Hypothyroidism and Low Stomach Acid

Stomach acid – let’s face it, its not really something you give much thought to. Yet stomach acid is actually one of the most important aspects of our digestive system.

Stomach acid (or gastric acid) is made by the cells that line our stomachs, on demand when we eat. Adequate levels of stomach acid are required to absorb the nutrients in the foods we eat and to protect our stomach from bad bacteria and becoming inflamed.

You know how hypothyroidism can dry out your skin, hair and nails? Well hypothyroidism can also ‘dry out’ our stomach acid.

Hypothyroidism can affect both the ability and the amount of gastric juice producing cells in our stomach. Consequently, our bodies are not able to effectively absorb all of the nutrients in our food, leading to malabsorption. In particular, low stomach acid and hypothyroidism can result in non-optimal levels of iron, vitamin D and B12.

As with all autoimmune diseases, hypothyroidism can be characterised by inflammation. Low levels of stomach acid means the body can’t protect itself against bad forms of bacteria which can cause inflammation in our stomach.

When our stomachs become inflamed from not enough stomach acid, food can just sit in there, without being digested properly. And when food isn’t digested properly we get those bloated, gassy and funny poo symptoms!

How do I know if I have low stomach acid?

Acid reflux, indigestion and heart burn – all symptoms of high levels of stomach acid right? Nope, wrong! It is actually low levels of stomach acid that cause these issues!

Unfortunately, many GPs put us on medications that further suppress stomach acid, making the condition even worse.

Ok, so how do I treat low stomach acid?

When you Google “low stomach acid and hypothyroidism” many sites say the best way to improve your levels of stomach acid is to heal your hypothyroidism – but as we know all too well, that’s easier said than done!

Correcting cortisol, aldosterone and thyroid hormone levels are important in getting stomach acid back to normal levels. However this can be a tricky process and in the interim we need to aid digestion to help heal.

Home remedies can also assist in the process of returning our stomach acid back to optimal levels. Here at Healed by Bacon we like to use apple cider vinegar – we mix one tablespoon of unfiltered, unpasteurised and unheated apple cider vinegar (we like to use Braggs) with a cup of water, about 10 minutes before a meal. We also like to use a probiotic on an empty stomach, morning or night.

But just be aware – (1) don’t drink apple cider vinegar by itself as it can burn your oesophagus, (2) if you have high levels of potassium it can be more productive to use lemon juice in water instead and (3) if you suffer from peptic ulcers it is important to treat that first.

The Baking Soda Test – A simple, homemade test for low stomach acid

This is a quick and easy test that you can do in the comfort of your own home, to see if your stomach acid levels are below optimal. But remember, it is just an indication.

  1. After you wake, before eating or drinking, mix 1/4 tsp of baking soda in a cup of water and drink.
  2. Take note to see if you burp within the next 2-3 minutes.
  3. If you don’t burp – you have low stomach acid (as optimal levels of stomach acid will react with the baking soda to form carbon dioxide gas).
  4. Repeat this for the next couple of days, to make sure your reaction was not a once off.

Bizarre Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Have you ever experienced a cluster of symptoms and thought ‘oh my god what is wrong with me’ or something along those lines. Well to be honest, there’s a good chance that it could be related to your thyroid.

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located near the throat that controls just about every function in the body, from energy levels to pooping (yes I said it, pooping)! A normal, functioning thyroid signals the release of the correct amount of hormones, TSH, T3 and T4. However, an ‘underactive’ thyroid does not signal for enough of these hormones whereas an ‘overactive’ thyroid signals for too much production.

Each of these conditions can progress to more severe problems! Whilst many people who suffer from an underactive thyroid or Hashimoto’s would love to have a bit of the overactive thyroid from time to time (increased energy levels, weight loss etc), an overactive thyroid can actually place great stress on the heart and eventually burns out into an underactive thyroid anyway.

I suffer from Hashimoto’s, which is the autoimmune disease whereby the thyroid gland is attacked by your own immune system, leading to worsened symptoms of an underactive thyroid. Both underactive and overactive thyroid have unique, and often bizarre, symptoms.

Given these conditions are often not acknowledged by traditional western doctors, they are mostly left untreated or passed off as something else. Thankfully, through the help of a good nutritional doctor, my body is replaced, via T3 only therapy, and therefore able to function like a normal person (for most of the time, anyway).

Autoimmune diseases like to attack in what are called ‘flare-ups’; which are where your symptoms return and worsen for a few days. These attacks can be brought on by a number of things like eating gluten, sugar or legumes, stress, changes in weather, poor sleep or late nights, alcohol and many other things!

Basically, if you experience even the slightest change in your daily routine, you can experience a flare up! But, for the most time, I don’t experience many of the symptoms I had prior to medication! Anyway, I have put together a list of the weird and wacky symptoms that are common to underactive thyroids as well as its progression to Hashi’s!

Underactive Thyroid Symptoms

The symptoms of both hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are one and the same and can be virtually silent in the early stages. For me, I lived much of my life thinking my symptoms were just normal, this was how everyone felt! The symptoms can  vary in severity and include:-

  • Decreased stamina
  • Depression
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Gaining weight easily despite any method used to lose weight (I know people with underactive thyroids who have eaten less than 800 calories a day and still managed to gain weight)!
  • Dry skin and brittle hair
  • Deepening of the voice
  • Poor digestion ie farts!!
  • Brain fog – inability to think clearly
  • Sweet cravings

Hashimoto’s Symptoms

  • Worsening of already existing symptoms
  • Unexplained diarrhea or constipated
  • Intolerances to heat and cold
  • Tightness in the throat
  • Inflammation – can manifest at joint pain, skin conditions or the sort
  • Nodules on the thyroid gland
  • Thinning/loss of eyebrows
  • Puffy face
  • High cholesterol
  • Infertility/menstrual problems
  • High blood glucose progressing to insulin resistance
  • Appetite irregularities (either really hungry or extreme loss of appetite)
  • Feeling extremely satisfied or still hungry after eating
  • Insomnia
  • Sleeping solidly but still waking up tired
  • Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
  • Low body temperature
  • Feeling that you don’t know what to do with yourself
  • Hair loss – arm hair, head hair, hair between the nether regions
  • Easy bruising
  • Burning sensation in the limbs
  • Anaemia
  • Skin sores (can also be internal ie in the nose or mouth)
  • Multiple food intolerances
  • General sluggish feeling
  • Inappropriate weeping (crying at the most inappropriate of times)
  • Balance issues
  • Hypersensitivity to loud noises, bright lights and smells
  • Acne
  • Anti-social feelings – can’t be bothered going out

The symptoms I struggled with in the early stages were weight gain around the belly area (no matter what I did) depression, fatigue and a terrible brain fog, feeling cold all of the time and a very low pulse – 42bpm! (Whilst I am fit I am not a Tour De France cyclist).