I don’t ♥ heartburn.
I used to get some wicked heartburn as a child, and even into my early 20’s – especially after a bowlful of my mom’s spaghetti. (sorry ma … love you.) Or other times I’d feel like a meal had turned itself into a heavy brick sitting and slowly rotting in my stomach. I’d be rendered useless for hours waiting like a snake for the decaying mass to painfully inch its way through my body, or I’d be up all night because after it would finally leave my stomach it would blast through my intestines and I’d be sitting on the toilet for hours wasting away my youth. Other than heartburn and indigestion, have you ever given much thought to your stomach acid?
When we think of “heartburn” or that burning sensation often accompanying a meal, most people (including myself at one point) think its because we produce too much stomach or hydrochloric acid (HCl). It’s actually rarely the case, in fact, it’s because there is too little! And too little HCl is a very, very big problem when it comes to digestion.
Quick fact: HCl is produced by the parietal cells in the stomach lining. HCl is just one component in the gastric juice that is secreted when we consume a meal.
Here are some of the causes of low stomach acid so you can see if this might be an issue for you. Then I’ll get into some details of how we can fix it!
- A diet high in meat (particularly red meat), dairy products, refined and processed foods, and fast foods1 – checkmark for my diet as a child!!!
- Drinking chlorinated water, or iced cold and/or carbonated beverages.1
- Just like everything heads downhill as we age so does the production of HCl, however, young people even children may have underactive stomachs when their diets contain too much crap.1
- Stress, especially low grade, long term emotionally oriented life stress is a huge factor that contributes to an underactive stomach.1
- Ditch your coffee and ciggie – coffee consumption, and nicotine speeds transit and empties the stomach too quickly.1
- Dehydration1 – are you drinking enough water!?
With cause comes effect:
- Are you pooping properly? An underactive stomach can affect the proper functioning of the colon, leading to constipation.1
- Low stomach acid leads to poor absorption of all minerals especially calcium, iron, zinc.1 Many of my clients complain of fatigue, or are constantly hungry despite eating plenty. Stands to reason they aren’t absorbing properly.
- Iron deficiency anemia2
- More than half the people with gallstones show decreased HCl secretion compared with gallstone-free patients.2
- Diabetics have lower secretion, as do people with eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis, vitiligo, and tooth and periodontal disease.2
- Leaky gut, gas and bloating, bad breath, burning sensation in stomach, heartburn, heavy, tired feeling after eating1,2
- Stools are poorly formed, pale, greasy, floating, undigested food particles1
- With low stomach acid levels there can be an increase in bacteria, yeasts and parasites growing in the intestines. 2
Like I said low stomach acid is a big problem. In fact if you have low stomach acid, you pretty much eff up the entire process of digestion. Think of the digestive process as a conveyor belt or an assembly line in a factory. “If the first person does a poor job, then no matter how well the rest of the people in the line may work, the end product is likely to be of a poor quality” 3
The first person on the assembly line is the stomach acid! If there is no stomach acid then the body cannot make/release digestive enzymes, causing everything listed above and more to likely happen. (Next post will be all about enzymes, stay tuned!)
Here are a few things you can do to increase stomach acid production:
- Drink the juice of half a lemon squeezed in water or 1 teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water 20-30 minutes before meals.2
- Cabbage juice is a strong stimulant. Having a few spoonfuls of cabbage juice or small cabbage salad before a meal will help to digest it. Sauerkraut and its juice are even stronger.3
- Rosemary, ginger, cumin, or orange peel used to make tea and ingested before meals can also be helpful.2
- Consume smaller meals more often.1
- Avoid when possible red meat, dairy, convenience foods, alcohol.1
- Eat vegetables with active enzymes or add some raw with every meal.1
- Increase consumption of fermented foods.1
- Limit cold fluid intake with meals.1
- Avoid eating when rushed, upset, or stressed. Chew your food.1
- Niacin (vitamin B3) and Vitamin B6 stimulates HCl production.2
- Betaine HCl supplements can be taken right before or during a meal to increase stomach acid production, and aid in digestion of the meal. (Please talk to your health care provider about supplement use)
1 Course Notes. Symptomatology. (2011). The Institute of Holistic Nutrition.
2 Haas, M.D., E.M. (2006). Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine. Berkley, CA: Celestial Arts
3Campbell-McBride, Dr. Natasha (2004). Gut and Psychology Syndrome. Medinform Publishing.