Indigestion, heartburn, and acid reflux are a huge problem in the United States. Americans spend more than $7 billion per year on acid suppressing drugs and another $4 billion on OTC antacids such as Tums, because we’re told that too much stomach acid is the cause of our issues.
Surprisingly, the actual cause of indigestion in 90% of the population is insufficient stomach acid!
Sometimes, no matter how clean our diet is, we’re still low in certain nutrients. We may notice a zinc and magnesium deficiency that’s showing up in brittle or white-spotted nails. Or maybe it’s a B vitamin deficiency that’s showing up as cracks and fissures on the tongue. Why do these nutritional deficiencies continue even when we’re making lifestyle changes? We seem to be doing all the right things, and yet there’s still part of the puzzle missing.
The “puzzle” metaphor here is key: As the Eastern saying goes, if it took you 5 years to get sick, it will take you 5 years to get better. Healing is a process that happens over time, requiring patience, diligence, and unconditional love towards your body no matter how long it takes.
When we treat our bodies poorly over time, we create certain deficiencies and allow microbes into our system that take time to heal and detoxify. A clean diet focused on whole foods in their natural form is always number 1 on your road to healing, and without it you will never get well. However, there are other things we must look at when a person has been symptomatic for so long.
- Have you lessened your emotional stress or developed proper coping mechanisms and outlets to handle your emotional burden? Meditation is key!
- Are you healing and sealing your leaky gut (if this is part of your puzzle, of course) with healthy fats and gelatinous foods such as aloe vera and chia seeds?
- Are you replenishing the minerals that have depleted over time (and the minerals that drain every time you get stressed, such as magnesium and zinc?)
- Have you completed a parasite cleanse or liver flush to remove the organisms that take residence in our bodies when we give them a comfortable environment to do so? A huge part of my personal journey toward healing involved parasite cleansing, and I expelled hundreds of flukes from my liver. Liver flukes are the particles in your stool that look like tomato skins, even though you haven’t eaten tomatoes in days. Have you ever seen them? You can read my post on parasites here.
- And finally, today’s topic: are you restoring your stomach acid so that you can actually use your food’s nutrients?
All of these things are interconnected in our complex health web. If you eat a diet rich in plants and whole foods, drink ginger tea every morning, clean the garbage out, increase your bowel movement frequency, and restore your body’s ability to absorb nutrients (via stomach acid), you can achieve complete healing.
Effects Of Low Stomach Acid In The Body
- Failure to break down proteins into amino acids. Without amino acids in the bloodstream, your body cannot produce available neurotransmitters. This can lead to mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
- Undigested food in stool.
- “Bad” bacteria, candida, and other microbes get to thrive. Pathogenic and food-borne bacteria, usually easily killed by a low stomach pH, can make their way in and thrive in the intestines. A lack of acidity in the stomach means pathogens have a comfortable environment where there’s nothing trying to eat away at them! Researchers have shown that a common pathogen, E. coli (Escherichia coli) is inactivated when stomach acidity is high, with a pH ranging between 1.5 and 4.0. (1)
- Bloating, nausea when eating or taking supplements, and feeling tired directly after meals.
- Low stomach acid = inability to absorb nutrients properly. There’s nothing there to break them down, as referred to into the amino aid bullet. Jonathan Wright, MD, Medical Director of the Tahoma Clinic, reports observing that a number of minerals and micro-trace elements are poorly absorbed in cases of low stomach acid, including calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, chromium, selenium, manganese, vanadium, molybdenum and cobalt. (2)
- Like I mentioned in the beginning of this post, low stomach acid is the real cause of heartburn, GERD, and acid reflux. See below.
- Constipation, bloating, gas, and belching. Food sits and ferments instead of getting broken down.
- The pathogens (candida, parasites) that can thrive in a low stomach environment cause leaky gut. Leaky gut lets food get past the lining of your stomach and into your blood, causing your body to ‘reject’ the food as if you have an allergy to it. Hello food allergies!
- Additional Symptoms:
There are also several disorders associated with insufficient stomach acid:
So How Does Low Stomach Acid Cause Acid Reflux?
The Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) separates the esophagus and the stomach. Proper stomach acid levels signal the LES to close tightly, so that food digestion can take place and not harm the esophageal lining. However, low stomach acid levels don’t give off the closing signal, and cause the sphincter to loosen. Once loose, acidic stomach fluid comes back up into the lower part of the esophagus causing a burning sensation. This is why a large meal will give you heartburn. There’s not enough acid in your stomach to saturate the heavy meal, so the LES doesn’t close. Furthermore, there is also a pyloric sphincter that separates the stomach from the small intestine. The body will not open this second sphincter if the contents of the stomach are not properly acidified. Instead of moving through the pyloric sphincter, food sits in the stomach and ferments, producing gas and pressure (also making the LES leak open).
How To Fix It
Cleansing microbes will increase your stomach acid, and likewise, increasing your stomach acid will naturally create an environment where these microbes can’t survive. It’s a great idea to eat anti-parasitic/anti-candida foods (garlic, carrots, pumpkin seeds, wild yam, etc.) and to do parasite/liver cleanses to get the bad guys out. And it’s an even better idea to incorporate practices into your daily regimen that will increase your stomach acid so that you have an environment where microbes can’t survive!
1. For immediate relief without drugs, but not a permanent (lifestyle) solution: Supplement HCL.
Did you know that doctors used to prescribe HCL replacement therapy for many symptoms and even clinical conditions for over 100 years? Before the early 1900s, doctors knew that a myriad of symptoms could be traced back to the microbes, fermenting undigested food, and poor environment that resulted from insufficient stomach acid. But guess what? The Rockefellers, who controlled the information going into medical schools, knew they could make a huge profit off of misinforming medical students and crafting a lie about overproduction of stomach acid instead.
“Encouraged by the legal drug industry, medical students are not taught that hypochlorhydria (inadequate stomach acid production) is treatable only with unpatentable, natural replacement therapies. Instead, their education concentrates on hyperchlorhydria (excess stomach acid production) and its treatment with patentable acid blocker drugs and highly profitable over-the-counter antacids.” – Jonathan Wright, MD, The Digestive Theory of Aging
See what they did there? They knew the root problem: insufficient stomach acid causes the lower esophageal sphincter to malfunction and open loosely, sending acid back up. Instead of treating the cause for good, they realized they could sell pharmaceutical acid blocking drugs and over-the-counter antacids that cover up a symptom of the root cause. Over time, these antacid drugs make the real root problem worse so you’ll be a customer for life, getting sicker with each pill you take. Less stomach acid —> more food putrefaction —> more symptoms —> more medication!
How to take HCL supplementation: I use HCL & Pepsin and only with a meal containing protein. I started off by taking one capsule at the beginning of my meal (after a few bites). As always, I eat slowly and chew thoroughly. I had no discomfort or burning sensation in my stomach, so I graduated to 2 HCL capsules at lunch. There is no warming sensation once again, so I moved up to 3 for dinner. At 4 capsules, I felt some warming in my stomach. As soon as you feel that sensation, you know your sweet spot is the dosage right before that (so for me, my dose is 3 per meal). If your stomach has a burning sensation immediately upon the first capsule, your stomach lining may be too fragile at the moment to introduce HCL. Heal your leaky gut first with manuka honey, plenty of aloe vera, and gelatinous foods. Caution: Do NOT use HCL supplementation while on prescription medications similar or identical to corticosteroids/anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil, Tylenol etc. NSAIDs eat away at the GI lining and there is a risk of a stomach ulcer if HCL is introduced while the gut is so weak. That being said, do not use HCL if you have stomach ulcers!
2.REDUCE STRESS & Change Your Eating Environment!
This seems like a no-brainer, but so many people forget this or don’t think it’s important. But yes, it’s #2 on my list! You absolutely cannot eat a meal while running out the door or on the go. Relax and only eat while sitting. Take 3-5 deep breaths before you begin and let them out slowly. Chew each bite until it’s complete mush before swallowing. You cannot skip this step if you want optimal digestion and nutrient uptake. Eat around candles and flowers; make your eating environment as beautiful and relaxing as humanly possible! Do not drink more than 4 ounces of water with meals and within 1 hour of eating. This dilutes the stomach acid.
3. Eat a small amount of fermented food with every meal: kimchi, sauerkraut, organic unpasteurized pickles, kombucha, etc. Cook your vegetables on low to moderate heat (i.e. steaming) very quickly so that they still contain live enzymes. Of course, eating raw vegetables with each and every meal is wonderful for the same reason: digestive enzyme content. That’s what will really rev up your stomach acid! If you are in a cold climate, I personally recommend that you eat more on the lightly cooked side to balance your environment. However, everyone has different views about this so do what feels right for you.
4. Manuka Honey
Manuka Honey is absolutely incredible. It comes from bees who pollinate the manuka tree. It contains naturally occurring peroxide, which kills a wide array of pathogens and bacteria while actually healing your stomach lining. In 2004 Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) licensed the use of medical grade manuka honey as a wound dressing. It is incredibly effective against h. pylori overgrowth, which causes ulcers.
How to take: 1 tsp. twice a day on an empty stomach to heal your stomach lining and encourage your body to naturally produce gastric juices.
5. Digestive Bitters
Bitters not only stimulate HCl secretion, but also stimulate pancreatic enzymes and increase bile from the gallbladder. On top of that, they are antibacterial as well and will help to kill the invaders inhabiting your stomach lining.
How to take: Bitters should be taken 15-20 minutes prior to meals with a glass of water. (If you are not taking bitters, don’t drink water close to your meals). A small pinch of a sea salt can also be put on the tip of the tongue at the same time, as this also helps stimulate HCl production (thanks to the chloride!)
6. Vitamin U… huh?!
Have you heard of Vitamin U? Probably not, but that’s because it’s not actually a vitamin at all. It’s a name used to describe the healing enzyme found in cabbage. It soothes the inflamed stomach lining and corrects low stomach acid, and is absolutely phenomenal for quickly healing stomach ulcers.
How to take: Juice raw cabbage and consume daily on an empty stomach.
7. Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
How to take: As soon as you wake up, drink 1 tsp. raw apple cider vinegar in warm water. You can absolutely add lemon, which I love. Take apple cider vinegar in 4 oz. warm water 30 minutes before each meal and after meals to stop heartburn if you need. (This and digestive bitters is the only way you should be drinking water near a meal!)
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