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Relieve Bloating & Undigested Food Naturally: H. Pylori & Low Stomach Acid

Bloating and Undigested Food

Do you struggle with bloating after meals, feeling like food sits in your stomach like a brick, burping, or even undigested food in your stool? 

If so, this blog post is for you. 

In the intricate ecosystem of the human body, even seemingly small disruptions can lead to cascading effects. One such example lies in the delicate balance of stomach acid and its profound impact on gut health. In this blog post, we’ll dive into the interplay between low stomach acid, H. pylori infections, and their far-reaching consequences on the gut microbiome, motility, and overall digestive wellness.

Stomach acid is one of the first steps of chemical digestion, and is often disrupted, leading to a myriad of digestive complaints. In today’s day and age, it is common to be prescribed proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) or acid reducing medications but did you know that these medications were actually originally intended to be a short term relief plan, not a long term solution? 

Reducing stomach acid over time can affect more than just your stomach—it can have far-reaching consequences for your entire body.

The Role of Stomach Acid:

Stomach acid, primarily composed of hydrochloric acid (HCl), serves as the first line of defense in the digestive process. Beyond breaking down food, it plays a crucial role in sterilizing ingested pathogens, aiding in nutrient absorption (like B12), and signaling downstream digestive processes. However, various factors can disrupt this equilibrium, leading to diminished stomach acid levels. As a result of low stomach acid it is common to see undigested food in your stool. 

H. pylori: A Common Culprit:

Among the factors contributing to low stomach acid, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection is one of the most common and pervasive health concerns worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), H. pylori infects approximately half of the global population, making it one of the most prevalent bacterial infections globally [1]. This bacterium’s ability to colonize the stomach lining is remarkable, with studies indicating that H. pylori infection is often acquired during childhood and can persist throughout a person’s lifetime if left untreated [2]. H. Pylori can also be transmitted via saliva and other bodily fluids so it is very easy to pass from partner to partner. 

H. pylori infection not only triggers chronic inflammation but also disrupts the delicate balance of gastric acidity. The bacterium secretes enzymes and toxins that interfere with the stomach’s natural mechanisms for producing hydrochloric acid (HCl), leading to reduced acid levels [3]. Consequently, individuals infected with H. pylori often experience a range of gastrointestinal symptoms, including bloating, indigestion, and gastritis, which are indicative of an imbalance in gastric acidity [4].

Interestingly, H. pylori infection creates a vicious cycle wherein the presence of the bacterium lowers stomach acid levels, making the individual more susceptible to further H. pylori colonization. This cyclical relationship underscores the importance of addressing both H. pylori infection and low stomach acid concurrently to restore digestive health effectively.

The management of H. pylori infection poses significant challenges due to increasing antibiotic resistance rates observed globally. Studies have shown that antibiotic resistance among H. pylori strains is on the rise, compromising the effectiveness of traditional antibiotic therapies [5]. This resistance underscores the urgency of developing alternative treatment approaches, such as tailored antibiotic regimens or adjunct therapies, to combat H. pylori infection effectively. In our practice, we often see individuals who have previously been treated for H Pylori with no success but find relief and success with alternative treatments such as saccharomyces boulardii (here), mastic gum (here and here) and Immunoglobulins. 

H. pylori infection represents a widespread health concern with far-reaching implications for gastric health and overall well-being. Understanding the intricate relationship between H. pylori, low stomach acid, and gastrointestinal symptoms is crucial for devising comprehensive treatment strategies aimed at restoring digestive harmony and mitigating the risk of complications associated with untreated H. pylori infection.

Signs of H Pylori

  • Burping after meals: This occurs due to the disruption of normal digestive processes caused by the presence of the bacterium in the stomach.
  • Bloating after meals: This bloating may result from altered gastric motility and impaired digestion due to the inflammation and disruption of gastric acid production caused by the bacterium.
  • Burning or reflux: Many individuals with H. pylori infection experience symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux, or a burning sensation in the chest or throat. This occurs due to the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter, leading to the backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus.
  • Poor dental health: While not as commonly recognized, H. pylori infection has been associated with poor dental health, including an increased risk of dental caries (cavities), periodontal disease, and oral lesions. The presence of H. pylori in the oral cavity may contribute to these oral health issues, emphasizing the systemic effects of the bacterium beyond the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Persistent nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting, can be indicative of H. pylori infection. The inflammation and disruption of gastric acid balance caused by the bacterium may trigger feelings of queasiness and an aversion to food.
  • Unexplained weight loss: Some individuals with H. pylori infection may experience unintended weight loss despite maintaining their usual diet. This weight loss can result from decreased appetite, altered nutrient absorption, and metabolic changes associated with chronic inflammation.
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort: H. pylori infection can cause dull, gnawing abdominal pain or discomfort, particularly in the upper abdomen. This pain may worsen between meals or during the night and is often described as a burning or gnawing sensation.
  • Frequent belching or flatulence: Excessive belching (burping) and flatulence (passing gas) are common symptoms of H. pylori infection. The presence of the bacterium in the stomach can disrupt normal digestive processes, leading to increased gas production and subsequent belching or flatulence.
  • Loss of appetite: Many individuals with H. pylori infection experience a decreased appetite or early satiety, even when they haven’t consumed a substantial amount of food. This loss of appetite may stem from gastric discomfort, altered taste perception, or systemic effects of the infection.

H Pylori is a common infection we find on functional stool testing with clients who work with us both in our VIP program and gutTested package. It is common for clients to test positive for H Pylori even when they have previously been negative through breath testing or upper endoscopy. 

Signs of Low Stomach Acid: 

  • Burping after meals: Inadequate stomach acid hampers the efficient breakdown of food, leading to gas production and subsequent burping as the body attempts to expel trapped gasses.
  • Bloating after meals: This bloating occurs due to impaired digestion and delayed gastric emptying, leading to the accumulation of undigested food in the stomach and intestines. When undigested food enters the colon, its common to experience bloating 1-2 hours after eating. 
  • Burning or reflux: Despite the common perception that heartburn and acid reflux are caused by excess stomach acid, these symptoms can also arise from low stomach acid levels. Inadequate acid secretion can disrupt the closure of the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus and causing a burning sensation.
  • Nutrient/Mineral deficiencies: Low stomach acid can compromise the absorption of essential nutrients and minerals, including iron, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B12. Deficiencies in these nutrients can manifest as fatigue, weakness, neurological symptoms, and musculoskeletal issues over time.
  • Undigested Food in stool: In cases of severe hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid), undigested food particles may pass through the digestive tract without being properly broken down. This can result in the presence of recognizable food particles in the stool, indicating impaired digestion and nutrient absorption. This can also be related to meal hygiene (see this blog and this blog). 
  • Constipation or diarrhea: Low stomach acid levels can disrupt the balance of gut flora and slow down or speed up bowel movements, leading to symptoms of constipation or diarrhea. These changes in bowel habits may also be accompanied by abdominal discomfort or irregularity. 
  • Fatigue and weakness: Chronic hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) can impair nutrient absorption, particularly of iron and vitamin B12, which are essential for energy metabolism and red blood cell production. As a result, individuals with low stomach acid may experience persistent fatigue, weakness, or lethargy.
  • Iron-deficiency anemia: Inadequate stomach acid can hinder the absorption of dietary iron, leading to iron-deficiency anemia characterized by symptoms such as pale skin, fatigue, shortness of breath, and weakness. This type of anemia may persist despite iron supplementation if the underlying cause of low stomach acid is not addressed.
  • Brittle nails and hair loss: Insufficient stomach acid impairs the absorption of essential nutrients like zinc and biotin, which are vital for maintaining healthy hair, skin, and nails. Consequently, individuals with low stomach acid may experience brittle nails, thinning hair, or hair loss over time.
  • Recurring infections: Low stomach acid levels compromise the stomach’s natural defense mechanism against ingested pathogens, increasing the risk of recurrent infections, particularly gastrointestinal and respiratory infections. Frequent bouts of illness or slow recovery from infections may signal underlying hypochlorhydria. One of the main infections we see recurring with low stomach acid is candida/yeast. 

Downstream Effects on Gut Health:

The repercussions of compromised stomach acid extend far beyond the stomach itself, reverberating throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract. Here’s how:

Disrupted Gut Microbiome: 

Adequate stomach acid acts as a natural barrier against harmful bacteria, preventing their proliferation in the small intestine. When stomach acid levels are low, this barrier weakens, especially if undigested food is present, paving the way for bacterial overgrowth and dysbiosis. Imbalances in the gut microbiome can lead to various digestive issues, including gas, bloating, and altered bowel habits.

Impaired Nutrient Absorption:

Optimal stomach acid is essential for the breakdown and absorption of essential nutrients, including iron, calcium, and vitamin B12. Reduced acidity hampers this process, potentially resulting in nutrient deficiencies despite a balanced diet. Over time, these deficiencies can manifest as fatigue, weakness, and other systemic symptoms. In our practice, we often see clients with very low mineral status through HTMA testing and typically low stomach acid is a part of the puzzle for them. 

Altered Gut Motility:

Proper stomach acid levels regulate the rate at which food empties from the stomach into the small intestine. When acid production is compromised, gastric emptying slows down, leading to delayed transit times and gastrointestinal discomfort. Poor gut motility can exacerbate symptoms of bloating, constipation, and abdominal pain. Although your symptoms might be somewhat relieved by motility agents, we want to take a look even deeper and support the entire digestive system, top to bottom. 

As awareness grows about the interconnectedness of stomach acid, H. pylori, and gut health, it’s crucial that you feel empowered to take proactive steps towards optimal digestion. If you resonate with the symptoms discussed or suspect underlying digestive imbalances, consider taking our free quiz to identify potential root causes. Armed with this knowledge, you can start to address your GI symptoms and find relief for good. 

Remember, your gut health is not just a reflection of what you eat but also how efficiently your body processes and absorbs nutrients. 

Curious if low stomach acid could be contributing to your digestive symptoms. Take our free quiz: Why am I bloated?

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Hi, I’m Dr. Heather

Registered dietitian and helps people struggling with bloating, constipation, and IBS find relief from their symptoms and feel excited about food again.

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Dr. Heather Finley