, medications (yes, even the overuse of those acid-blockers your doctor keeps telling you to constantly take for heartburn), surgery, h.pylori and other gut infections, and autoimmune conditions.
How do I know if I have achlorhydria?
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- Make note of any signs and symptoms you might have.
- Keep track of your at-home stomach acid test outcome.
- Prepare appropriately for your doctor’s visit.
- Based on all of that, here are some follow-up tests your doctor might perform:
And by the way, once achlorhydria is confirmed, a hydrogen breath test can check for bacterial overgrowth. You see? Hand-in-hand, achlorhydria and SIBO can and oftentimes do co-exist.
For me, because I’ve healed so much, I’m not concerned with if I have/had hypochlorhydria or achlorhydria. If I had to do this journey over again, I think I would want to know. So if you’re just getting started, consider knowing.
Stomach acid is critical. I can’t stress it enough.
You will heal. I will help.