While most doctors prescribe antacids to lower stomach acid for heart burn and acid reflux, the real culprit may be that your stomach acid is already too low. This is called hypochlorhydria.
Sufficient stomach acid, or hydrochloric acid (HCl), is necessary to:
Protect the body from pathogens. When we consume food, bacteria and other microorganisms come along with it. Stomach acid helps neutralize the ones we don’t want in our bodies. HCl also acts as a barrier against bacterial and fungal overgrowth of the small intestine.
Activate pepsin. HCl triggers the production of pepsin, which helps break down proteins to be absorbed in the small intestine. When proteins are not adequately digested, they can escape into the bloodstream where they trigger inflammation food sensitivities.
Digest proteins. If you have ever made ceviche or marinated meat in vinegar or lemon, you can see how acid breaks it down. Our stomach acid works much more quickly and efficiently than this.
Activate intrinsic factor. Stomach acid helps activate intrinsic factor, a glycoprotein made in the stomach that is necessary for absorption of vitamin B12.
Stimulate delivery of bile and enzymes. Adequate stomach acid stimulates release of bile from the liver and gall bladder and digestive enzymes from the pancreas. This also supports digestion of carbs, fats, and vitamins A and E.
Close the esophageal sphincter. Located between the stomach and the esophagus, the esophageal sphincter protects the delicate tissue of the esophagus from the strong acids of the stomach.
Open the pyloric sphincter. Stomach acid helps open this gateway between the stomach and the small intestine.
Absorb vitamins and minerals. Absorption of folic acid, ascorbic acid, beta carotene and iron are made more bioavailable by HCl in the digestive tract. Low stomach acid can cause poor absorption of calcium, magnesium, copper, chromium, manganese, selenium, vanadium, zinc, molybdenum and cobalt.
Hypochlorhydria is under diagnosed
An estimated 90 percent of the population suffers from hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid), yet most of us have never heard of it.
When stomach acid is too low your body cannot digest food thoroughly. The food in the stomach begins to rot and putrefy, the small intestine attempts to reject it, and the rotten food moves back up into the esophagus. While the food is not acidic enough for the small intestine, it is far too acidic for the esophagus.
In addition, low stomach acid leads to bacterial overgrowth, gut inflammation, increased food sensitivities, and higher risk for inflammatory disorders.
Key hypochlorhydria signs and symptoms include:
- Burping, bloating, gas after meals
- Upset stomach after eating
- Nausea when taking vitamins and supplements
- Indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux
- Desire to eat when not hungry
- Undigested food in stool
- Gut infections
- SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth)
- Iron deficiency anemia
- Deficiencies of vitamin B-12, calcium, and magnesium
Taking supplemental HCl can help support your own production and help you better digest your food. Take just enough so it doesn’t cause burning. If taking even a little bit causes burning, you may have ulcers and an H. Pylori infection, which are not uncommon with hypochlorhydria.
Ask us at Central Coast Center for Integrative Health for more advice on improving your digestion and relieving your symptoms.
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Phone: (805) 556-7200
Yours in health,
Dr. Brent Caplan & Dr. Tiffany Caplan