Stop using Apple Cider Vinegar for low stomach acid and do this insteadFeb 23, 2021
I don’t mean to poo-poo the medicinal properties of Apple Cider Vinegar – there are many divine uses for this magical health elixir!
However, despite its (growing) cult following, I never suggest using ACV as a digestive stimulant or to augment low levels of stomach acid. Especially when a much less dangerous and effective option is available that is just as easy, if not more so. More on that later.
Here’s why it’s on my no-no list:
1) ACV is very acidic and caustic, and thus, its contact with tissue should be limited.
When you drink a few sips of ACV before your meals, as is widely touted across the inter-webs as the end-all-be-all easy digestive fix for you-name-it-symptom… you’re exposing your mouth, esophagus, and stomach tissue to the irritating liquid.
Now, for the vast majority of people who present with symptoms of low stomach acid (i.e. burning symptoms, belching, bloating, bad breath, etc.), they, nearly by default, also suffer from a compromised protective mucosa. The mucosa is the body’s mucous membrane that secretes liquid to protect the vulnerable epithelium from the potent acidity of the digestive juices. The stomach is the only organ built to withstand these juices, and even then, only in the presence of a robust mucosa.
However, if this mucosa layer is compromised, the tissue is already inflamed. And thus, exposing this inflamed tissue to the acids of ACV will undoubtedly exacerbate the issue. More burning is a given in these scenarios – and actually, is a very common reaction reported by those who try to implement ACV regularly (look it up). Especially if this habit is carried out on a long-term basis
As a side note: continuously exposing your teeth and, by extension, enamel to this acid is also quite abrasive and will likely erode your enamel over time, creating increased tooth sensitivity and fragility.
If I were you, I wouldn’t risk all of this damage to use ACV!
2) ACV isn’t very strong, and not sufficient for most people with impaired stomach acid levels.
Unfortunately, here in America we tend to be severely low in digestive secretions (welcome to our brave new world where 1 in 2 people has been diagnosed with a chronic illness – yep, that’s real).
While ACV can provide a modest acidity boost for those with mild deficiency, it’s just not potent enough to pack the therapeutic punch that we likely need – and can easily get from our trusted method of augmenting stomach acid (which we’ll get to in a moment).
Sometimes this leads to those who are in need of more support trying to drink more and more ACV per meal in order to try to increase the acid benefit they obtain - but this leads to trouble when you consider how irritating ACV can be on the gut, especially in high amounts.
Really, what is needed is a non-liquid form of acid augmentation that doesn’t douse our mouth and esophageal tissue in damaging acid on the way down to the stomach, but that also provides a stronger dose when it arrives in the stomach.
3) ACV doesn’t address the root of the problem.
Nutritional deficiencies serve as a major driver of chronically low stomach acid levels. And a little known secret is that this creates a positive feedback loop.
1) Nutritional deficiencies reduce the body’s natural abilities to produce stomach acid.
2) And low stomach acid reduces the amount of nutrients you can glean from your food.
3) The lower net nutrition exacerbates the nutrient deficiencies.
And the cycle continues.
ACV temporarily augments the stomach acidity level – but this is imprecise and fairly temporary. The likelihood that it is enough change to impact any real nutrient absorption is low. Therefore, taking ACV is not going to result in your body naturally recalibrating and producing acid again via replenished nutrient stores. It’s a Band-Aid at best, and dangerous at worst.
OK, hopefully by now we get it. ACV is a flawed way to tackle this low stomach acid problem. So now let’s talk about what to do instead.
Instead of using ACV – which requires too much caustic contact with sensitive tissue, is relatively weak in its mechanism, and fails to address the root cause of nutrient deficiencies – the only way to properly address your stomach acid levels is to use supplemental Betaine Hydrochloric Acid.
Hydrochloric acid or ‘HCl’ is the primary acid that composes stomach acid – so by taking exogenous HCl, we’re merely augmenting the natural substance that already exists in our body and filling the gap between what we produce and what we need.
Betaine HCl tends to come in capsule or tablet form and is, arguably, even easier to use than ACV.
Simply taking a dose mid-meal is often all that is required to make significant digestive gains and reduce food sensitivities.
Likewise, the pill form allows you to take as much Betaine HCl as is needed, according to your unique needs – which may be very great – without exposing your mouth and esophageal tissue to damaging acid. The acid, instead, is only released once it gets to the stomach, which is built to withstand high acidity. It’s a more targeted and less dangerous approach, where you get a strong acid boost without chugging half a gallon of ACV…
Let’s take a moment to define pH. pH stands for ‘power of Hydrogen’ and is a measure of acidity from 0 – 14 where the low numbers are more acidic and the high numbers are more basic (i.e. battery acid has pH of around 0, and water being neutral has a pH of around 7.0). The stomach has evolved to have a pH between 1.5 to 3.0 – very acidic!
Because Betaine HCl is so potent, it is able to push the stomach’s pH back into the optimal window (between 1.5 – 3.0) where nutrients can be absorbed readily. This works to interrupt the positive feedback cycle we discussed previously, by increasing acidity enough to increase absorption, which increases nutrient stores, and likewise, innate stomach acid building capability.
This, in turn, often results in those who use Betaine HCl strategically, being able to eventually wean off of the supplement because they’ve worked to rebalance their body’s natural digestive systems - which require a low pH in the stomach.
Thus, Betaine HCl is the clear front-runner when compared with ACV because it:
1) Bypasses more fragile tissue in the mouth and esophagus, only exposing the stomach to acid
2) Is strong enough to achieve symptom abatement without taking as much
3) Is able to normalize the stomach’s pH so that nutrients are absorbed and natural production kicks in
4) BONUS: It’s also EASIER to take because it’s in capsule form, so you can bring it with you in your car or purse without lugging a big messy bottle of ACV wherever you go
Now, while Betaine HCl is safe and easy to use, figuring out your unique dose can take some finagling. The widely referenced “HCl Challenge” methods found across the internet for determining one’s dose are actually quite dangerous and problematic.
In short, this is because the methods fail to account for the damaged mucosa we discussed earlier and move too fast through the process. This results in many who embark on this protocol ending up experiencing more burning and then turning more permanently to their Prilosec.
However, there is a way to go through this process in a safe way that accounts for your own health history and symptom presentation. I’ve used all of the clinical insight I’ve gained in my practice, working with more sensitive autoimmune populations, to create a system that minimizes risk, while leveraging the impressive benefits afforded by HCl supplementation. To learn more about my 4-step 'SAFE' method, read about it here.
To understand exactly why I never recommend using a traditional HCl Challenge, check out this article.
Confused about whether or not you need to think about fixing your stomach acid? Consider taking our free quiz all about whether or not you have low stomach acid.