Life has been quite crazy and stressful for me for as long as I can remember. Stress, stress, stress! How I have learned to cope and deal with the stress in my life has dramatically shifted, yet still the demands and pressures keep coming. In spite of taking radical steps to heal my body over the past several years through diet and lifestyle, I still have some remaining health issues lingering. Thankfully, all the major stuff has gone by the wayside. All the annoying peripheral stuff, like gas, bloating, major constipation, sinus migraines, chronic sinus infections, eczema, seasonal allergies, acid reflux, depression, lack of energy, dark circles under my eyes, bad PMS, low back pain, chronic joint pain all on my right side, asthma, really dry itchy skin, inflammation of my gums related to sinus issues, regular headaches, feelings of insecurity, sensitivity to cold, mental sluggishness, severe pain during ovulation (mittleschwertz), extremely raw gut/insides, seasonal sadness in the winter, lots of colds and I am sure I could go on. All that stuff doesn’t bother me anymore for the most part. Thank God! I have come a long way and overall, I feel great! However, that said, I still have some lingering issues and I plan to share them with you. (*Update 11/24: I no longer have any upper GI issues, nor do I need to supplement with hydrochloric acid. I now only take it when I travel, eat out, or have a heavy protein meal).
This past December, I had my health assessed by a functional examination. The functional examination is part of what I am learning in the course I am taking through the Nutritional Therapy Association. I am so grateful to have this ability under my belt, or should I say in my tool belt of healing knowledge and practice. What I learned then was several things, but for now I’ll share the primary one; my small intestines were a wreck! I knew this all on my own before getting the evaluation done. I’d sit on my couch in the afternoon studying and feel my lower ribs with some agitation and pressure. If I pressed into those ribs I felt like a spark of electricity type feeling. I was very perplexed as to what was going on at that time, but now I know more. I also have been able to drastically reduce that discomfort. So three months later my small intestines are getting better, but they still need some work. (*Note 11/24/13: As of today, I no longer have any of these health complaints).
If you read my post, Digestion 101, you will see that digestion works from the north most part of our body to the south. So, in order to address the issues going on in my small intestines, it was imperative to look ‘north’ to see what was going on leading to the issues found there. What I realized is that I had been eating a lot of protein, though not more than I should, but more than I had in past since I was a carb-aholic. But essentially, in the past couple of years I had ramped up the protein in my diet, which helped me in other ways a ton. I also was lifting weights and eating lots of protein snacks etc. However, what I hadn’t realized is how that might impact me since I had hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid). The truth is, most of us have low stomach acid, there are so many reasons this is the case, and stress is one of those reasons. (but I’ll be getting more into all of that in a future post) I had known about need for hydrochloric acid awhile back, and tried to supplement with it, but didn’t really know what I was doing, nor did I notice any major results. So I stopped (I know now I wasn’t taking NEAR enough).
Going back in time a little, I used to have a hard time tolerating beef. I could only eat it once every few days. If I tried to eat it 2 days in a row, my body revolted. So, I tried a little experiment for about 2 months a few years ago, and I drank raw apple cider vinegar before every meal. Just about a tablespoon or so, and this helped immensely. I could tolerate beef on a more regular basis after that trial, and I still occasionally supplemented with the vinegar, though not consistently. Fast forward to this past December, I took a little test to see if my body was producing enough of it’s own hydrochloric acid and discovered it indeed was not. So, that became my quest and it still is, to teach my body how to make it’s own hydrochloric acid again. If I can digest my proteins properly, they won’t putrefy and make more work for my small intestines and the rest of my digestive system. Having enough HCL is my first line of defense against pathogenic micro-organisms. I suspect I have had low stomach acid for a LONG time – this has left me subject to a whole host of problems as I mentioned above. It’s amazing how many of our health ailments are linked to our gut health.
So to give you an idea, the functional points for my small intestine went from 8′s, 9′s & 10′s to 3′s, 4′s and 5′s, in just 3 months and I wasn’t even all that consistent with taking my hydrochloric acid. When we lingual neuro tested my points came all the way down! That means it’s very likely all I needed all along was proper hydrochloric acid to get my small intestines back on track. These next three months I am bound and determined to take it faithfully to see how much things improve in June when I go back for my final weekend of testing. Hydrochloric acid is not something anyone should need to have to take for life, but it sure is a crucial aid in getting your body back on track. I plan to always have some around just in case and test myself often to make sure my body is properly and adequately producing enough HCL.
There is more to this picture than I am sharing here, but I wanted to focus and emphasize the importance of supplemental HCL, since it’s not really feasible to get in food form. Raw Apple Cider can certainly help, as can herbal bitters,but therapeutically HCL is required. Other things like enzymes are needed as well, but it’s so easy to get that from a good diet loaded with probiotic/enzymatic rich foods.
The Roles of Stomach Acid
- Stomach acid essentially sterlizes our food. It’s our first line of defense against pathogens coming in to the stomach. It will kill bacteria/microbes/pathogens/yeast that come in and try to colonize in the intestines. These germs are destroyed on contact as our food is mixed with stomach acid.
- Stomach acid begins digesting our proteins. Namely the enzyme pepsin in our stomach juices.
- Minerals are pulled for absorption by our stomach acid. Without enough stomach acid we cannot assimilate the minerals from our food.
- Stomach acid also stimulates the pancreas to secrete enzymes and bicarbonate. When the food is the proper pH moving out of the stomach it will signal the pancreas to secrete it’s juices. If the pH is not appropriate this can cause damage to the wall of the small intestines. (As discussed in Digestion 101).
Do you have any of the following symptoms? Rate them 0 for never, 1 for minor or rarely, 2 for moderate or weekly and 3 for severe or daily
Further Signs & Symptoms That Relate To Issues in the Upper GI
- Belching or gas within one hour after eating
- heartburn or acid reflux
- bloating within one hour after eating,
- a vegan diet
- bad breath
- loss of taste for meat
- sweat has a strong odor
- stomach upset by taking vitamins
- sense of excess fullness after meals
- feel like skipping breakfast
- feel better if you don’t eat
- sleepy after meals
- fingernails chip, peel or break easily
- anemia unresponsive to iron
- stomach pains or cramps diarrhea (chronic)
- diarrhea shortly after meals
- black or tarry colored stools
- undigested food in stool
Though these are not the only possible symptoms or signs that show you are not adequate in either stomach acid or pancreatic enzymes, they are the most commonly understood signs. What was your score? A score of 3-9 indicates a low priority, but you likely need some stomach acid and probably digestive enzymes. A score of 10-14 is a moderate priority meaning you’re on your way to worse things if you don’t get it ironed out, you definitely need hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes, 15 and above is a high priority and should become your top priority to work on. I am going to teach you a million things (well maybe not a million, but a lot) in this course. Please do not try to implement everything all at once. Don’t even try to do more than a couple of new things while you are taking this class. Why? Because you didn’t get to where you are overnight and you’re not going to heal overnight either. It will be important to take your time working on things little by little. One key piece will be finding a dietary game plan that will work to further your healing. Add to that some basic supplements starting in the northern most parts of digestion and tackle that first. Most of us will need some time to see the benefits happen.
Heartburn & GERD
Heartburn occurs when acid from the stomach irritates the tissue that lines the esophagus. Since acid does not belong in the esophagus it is very irritating, it is not made to handle the acid. The stomach however, is lined to deal with the extremely acid environment. The stomach is an acid producing machine. The acid in the stomach is secreted at about 0.8 if you took a drop of this acid and dropped it on the floor it would burn a hole in the floor.
Acid reflux can be caused by many things including obesity, smoking, eating fried foods (fast foods), coffee, alcohol, and carbonated beverages. These foods or conditions end up causing acid reflux by increasing pressure in the abdomen and this causes the gastric contents to be forced up into the esophagus. This can irritate the esophageal sphincter and cause there to be a decrease in muscle tone. Frequent or chronic heartburn may have a structural piece to it.
Hiatal hernias are associated with frequent or chronic heartburn. (Hiatal hernias are an out pouching of the stomach lining through the diaphragm.) I believe the main reason most of us are ‘impaired’ in this way is due to the standard American diet full of lifeless processed sugar and starch ridden foods.
Hydrochloric acid is needed for protein breakdown. Not chewing thoroughly, eating excessive amounts in a given meal, or overcooking our meats puts a strain on us in this area. Gluten, casein in pasteurized dairy products, and heavily processed soy can also lead to issues. Our diet, how we eat (not in a relaxed state), stress, and anxiety can contribute to lack of HCl production as well . How well we chew, and the quality of our proteins as well as consuming some raw and not always well done or reheated etc. can go a long way to correcting issues with low stomach acid.
Hydrochloric acid is produced in the presence of proteins, and it’s also inhibited by sugars and starches. High carbohydrate diets are all too common today, and actually contribute to acid deficiency. This is why I really like a Paleo/GAPS dietary template.
[Note: A great, great cookbook that I have reviewed is called 'Primal Cuisine: Cooking for the Paleo Diet' by Pauli Halstead. Pauli is a former chef/caterer and she became a client of Nora Gedgaudas (one of my nutrition heroes - who also attended the Nutritional Therapy association and wrote one of my favorite books; 'Primal Body-Primal Mind'. ) Thanks to what she learned from Nora she was able to heal and her cookbook has a great amount of information on proper diet and sourcing foods. I highly recommend this book! Dietary game plans are a great starting point for anyone wanting to heal. Then you can take it further as needed by removing other common allergens, such as eggs, gluten cross contamination foods, nightshades, and maybe even high oxalate foods, or FODMAPS - depending on your specific health situation. ]
Often problems with heartburn are due to a LACK of stomach acid, not too much stomach acid which is what mainstream medicine claims. There are those that may be hyper acidic, but it is VERY rare. This can be ruled out by a Heidelberg capsule test and may not necessarily mean that someone is always hyper secreting acid. The majority of Americans today produce too little stomach acid. Often the issue can just be inappropriate timing of acid secretion.
Low stomach acid secretion (also known as hypochlorhydria) can lead to irritated and inflamed mucosa in the stomach. This condition sets up the ideal environment for infection by Helicobacter pylori. You see the stomach acid is your body’s first line of defense against pathogens. It kills bacteria, viruses, pathogens, parasites and more, but only when it is adequately produced. Helicobacter pylori is an opportunistic bacterium that seems to prefer the chronically irritated environment of the gastric mucosa. H. pylori is also associated with gastric ulcers. If you have had a history of acid reflux or heartburn you may want to get tested for H. pylori, especially if you have been on acid blockers for any length of time.
Acid Neutralizers/Acid Blockers/PPI’s
- Antacids – Tums, Rolaids, Maalox and Mylanta (partially reduce acid)
- H2 Acid Blockers- Tagamet, Pepcid, Axid and Zantac (partially block acid)
- Proton Pump Inhibitors – Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium (these block the acid completely – NOT GOOD NEWS!)
PPI’s are a huge money maker, they are the 3rd highest of all drugs sold worldwide! They were designed for only very short term use while ironing out the underlying problem. Now they can be purchased over the counter and used without supervision and used for far longer than they ever were intended for, this is alarming!
If you have been on acid blockers and want to get off of them, I recommend you do it gradually, never cold turkey. You can wean off acid blockers and use antacids in place while you work to heal the issue and add in whole foods/supplements that support the underlying issue.
Taking acid blockers long term can erode the esophagus, it can lead to cancer, leaky stomach, decreased levels of calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, and an increased risk of developing osteoporosis, depression, IBS, pneumonia and more. Blocking stomach acid increases your risk of SIBO. It is has been found that people on PPIs have higher levels of IgE antibodies after 3 months of usage.
Women over 50 increase risk of hip fracture with use of PPI’s. The longer anyone takes a PPI the higher the risk of fracture due to poor mineral absorption. This is scary since there are now so many people on acid blockers unmanaged by any practitioner. They are never told that it’s dangerous to their long term health.
(In my online course: Heal Your Gut, I teach a method on how to wean off of acid blockers. Learn more about the course here: HEAL YOUR GUT).
Hydrochloric acid Test
Precautions: If you are taking acid and too much of it, can cause a burning sensation. If any discomfort arises, stop taking it immediately. If you have a known peptic ulcer do not take acid. Start by healing the ulcer first. HCL can irritate sensitive tissue and be corrosive to teeth. Capsules should not be emptied into food or dissolved in beverages. Spend 1-2 months using support other than the HCL to heal the sensitive tissues in the stomach if needed, then try the HCL test. This process tends to be self-weaning, your stomach should tell you when you need to back off with a warming sensation. If your dose is not decreasing over time then it’s time to look at deeper issues, such as H. Pylori overgrowth, poor thyroid function, or other pituitary issues. It’s best to work with a qualified practitioner to help you evaluate the possible deeper reasons you are not seeing progress.
Self-testing for stomach acid: There are two ways for you to do this assessment. One is a gradual slow approach and one is an approach to find out your dose in just one meal. I will just say that the approach you use to find your dose in one meal can cause a lot of potential die off reactions and can be unpleasant for some. I’ve seen some people very sensitive even to one pill and some people not have any noticeably uncomfortable reactions from several.
Please realize if you have anything going on in your stomach, such as H. Pylori or have had a low pH for a time taking even just a little bit of acid could really cause a reaction. Please don’t think this means you don’t need the acid or shouldn’t take it.
The only reason to NOT take it or stop immediately is if you have any ulcerations in the stomach. You will know because it will be very painful. If you suspect you have any ulcerations or have been on acid blockers for a long time you may want to spend 2-4 weeks working on your stomach health before trying the acid supplementation. People with ulcers, or acute reflux should take some time to heal prior to starting acid supplementation.
1. Begin by taking one 350 to 750 mg capsule of betaine HCl with a protein-containing meal. A normal response in a healthy person would be discomfort – basically, heartburn (or a warming sensation in the stomach). If you do not feel a burning sensation, at the next protein-containing meal, take two capsules.
2. If there are no reactions, after two days increase the number of capsules with each meal to two capsules.
3. Continue increasing every two days, using up to eight capsules at a time if necessary. Build slowly to a maximum of eight capsules with each meal. You’ll know you’ve taken too much if you experience tingling, heartburn, diarrhea, or any type of discomfort, including feelings of unease, digestive discomfort, neck ache, backache, headache, fatigue, decrease in energy, or any new odd symptom. If you experience tingling or burning, or any symptom that is uncomfortable, you can neutralize the acid with 1 teaspoon of baking soda in water or milk.
4. When you reach of state of tingling, burning or any other type of discomfort, cut back by one capsule per meal. If the discomfort continues, DISCONTINUE the HCl and consult with your health care professional. These dosages may seem large, but a normally functioning stomach manufactures considerably more, about 2,000 per meal.
5. Once you have established a dose (either 8 capsules or less, if warmth or heaviness occurs), continue this dose.
6. With smaller meals, you may require less HCl, so you may reduce the number of capsules taken.
Individuals with very moderate HCl deficiency generally show rapid improvement in symptoms and have early signs of intolerance to the acid. This typically indicates a return to normal acid secretion. Individuals with low HCL/pepsin typically do not respond as well to so to maximize the absorption and benefits of the nutrients you take, it is important to be consistent with your HCl/pepsin supplementation.
Over time you will rebuild your own stomach acid and no longer need supplementation. If you are needing supplementation with HCl for more than one year you may need to address deeper issues and use digestive enzymes, bitters, nutrients and possibly some body work like acupuncture or learn stress management techniques.
To heal the stomach first: Make sure to chew slowly at every meal, relax, support with herbal bitters before and/or after meals, licorice (DGL – deglycyrrhizinated), digestive/pancreatic enzymes, Gastrazyme by Biotics (gut healing nutrients), and maybe some Aloe Vera Juice if there are ulcerations. Cabbage juice, several ounces daily, could be very helpful and start to help the parietal cells of the stomach to make its own HCL (this is only if you do not have a thyroid problem – goitrogenic foods such as cabbage are contraindicated in thyroid issues). Vitamins A & D and even L-glutamine may also help. Supplemental B1, methylated B12 and zinc – nutrients support acid production.
Then add the HCL, keep using probiotics and enzymes daily. Working to add properly fermented foods daily would be optimal, aim to have a small serving with each meal.
Have you ever supplemented with Hydrochloric Acid? If so, what was your experience? Feel free to share in the comments………
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Lydia Joy Shatney is a certified Nutritional Therapist Practitioner through the Nutritional Therapy Association. Additionally, she is the chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation in Delaware County, Pa. (Find the group here on Facebook). Lydia is also a member of the Nourished Living Network. Lydia founded Divine Health From The Inside Out in March of 2010. You can find Lydia on Facebook, Twitter & Pinterest. Sign up for the Divine Health From The Inside Out newsletter! Pick up a copy of Lydia’s eBook; ‘Divine Dinners: Gluten-Free, Nourishing, Family-Friendly Meals’.
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