What do you think of when you hear the words “stomach acid”? Burning? Burping? Pain? If those are the connections you make, you are probably familiar with the standard solution for such discomfort: antacids. These seemingly benign tablets are common in most medicine cabinets, taken by some for the occasional flare-up, taken by others on a daily basis.
It might be hard to believe, indeed completely counterintuitive, that the real solution for most stomach acid-related issues is actually MORE stomach acid. Sound ridiculous? Let me explain: When you eat a meal, the food passes through your esophagus into your stomach. Most meals are made up of a combination of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. The carbohydrates break down first, followed by the fats and proteins. The contents of the stomach will not pass into the intestines until a certain level of acidity is reached. Most Americans produce too little stomach acid. This is a result of high stress lifestyles and processed food diets, both of which fail to stimulate the production of adequate stomach acid levels. If the partially acidified meal sits in your stomach for very long, the carbohydrates will begin to ferment. Fermentation creates bubbles and expansion. As the gasses increase, so does the pressure in the stomach. Since the opening between the stomach and the intestines is closed tightly until that high acid level is reached, the food presses up into the esophagus. While the acid level may not be high enough to trigger the passage of the food into the intestines, it is certainly high enough to trigger a burning and discomfort in the esophagus, which does not have the kind of lining for withstanding the destructive qualities of acid.
When higher levels of stomach acid are introduced to the stomach, the food breaks down more quickly, and an appropriate acid level can be reached in the stomach, allowing the passage of the food to the intestines to continue its digestive journey.
Signs you need more stomach acid
1. Reflux, Heartburn, Indigestion – As I’ve explained, experiencing heart burn, indigestion, or excess fullness after meals on a frequent basis is a sure sign that your stomach acid levels are suboptimal.
2. Throat clearing – A similar symptom is frequent throat clearing within an hour or so after a meal. This has been called “silent heart burn”. The body is producing excess mucus in order to neutralize the acid in the esophagus.
3. Ulcers and GERD – Ulcers and GERD are really advanced symptoms of low acid. Ulcers have been shown to be caused by the bacteria H. Pylori. Small populations of this bacteria typically live in the stomach, but the populations are kept under control by adequate stomach acid levels. When acid levels are chronically low, H. Pylori infections can start, which damage the protective lining in the stomach. GERD, on the other hand, is diagnosed when the damage to the esophagus has become quite extensive from the acid bubbling up in the esophagus.
Ways to increase stomach acid
1. Avoid distracted eating – Digestion begins in the brain. All the bodily processes needed for proper digestion require a relaxed state. Eating while watching TV, checking Facebook, driving, etc. prevents the cascade of digestive steps, including stomach acid secretion, needed for good food breakdown. Prepare your brain for eating by sipping a bit of lemon water before a meal and stopping your other activities to focus on your meal. Eat slowly and chew much!
2. Avoid combining protein and sugar – Sugars break down in the stomach the fastest of any chemical group, and proteins break down the slowest. Keeping these separate will prevent the sugar fermentation that leads to heart burn.
3. Take a hydrochloric acid supplement – This is one of the simplest solutions, and is a required step for many people. Zinc is a mineral needed for acid production, but acid is needed to liberate zinc from foods. When low stomach acid is a chronic problem, then zinc deficiency is also chronic, leading to a downward spiral effect. A temporary boost in acid can be the needed step to promote the body’s ability to produce its own good acid levels.
A word of caution: Never chew or break open hydrochloric acid supplements! When starting on a hydrochloric acid protocol, it is essential to move slowly. Start by taking a small amount in the middle of each meal, just one tablet or capsule. Slowly increase the dosage every few days until a warming sensation is felt in the stomach shortly after taking the supplement. If any pain or burning is felt in the stomach, it’s a sign of compromised stomach lining integrity, such as might happen with ulcers. Take some baking soda in water to neutralize the burn, then begin a stomach healing protocol instead, including slippery elm or peppermint teas and a L-Glutamine supplement.
While it may sound like the opposite of what is needed to prevent your digestive complaints, increasing stomach acid has many benefits. Not only can it help you eliminate those pesky symptoms, it can increase your ability to absorb vitamins and minerals, which will only elevate your overall health and wellness.
If you’re ready to try a stomach acid supplement, Regeneration Nutrition in Eagle River carries Super Enzyme from Now Foods. There are also a variety of other hydrochloric acid supplements available. Look for those containing Betaine Hydrochloride.