Stomach Acid. Is it friend or foe? If you ask most people they would say stomach acid is the bane of their existence keeping them reaching for their antacids at every meal. Although the common belief is that reflux/heartburn is caused by excess stomach acid, you may be surprised to learn that most reflux/heartburn is actually caused by a low production of stomach acid. How can that be? Let’s find out.
Stomach acid is a critical component of digestion. It breaks down proteins for digestion, helps us absorb iron, copper, zinc, and calcium, releases intrinsic factor for us to absorb B12, and it keeps critters at bay. It breaks down our food to digestible matter so we can properly absorb nutrients. As you can imagine, low stomach acid could be associated with deficiencies of the above mentioned nutrients. When we take antacids or other stomach acid blocking medications we shut down the process for absorption of the above nutrients. Proper acid production also sets off a cascade in the digestion process that stimulates hormones to prepare the small intestine for food and the secretion of bile to emulsify fats and move toxins and cellular waste into the colon to be excreted. Stomach acid is also one of your first lines of defense for bacteria, parasites, viruses and other pathogens looking to make your body their new home. Most of them cannot thrive in an acidic environment.
Here are a few symptoms of low stomach acid production:
- Bloating, belching, and flatulence after or during meals
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Undigested food in stools
- Chronic Candida
- Hair loss in women
- Multiple food allergies/sensitivities
- Iron deficiency and anemia
- Weak, peeling, or cracked fingernails
- Chronic fatigue
- Reduced adrenal function
- Dry, itchy skin
- Autoimmune diseases
Stomach acid production is often overlooked when addressing many of the above symptoms, but it’s vital that it is addressed in order to improve your health and energy. So if you think you may have issues with low HCL production what can you do about it? Here are my top 5 tips to improving function and regaining your health!
TOP 5 TIPS TO IMPROVE HCL
- Reduce your stress!
What?? Yes stress has a direct impact on HCL production. Our autonomic nervous system is made up of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. The parasympathetic is rest and digest and the sympathetic is fight or flight. When we are under chronic stress the sympathetic system is over active. Digestion is considered a non-essential process if we need to run from a tiger so it shuts down. The problem is when we are running from tigers all day long so our digestion takes a big hit and stomach acid is high on the list. Low HCL also increases stress in the body by reducing our nutrient absorption and lowering our resistance to pathogens. Double whammy!! What to do? First, identify areas of stress in your life and environment. Second, determine if you can make changes to deal with that stressor. Third, either remove the stressor or use practices to help you respond to stress better. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, gratitude, spending time with supportive friends/family, exercise, proper sleep etc can all help you to improve your response to stress.
- Identify food sensitivities
Food sensitivities are a major driver of stress in the body. Eating the offending foods on a regular basis creates a chronic immune response which creates stress in the body which as stated above shuts down digestion. The most common problem foods are gluten, dairy, soy, and sugar. To determine if these foods are a problem implement an elimination diet. Remove the foods for 4-6 weeks then reintroduce one at a time at least 3 days apart. Watch for any recurrence of symptoms during the 3 days. If symptoms increase leave the food out for an additional 3 weeks then try again. If symptoms still increase, remove for 3-6 months.
- Use digestive bitters
Digestive bitters can help to stimulate stomach acid production and improve digestion. They are also wonderful for production of bile and gallbladder function. To use, take a few drops as directed before each meal especially large meals with protein. Continue using as long as directed or until you are symptom free for 30 days. You can find my favorite brand in my dispensary here.
- Chew your food!
Yes simply chewing your food appropriately can improve the function of your stomach acid. Chewing stimulates the production of HCL and digestive enzymes and tells your body to prepare for digestion. When you inhale food you don’t give your body time to produce the hormone gastrin which helps to regulate acid production. By properly chewing your food you help your stomach by predigesting what you are eating.
- Supplement with HCL
HCL supplementation may be necessary to improve your stomach acid production. I highly recommend seeking out a qualified practitioner to help you implement this. You will need HCL with pepsin capsules. To test your need, eat a meal with at least 4-6 oz of protein. Add 1 capsule every few bites during the meal and monitor your body for response. You would feel some indegestion/heartburn at the point you have reached your need. For example if you feel the heartburn at 6 capsules then back off to 5 for future meals. As you improve the goal is to continue backing off until you no longer need the supplements. It may be very helpful to also bring in digestive enzymes during this process. Again, I recommend working with a qualified practitioner to determine the best protocol for you. **Note** if you are currently on medication for stomach acid please work with your doctor to remove them. While using HCL refrain from using any NSAIDS like ibuprofen as they can increase your risk for ulcers.
Repairing low stomach acid can be a lengthy process for some. It is such a critical component to overall health and very often overlooked. This simple fix can increase your energy and vitality by improving your nutrient status and immune function. So get your stomach acid kicking and say hello to better health!