The Misunderstood Stomach Acids

The Misunderstood Stomach Acids

If you are suffering from heartburn or Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (“GERD” or “reflux”), or know of someone else who does, take heart – there are many things you can do to alleviate it. Some people say, “Well, I no longer suffer from it because I take medication. I don’t have any problems with it”. Well, sorry to say, you have more problems than you realize.

We have done a good job in this country of making people scared of their own acids in their stomach. The truth is, we NEED stomach acid. It plays a very critical role in health. The primary enzyme in the stomach, hydrochloric acid (HCL), is supposed to be acidic. HCL triggers the production of pepsin, necessary for protein digestion. Without proper protein digestion, not only will you lack usable protein for health and healing, but the unbroken down protein molecules set the stage for allergies and autoimmune responses.

HCL is responsible for the breakdown of many nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and proteins, and it triggers the release of bile necessary to emulsify fats. HCL is also the first line of defense against bacterial invasion. Without sufficient levels of HCL in the stomach, bacterial overgrowth now becomes problematic. H. Pylori, C. Difficile, etc. are more apt to thrive in pathogenic numbers. Some blame H. Pylori as the cause of heartburn, other research states it is the result of low stomach acid – I agree with the later. If your HCL levels are up to par, you should not get food poisoning or any other bacterial, viral, parasitic, yeast, mold or fungus invasion via ingestion. HCL is protective. Research has found that with low HCL levels, you have a decreased resistance to infections, and have an increased risk of cancer, pneumonia and other diseases. This makes sense:

When you can’t digest or absorb nutrients, it is logical that disease will follow. For instance, Iron has been found to be 80% lower in people with low HCL secretion. Keep in mind that acid-suppressing or lowering medications adversely affect stomach acid (HCL). These medications were found to decrease iron absorption by 28%-65% (depending upon dosage). They also lower B12 and folate. This means you are at greater risk of anemias. Researchers in Sweden discovered that if you gave an anemic person hydrochloric acid along with the iron pills, instead of only the iron, that there was a 400% increase in iron absorption.

Calcium and magnesium breakdown is also dependent upon HCL. With HCL inhibiting drugs, the risk of osteoporosis and fractures increase. Researchers also found that if they gave hydrochloric acid to ulcer patients (the opposite of how we treat ulcers) that their calcium levels went up 500%!

Now, don’t go throwing your acid-suppressing meds away at this point. There’s more to the story, including how to alleviate this and other digestive disorders. The best way to stop taking medications (if that is your goal) is to no longer need them.

The sayings “Good health begins in the gut” and “You’ll never get someone well until you straighten out their digestion” is about as true as it gets. Gut (collectively meaning the stomach and intestines) health is paramount to good health in general, and in healing. If we are unable to process adequate vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, our bodies won’t have the necessary materials for growth, repair, and function. It’s as simple as that. We have the ability to change, for the good or the bad, the outcome of our digestive health.

Almost all digestive disorders have their root in the mouth or stomach, with cascading effects all down the intestinal line. Our lifestyles tend to upset the perfection of the digestion that is really quite amazing.

Stress is one of those lifestyle maladies that down-regulate our digestion. Since stress is part of the fight or flight defense mechanism, eating while stressed or in a hurry effectively shut down our digestion. This is because that mechanism halts any function not needed to fight or run. We don’t need digestion for that.

What can you do?

Sit down to eat. Take a deep breath and relax. Don’t engage in stressful conversations while eating.

Chew slowly. I mentioned above that all digestive disorders have their root in the mouth. There is a communication link between the tongue and the brain that is crucial to digestive health. If your tongue doesn’t come in contact with ALL the contents of what is in your mouth, you limit digestive capabilities. Chew your food to a liquid to ensure good tongue to brain communication.

Don’t drink cold or ice water with meals. The stomach needs to be warm to release proper enzymes and begin digestion. Cold constricts and slows down the process. Room temperature water or warm herbal tea is best. Too much liquid dilutes the enzymes needed for digestion.

Eat foods rich in enzymes, such as found in raw foods. These enzymes enhance digestion and in of themselves are easiest to digest. The enzymes in processed foods are destroyed in order to maintain shelf life, and therefore require more from your body to digest these dead foods. This puts unnecessary strain on your digestive organs.

If you have gut damage already or are taking medications (over the counter or prescribed), you may need to have expert help in restoring healthy digestion.  Acupuncture, herbal remedies, and nutritional supplementation under the direction of a skilled professional can help restore healthy digestive function.  These can reduce inflammation, promote healing of gut tissue, restore healthy enzyme production and improve immune function which can deteriorate as digestive health deteriorates.

The above barely scratches the surface of all that you can do to revivify your digestion, which you will find begins the path to overall healing of your body.

By Dr. Holly A. Carling, O.M.D., L.Ac., Ph.D.

Dr. Holly Carling is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine, Licensed Acupuncturist, Doctor of Naturopathy, Clinical Nutritionist and Master Herbologist with nearly 40 years of experience.  Dr. Carling is currently accepting new patients and offers natural health care services and whole food nutritional supplements in her Coeur d’ Alene clinic.