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Stomach Acid and What to do About It
Eleni Chechopoulos  |  Jul 18, 2018

Your Antacid is Ruining Your Health. Here’s What to Do About It.

Most people don’t attribute their anxiety, digestive troubles, or hormone imbalances to low stomach acid. Most people don’t even consider low stomach acid to be an issue because it isn’t something that’s ever talked about. But the symptoms of low stomach acid are often confused with the symptoms of high stomach acid, and the consequences of such confusion are detrimental. 

Stomach acid is extremely important for digestion, which has a domino effect. Each step of digestion leads to and affects the next step, and if one step goes wrong, the whole process is thrown off. Proper digestion in the stomach can only happen within a narrow pH range, and when we neutralize stomach acid, the domino effect is thrown off. Without adequate gastric acid, many vitamins, minerals, proteins, and amino acids cannot be absorbed. 

Digestion is a very complicated and complex process, but when it comes to stomach acid, it boils down to this:

The food you chew in your mouth moves down your esophagus and enters your stomach. The stomach is very acidic and breaks down the food into an even more acidic paste called chyme. Chyme moves from the stomach into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) through the pyloric sphincter. Importantly, the acidity of the chyme is what triggers the pyloric sphincter to open.

When the acidity of the stomach is too low, however, the pyloric sphincter doesn’t receive the signal to open to allow the chyme to move from the stomach to the duodenum. Stuck in the stomach, the chyme begins to rot. Proteins putrefy, fats go rancid, and carbohydrates ferment, producing gas and bubbles that work their way back up the esophagus.

Often, these gas bubbles carry or push stomach acid with them. But remember, your food goes into your stomach through the esophagus. Since acidic food is not meant to go back into the esophagus, the esophagus cannot protect itself against the acidity—hence the pain of reflux and heartburn! 

Doctors prescribe acid-suppressants and because those medications “put out the fire” by neutralizing gastric acid and create a more alkaline environment, which relieves the pain. But as we know, heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux result from too little stomach acid rather than too much.

Until you address the problem of low stomach acid, you might rely on acid-suppressing drugs that only mask your symptoms. Again, you experience reflux and indigestion not because of too much acid, but because of misplaced acid that has found its way past the lower esophageal sphincter. 

But as long as antacids relieve the pain, who cares, right?

Wrong. Low stomach acid is the culprit of a shocking number of negative symptoms, such as gas, bloating, bad breath, cravings, and even anxiety. In fact, you can trace almost any negative symptom you can think of to this commonly overlooked issue. Here is a just a partial list[1]:

  • Gas
  • Acne
  • GERD
  • Lupus
  • Eczema
  • Anxiety
  • Bloating
  • Belching
  • Diarrhea
  • Allergies
  • Leaky gut
  • Bad breath
  • Depression
  • Indigestion
  • Brittle nails
  • Constipation
  • Osteoporosis
  • Grave’s disease
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Accelerated aging
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Intestinal dysbiosis
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Bread and pasta cravings
  • Undigested food in stools
  • Excess fullness after meals
  • Aversion to eating breakfast
  • Thyroid dysfunction symptoms
  • Bacterial and fungal overgrowth
  • Acid reflux (yes, you read that right)

Because you need stomach acid to digest foods, its absence results in maldigestion, malabsorption, malnutrition, and multiple nutrient deficiencies that can affect every part of your body.

Some common causes of low stomach acid include[2]:

  • Age
  • Antacid drug use
  • pylori infection
  • Chronic overeating
  • Consumption of refined sugar
  • Excess sugar and refined foods
  • Sympathetic dominance (stress)
  • Constant snacking between meals
  • Excess carbohydrate and alcohol consumption
  • Nutrient deficiencies, namely thiamin and zinc
  • Eating a highly refined, processed, fast food diet 

So if you want to ease your symptoms without making the root cause worse, what can you do about it?

  1. Chew your food until each bite is liquefied.

Remember that digestion is a north to south process. Both the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food begins in the mouth. Your saliva contains enzymes that begin the chemical breakdown of carbohydrates, so failing to chew your food thoroughly already sets you up for digestive discomfort.

  1. Take a hydrochloric acid (HCL) supplement.

It sounds counterintuitive, but as you now know, it’s more likely that you’re suffering from too little stomach acid than too much! Your long-term course of action should include dietary and lifestyle changes that help your stomach produce enough acid on its own (refer to the causes of low stomach acid), but in the meantime, an HCL (hydrochloric acid) supplement can help ease symptoms without exacerbating the problem the way antacids do. 

  1. Use digestive bitters.

A bitter taste isn’t exactly pleasant (and the key is to taste it), but bitterness stimulates digestive function. You can purchase digestive bitters as a spray that you spray on your tongue before your meal, or if you’re feeling crafty you can search for a “DIY digestive bitter” recipe online.

  1. Drink celery juice. 

Celery juice contains enzymes that, when taken on an empty stomach, can help increase HCL production. Start slowly with a small amount, as this can cause digestive distress in some people.

  1. Eat only when you are relaxed.

Imagine a lion is chasing you. What’s on your mind? Is it the sweet potato fries, crispy Brussels sprouts, and grass-fed steak you’re craving for dinner? Or is it an immediate life-or-death plan of action? It may sound silly, but whether you’re being chased by a lion, you had an argument with your spouse, or you’re watching a suspenseful television show…it’s all stress, and stress shuts down digestion. Take a few deep breaths as you sit down to eat your meal, chew each bite thoroughly, and periodically check in with yourself to make sure you’re breathing and your shoulders aren’t creeping up towards your ears.

[1] Wright, J. V., & Lenard, L. (2001). Why stomach acid is good for you: Natural relief from heartburn, indigestion, reflux, and GERD. New York: M. Evans.

[2] Weatherby, D. (2004). Signs and symptoms analysis from a functional perspective. Jacksonville: Bear Mountain Publishing.

 

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