I hate to say it, but there’s fairly good odds that your
digestive system isn’t running optimally. But fear not! I’ll provide you with the tools to dial in your digestion and start increasing your ability to absorb nutrients today.
This is going to be another two-part article. The first article is going to go into the details of why we all aren’t producing enough stomach acid and how it connects to reflux issues, and the second article is going to give you the tools to fix it by teaching you how to self-test to find out if you have hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) and how to start digesting food properly again.
But first, ask yourself this… does anything on the below list sound like you (1)? Because if so, there’s a good chance you may be producing low hydrochloric acid (HCl)…
- Gas or belching
- Heartburn/acid reflux
- Feeling bloated within one hour of eating
- Bad breath/halitosis
- Lost taste for meat
- Sweat that has a strong odor
- Stomach upset after taking vitamin/mineral supplement
- You feel better when you don’t eat
- Sleepy after meals
- Fingernails chip easily, break, or don’t grow quickly
- Iron supplementation doesn’t affect anemia status
- Stomach pain/cramps
- Chronic diarrhea
- Undigested food in stool
- Crave acidic/sour foods
- You’re getting older…
And even if most of these symptoms don’t pertain to you, you probably have some digestive dysfunction if you’re over 25. A lot of research shows that as we age, our ability to produce stomach acid decreases. To get an idea, here’s a study that showed that 30 percent of men and women over 60 produce little to no stomach acid (2). But even if you’re still in your 20s and you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you’re probably not producing enough stomach acid/HCl. I’ve tested a lot of different age groups and what I am finding is most often, no matter the age, people aren’t producing enough HCl.
Why Should You Care
Producing enough stomach acid will aid you in a lot of important processes. For example…
1) Breaking Down Protein
We all know that having a working stomach and digestive system is critical for optimal health. For one, the HCl our stomach produces breaks down the protein we eat and turns it into amino acids. From there, the body can make new proteins, nucleic acids, enzymes and co-enzymes, hormones, and all the cells in our body. Basically we need an ample supply of amino acids to be happy and healthy, and being able to digest protein is critical for this process.
2) Proper Absorption of Minerals
HCl helps ionize the minerals in the food you eat, making them more easily usable in the body.
3) Kills Pathogens
When you eat something, even if it is properly cooked and/or cleaned, you still may be at risk of eating some sort of living creature that could be pathogenic in your body. If you have the proper amount of HCl, you’re better equipped to kill off those nasty critters.
4) Regulates the Ileocecal Valve (ICV)
The ICV is the “door” between the large and small intestine. If you don’t have enough HCl, your stomach pH won’t be acidic enough to signal for the ICV to function properly. What this means is that it may stay open when it’s not supposed to. As a result, the bacteria living in the large intestine can migrate into your small intestine and cause a condition called small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Not good.
What Causes Low HCl?
Ok, so you’ve probably got the idea now that HCl is a big deal… but what causes low stomach acid production to occur in the first place? This is a multifaceted problem, but to get an idea…
When we are are stressed, our body shifts into a “fight or flight” response. This is useful in situations where we need a burst of energy and/or extra mental acuity to get out of a dangerous situation, but when we are spending a good chunk of our waking hours in this “action mode,” our stress hormones begin to work against us. Specifically what happens is the blood that should be going to our GI tract to aid in digestion is instead being shunted away to our muscles, lungs, and brain to get us to move and think quickly. As as result, our digestive system shuts down and the food we eat essentially just sits there and rots, because it doesn’t get processed and broken down properly (3).
Moreover, as much as we have many wonderful advancements in technology and medicine, we live in an increasingly toxic world. This adds even more of a stressful burden on our body, and it’s no surprise not only digestion but so many other processes in our body begin to shut down. How our world is slowly stressing us via toxins is a huge topic, but if you’re curious to go deeper a great starting place is reading Doris Rapp’s book: Our Toxic World: A Wake Up Call.
2) Not Chewing Enough
Digestion doesn’t start in the stomach… it starts in the mouth! And if you’re swallowing your food who like a boa constrictor you aren’t giving your body enough time to produce the enzymes needed to assist with digesting your food (4).
3) You’re Not A Meat Eater
In addition, if you just generally don’t eat a lot of meat or you’re a vegetarian/vegan… odds are you are not producing enough stomach acid. This is due to a downregulation effect of digestion hormone, gastrine, which stimulates stomach acid. If you aren’t eating a lot of dense protein, the body will downregulate the necessary chemical pathways needed to signal hydrochloric acid production. The problem with this is even if you aren’t eating dense animal protein, you’re still now opening yourself up to some of the other issues listed above, such as not being properly protected from parasites, mineral ionization, and Ileocecal Valve problems.
4) You’re Drinking Water With Meals
When you drink water with your meals you are diluting the acidity of your stomach acid. This renders it less effective. Besides soupy foods, it’s better to not consume any liquids 20 minutes before or after you have a meal.
5) You’re Taking Antacids Because Of Heartburn/Acid Reflux
Jonathan Wright, a medical doctor from the Tahoma Clinic in Washington confirms that when he treats his patients for heartburn and GERD, they almost always have low, not high, HCl. He even wrote an entire book on the subject called Why Stomach Acid is Good For You.
Dr. Wright found that when testing patients over the age of 40, over 90 percent of the time their acid reflux or GERD issues were connected to a low stomach acid status.
So taking something like Rolaids or Tums, which is basically calcium carbonate—a mineral that alkalizes– is further decreasing most people’s already low stomach acid status.
And then there are the big guns such as prescribed proton-pump inhibitors (PPI) which directly block the production of gastric acid…
I don’t know about you, but I can see why there is an increasing population of elderly people producing no stomach acid at all. They are taking drugs to decrease stomach acid in an already low stomach-acid-producing body! Insanity!
In addition, long-term use of PPI’s is associated an an increased risk of hip fractures (5), which makes sense because if you’re decreasing your HCl output, you aren’t absorbing minerals!
It’s a Wrap!
That should do it for now. I hope you found this article as interesting as it was for me to write. Please check out my next article where I go deeper into this subject and give you the tools to self-test and find out if you aren’t producing enough stomach acid and what you can do to correct it using supplements and food. Thanks for reading!