Tuesday, May 3, 2016

MedicalConspiracies- Could Low Stomach Acid Be To Blame?

Could Low Stomach Acid Be To Blame?

There's nothing worse than feeling terrible after eating an amazing meal.  Post-meal bloating, pain, diarrhea, constipation, a heavy feeling in your stomach, and heartburn are so common today that we have begun to think it's just normal.  Well, this post is here to tell you…NO, it is not normal! 

There are reasons your meals aren't providing the strength, energy, vibrancy, and stamina you should be getting from them.  One very common, yet largely undiagnosed reason is LOW STOMACH ACID.  Yes, that's right…your stomach acid could be TOO LOW severely affecting not only your digestion, but many other functions in your body that may seem entirely unrelated.

According to the book Why Stomach Acid Is Good For You by Jonathan Wright MD, as many as 90% of Americans are dealing with hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) or achlorhydria (no stomach acid), many of which are either unaware or being treated for having too much stomach acid, only furthering the problem! 


That's right.  If you describe these symptoms to your doctor, you may be told the reason for your indigestion and heartburn is from too much stomach acid, and given acid blocking drugs such as Tagamet or Zantac.  These are some of the most prescribed drugs in the pharmaceutical market, making billions of dollars per year for the companies that sell them.  

The problem with this diagnosis is that, for most of us, the opposite is actually true.  We are deficient in stomach acid and it is an absolutely VITAL part of our overall health and well-being.  The stomach is a highly acidic environment (with a pH of 1.5-3.0) where the food we eat, particularly protein, gets broken down and prepared for absorption by every cell of our body.  The proper pH of the stomach then signals the rest of the digestive cascade to continue.  The pancreas and small intestine are called into action to further the break down of the protein, fats, and carbohydrates and deliver them to the cells.  Without the high acidity in the stomach, the digestive flow is compromised.  This system break down causes a dramatic trickle down effect into all other bodily systems and is the root cause of many other health issues.  By simply increasing stomach acid so the pH in the stomach is at its optimal level, your meal will be processed correctly, absorbed and assimilated by the body, and the rest of you will stay healthy and happy!  As a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, I help people every single day get back to this optimal state of digestion and see first hand how simple changes can dramatically improve the life of my clients!

Let's take a look at how low stomach acid can affect so much more than just the digestive system. 

Could low stomach acid be to blame?

health issues tied to low stomach acid 


abnormal digestive function – bloating – diarrhea – constipation – IBS 

When stomach acid is insufficient, not only are proteins not properly broken down in the stomach, but the rest of the digestive cascade is compromised.  If the chyme (the partially broken down food paste) in the stomach is not acidic enough, the pyloric sphincter will not open.  This mechanism allows the food to pass from the stomach into the small intestine to continue digestion.  If the pyloric sphincter does not open, the chyme stays in the stomach too long and begins to degenerate.  Proteins putrefy, carbohydrates ferment, and fat becomes rancid.  This causes bloating, pain, fullness, and constipation.  Once the chyme does make it into the small intestine, the hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) which is needed to trigger the release of bile from the gallbladder for fat digestion will not be released without the chyme being at the proper pH .  The release of secretin is also compromised which stimulates the pancreas to release important digestive enzymes and sodium bicarbonate to bring the pH of the chyme back to neutral before heading on to the large intestine.  Once the maldigested food makes it into the large intestine, the healthy gut flora is disrupted, the tissue becomes inflamed, and harmful bacteria thrive.

low energy – sleepy and sluggish 

Vitamin B12 is responsible for nerve and brain function.  Depression, sleepiness, and that sluggish feeling arise when we are B12 deficient.  This important vitamin enters the body attached to protein and needs to be cleaved off in order for absorption to take place.  Hydrochloric acid and pepsin are needed in sufficient quantity to complete the separation of protein and vitamin B12 in the stomach.  

muscle wasting – hair loss – aging skin – cracked/peeling fingernails

Amino acids are the compounds that make up proteins and what are left once proteins are broken down in the digestive system.  They are essential to the growth and development of many different structures in the body including muscle fibers, hair structure, nails, bones, skin, nerves, neurotransmitters, and hormones.  They are also the creators of collagen and elastin, the binding substances needed for clear, wrinkle-free, healthy skin.  With low stomach acid and the inability to properly break down proteins, amino acids aren't available in the body to do all of these important functions which will show up in the health of your hair, skin, and nails.  Additionally, the body will break down muscle in an attempt to get the necessary amino acids.  This leads to decreased muscle mass, strength, and potential weight loss.  

depression – mood disturbances 

The gut is often considered our second brain with the majority of our neurotransmitters and serotonin (the happy chemical) being made in the gut.  Amino acids are needed to build neurotransmitters which are the brain's 'messengers'.  Decreased stomach acid = decreased amino acids = decreased serotonin production = decreased happiness!    

leaky gut – autoimmune diseases – food allergies and sensitivities

Without the stomach being at the proper highly acidic level needed to completely break down food, large amounts of protein go undigested, making their way down through the digestive tract into the small intestine.  The lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed and the once tightly-bound villi that line and protect the walls loosen up and create holes.  This is known as intestinal permeability or leaky gut.  Now, the undigested proteins pass through the intestinal lining and into the blood stream.  As our body is meant to do, it attacks these foreign invaders that have made it into our bloodstream.  This attack causes an allergic response.  In cases of food allergies, the body now considers this undigested food particle to be an allergen and will attack it anytime it comes back into the bloodstream.  A food allergy is born and will continue until the intestinal walls are sealed again and the food is unable to make its way into the bloodstream.  In cases of autoimmune diseases, the immune system continues this attack on other cells in the body that look similar to the invading proteins, causing otherwise healthy tissues and organs to be under attack.  This can happen to many different tissues within the body such as the thyroid (hashimoto's and graves' disease), the joints (rheumatoid arthritis), the GI tract (crohn's, ulcerative colitis), the nerves (multiple sclerosis), and many many others.  According to Wright, "A mainstay for treatment for ANY autoimmune disease is the examination for and (when found) treatment of low stomach acid and other digestive malfunction."    

dysbiosis – bacterial imbalance – candida, parasites, and fungal overgrowth  

Stomach acid kills bad bacteria.  A normal, healthy digestive system is home to billions of bacteria, the majority of which are good.  However, even the healthiest of guts are still home to bad bacteria.  These healthy guts have the ability to manage the bad bacteria and keep it in check, allowing for 'bacterial harmony'.  Problems arise when these bad bacteria begin to thrive and grow, make a home in the gut, and take over the good bacteria.  So, how do these bad guys get in?  Through a stomach with a pH higher than 5.  (remember, normal pH of a healthy stomach is between 1.5-3.0)  The acidity in a stomach that's not producing enough HCL becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. 

hormonal imbalances 

It takes a lot of nutrients to build hormones, but the most important nutrient needed is fat, and more specifically cholesterol.  When the stomach is not in the optimal pH range, the gall bladder is not triggered to release bile which breaks down fats.  Therefore, the fats go undigested and the building blocks of hormones are absent.  All hormone levels will take a hit including testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen.   

acne – rosacea – dermatitis

Acne and other skin manifestations have a high correlation to the health of the gut.  When the gut is leaky, foreign objects and bacteria make its way into the blood stream, causing an allergic reaction.  This can manifest in the skin in the form of acne, rosacea, and dermatitis.

bad breath 

Bacteria thriving in a stomach without enough hydrochloric acid emit an order that shows itself in your breath!


Calcium is a super important mineral to many processes in the body including maintaining bone strength.  Calcium cannot be properly broken down and absorbed without enough stomach acid.  Calcium deficiency leads to brittle bones that can easily break, which is known as osteoporosis. 

rheumatoid arthritis 

Many studies have been done over the past 100 years linking RA patients and low stomach acid.  According to Wright, "People with rheumatoid arthritis have an extremely high rate of atrophic gastritis associated with low stomach acid compared with normal individuals."

blood sugar imbalance – sugar cravings 

Amino acids have another function besides being important building blocks for every part of our body.  They also maintain blood sugar and proper insulin levels.  When protein break down is compromised and available amino acids are low, blood sugar levels can become imbalanced and sugar cravings will ensue.   


Another important nutrient that will not be properly absorbed is iron.  Deficient iron absorption can zap muscle strength and drain stamina, leaving you feeling weak and tired.  According to Wright, "it comes as no surprise that when supplementary HCL is given to people with anemia and low stomach acid, their iron absorption improves and their anemia disappears."

insistent hunger – uncontrollable appetite – weight gain – inability to lose weight 

As described in this post, the trickle down effect from low stomach acid can lead to many seemingly unrelated conditions such as nutrient deficiency, malabsorption, hormonal imbalance, muscle wasting, and adrenal fatigue.  All of these contribute in their own way to an unhealthy, sluggish metabolism and overeating.  For example, if the hormone ghrelin (the hunger hormone) is not being sufficiently produced by the body,  you won't get the 'full' signal during a meal and will likely overeat.  Or, if your body is perceiving a state of high stress causing high levels of cortisol, the appetite is known  to increase during this time.  The body's perceived starvation from not properly absorbing the food that we eat is another reason for increased appetite. 

asthma – allergies

Known to be an inflammatory reaction in the lungs due to allergens, asthma can be traced back to the health of the gut and more importantly to the pH of the stomach and food allergies.  In response to this Wright say "…a vicious circle soon ensues in which an allergic reaction to food inflames the gastric and intestinal linings, inhibiting HCL secretion and promoting allergic reactions all over the body, not just to foods, but to inhalants and microorganisms, as well."     

high cortisol – adrenal fatigue 

Adrenal fatigue can be considered the 'stress illness'.  Now that we've gone through this list of things that can go wrong with your health when you have low stomach acid, wouldn't you agree that any of them would put a significant level of stress on your body?!  Food isn't being broken down which leaves us malnourished and unable to properly build every cell in our body to regulate every function of our being.  The body sees this as a stressful situation and engages in 'fight or flight' mode, bringing cortisol into play to help out in this time of stress.


Do any of these sound like you?  

The great news?  There are several things you can easily incorporate into your daily routine to help support your digestion and increase natural stomach acid production. 

  • Drink water with lemon away from meals.  
  • Dilute 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar into 2-3 ounces of water and drink 15 minutes before a meal.
  • Take 3 deep breaths before your first bite.  This will help you get into 'rest and digest' mode which is needed for the proper secretion of gastric juices.
  • Eat slowly and chew thoroughly.  Aim to chew each bite 30 times.  Put your fork down between bites.
  • Avoid drinking a significant amount of liquid during the meal.  This will dilute the gastric juices.  


Most importantly, supporting your digestion with betaine HCL with pepsin supplementation is the most effective way to get significant and immediate symptom relief.  Found in almost all health food stores, this supplement provides the stomach acid that is missing in the same form as the stomach produces naturally, hydrochloric acid.  



How to supplement with Betaine HCL:

  • Take 1-2 pills at the start of the meal.  
  • Every meal thereafter, up your dose by one pill until you feel a warming sensation in your abdomen.
  • Once you feel this sensation, drop back down to the amount you took at the meal prior.  This is your dose that should be taken with every meal to properly support your digestion.
  • After supplementing for a period of time, you will find that your normal dose now causes the same warming sensation.  This is a sign that your body is re-learning how to produce HCL on its own and you can lessen your dose.
  • It is not uncommon at the start of your supplementation to be taking quite a few pills, anywhere from 8-12, per meal without getting the warming sensation.  Don't worry!  This is a sign that your body has needed this for a long time and you are well on your way to feeling great!       
  • If you took too much Betaine HCL and feel a burning discomfort, you can take 1/2 tablespoon of baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) in a small glass of water, that quickly neutralizes the stomach acid and eliminates the discomfort.
Note:  if you are currently taking any anti-inflammatory medication such as corticosteroids (prednisone), aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, etc.) or other NSAIDS, do not supplement with HCL.


As you can see, a highly acidic stomach is the key to proper digestion.  Without it, many serious health issues can ensue.  Many of us are in a current state of stomach acid deficiency and the current medical protocol is to treat the SYMPTOMS with potent medications, furthering the damage.  Instead, let's fix the ROOT CAUSE, starting with good digestion, and begin true healing. 

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