Are You Adequately Digesting Fats?

by lydia on April 18, 2012

Fats are a critical component of a healthy diet. And I say that despite our nation’s current belief that low fat is optimal. It’s simply not!  Low fat is actually a detriment to your health (but all you real foodies out there already know that, and I’m likely preachin’ to the choir).  Since many if not most of us grew up either consuming much lower fat than our bodies need, or consuming the wrong kinds of fats (ie. Crisco, tubs of margarine, trans fats of all kinds, cheap vegetable oil and on and on), we need to discuss how our bodies actually digest fat. I am going to talk about how to properly digest the appropriate kinds of fats.

How Does the Body Digest Fats?

So you’ve switched to consuming all the right fats (if you still don’t know what the right fats are -read more about good fats here), and you are enjoying being much more satiated. Perhaps you came off of a low fat diet, or a bad fat diet and you are now thrilled to be eating the good fats cause you know just how amazing they are for you. That’s great, but here’s the question; are you actually digesting your fats? Coming out of low fat mode, your gallbladder has to get back into the game. Your gallbladder either wants to be working regularly or not at all, it’s either use it or lose it. There is no happy medium for the dear ole gallbladder.

Low fat diets do not allow your gallbladder to do it’s job by regularly producing bile. This causes any existing bile to get old and viscous, which can be very problematic. Bad fat diets also cause the bile to become thick and viscous, when the bile is supposed to be thin and free flowing. The gallbladder will have a heck of a time trying to squeeze out the thick bile through the common bile duct. When no bile can get out, it means you will not be able to digest your fats (and a whole lot more that we won’t get into today).

So now that you’ve made the health switch to consuming more good fats you need to build up slowly. I always tell people to start out with coconut oil then ghee or butter, and then in time add in more animal fats. This needs to be done slowly along with taking measures to make sure your digestion is optimal.  If you’ve been low fat for any length of time your gallbladder is not used to producing enough bile, you will need to retrain it by eating fats regularly. Other reasons for the bile production to become unhealthy are; poor hydrochloric acid production, gluten sensitivity, consuming bad or rancid fats, a low fat diet or having an excess of estrogens in the body.

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Honestly, you must eat fats in order to produce bile to begin with, and the right kinds at that. Without bile, fats won’t be digested. When you eat fats they pass through the stomach into the small intestine in the form of chyme. Fat in the chyme stimulates the release of  cholecystekinin (CCK), which is the hormone that stimulates the gallbladder to release bile. So just eating good fats regularly, increasingly in variety and over time will teach your body to make bile (though initially that may not be enough).

This bolus of chyme with the fat passes along to the beginning of the small intestine, the duodenum, where the bile can emulsify fats into digestible molecules, thus making for easier assimilation. Fats are primarily digested by bile salts and pancreatic lipase in the duodenum. Bile function is also aided by gastric pH signaling and in order for that to be correct you need to have the proper pH in the stomach to begin with, along with plenty of hydrochloric acid.

Am I Digesting Fat Properly?

In light of all of this information, how do you know if you are properly digesting the fats you are consuming? First and foremost, you need to be doing everything you can to ensure you have optimal digestion. If you are not sure how digestion works or what it should look like and what it should not look like – start by reading this post, Digestion 101 and then this one, What Can Go Wrong In Digestion. If you know you still have digestive issues, it’s likely you are not properly digesting your fats. Also, when you do digest your fats properly you will not experience the symptoms of fatty acid deficiency, so long as you are getting a good balance of the right kinds of fats – see here;  Complete Guide to Fats. Fatty acid deficiency is epidemic in our nation, causing musculoskeletal issues, endocrine problems, cardiovascular issues, immune problems, allergies, skin conditions, depression and more. Not only do you need digestion to be working optimally to break down fats, but you need to have proper liver function as well.

No Gallbladder?

Before I go on, I must pause for a moment and address the fact that some people have had their gallbladders removed. This is a very serious problem that needs to be carefully attended to. For those of you who still do have your gallbladder, please take care of it, so you are not one day told it needs to be removed. We have all our organs for a reason, and it simply is NOT true that you do not need your gallbladder. If you have had your gallbladder removed you will need to take bile salts/ox bile with every meal you consume with fat. It will also be important for you to make sure you do not develop fatty acid deficiency or vitamin A, D, E and K. You may need additional support and guidance on how to live healthfully without your gallbladder, as it could lead to many health issues. Please consider working with an experienced holistic practitioner.

Fat Digestion Issues? Look To The North!

Along with appropriate overall digestion and good liver function, adequate stomach acid and pancreatic lipase (or enzymes) are important in fat digestion as well. You can read more about how to help stomach acid with hydrochloric acid supplementation here. So all four of these components are key, though there are other things that can contribute, to fat digestion.

If you are consuming a properly prepared whole real foods, nutrient dense diet you should start to see these systems all work together properly. Often times people may need additional support. That is not something that can be easily discussed in the scope of this post and really would require further digging as each person is unique. However, it is possible to support your body and help your liver & gallbladder do their jobs properly. So, let’s talk about foods/herbs/nutrients that can support fat digestion.

Foods/Herbs To Help With Fat Digestion:

  • Apple cider vinegar contains malic acid which can help to soften any gallstones as well as thin out the bile over time. Take a few teaspoons to tablespoons in some water prior to meals regularly for a time. This is my recipe for an apple cider vinegar tonic.
  • Lastly, I mentioned the herbs milk thistle and dandelion for liver support, these can be taken in tea or tincture. Dosage will vary from person to person. Please consider working with a holistic practitioner or herbalist to find your safe dose.

Two Basic Supplements I Recommend:

  • Beta-TCP from Biotics Research, is one supplement I can recommend wholeheartedly to help assist your liver and gallbladder with fat digestion. Beta-TCP contains vitamin C, taurine and pancrealipase (all known to assist with cholesterol to bile acid conversion). This would be good to take if you have any pain over the eyes, pain between the shoulder blades, gas, bloating, inability to tolerate fats or fried foods or a history of gall bladder attacks where stones were detected or suspected. Also, if you have any nausea issues related to eating fats, varicose veins, allergies & sensitivities, bacteria, yeast & other pathogens, to support against. This product is also good for people who can’t stay asleep, have any morning sickness, hypoglycemia, hemorrhoids, heart burn or light colored stools. (*Do not take if your gallbladder has been removed, or if you gallstones as it could cause them to move too quickly and potentially risk blockage). This is a great product that can be take 3 times a day with meals to really assist with fat digestion. I personally take it from time to time, when I eat a meal especially loaded with fats. This supplement is safe to take during pregnancy and lactation (Source: Biotics Clinical Reference Guide).

  • For those without a gallbladder you will need to take Bile Salts/Ox Bile. Consider it your gallbladder in a bottle. Biotics Research has a great product called Beta Plus by Biotics Research that contains beet juice and bile salts, along with some pancrealipase all for lipid digestion (or try Beta Food by Standard Process).

I just want to mention that there are numerous other things to consider, and every individual is going to be different. I wrote this post as a general overview on the subject, since I do not think many people are aware of issues with fat digestion. There are additional options for foods/herbs and supplements that may be more therapeutically supportive. If you are at all concerned about whether or not you are properly digesting your fats, consider a consult with me. Learn more here: Consult with Lydia!

 

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LydiaLydia 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’.

Lydia offers specialized step by step counseling to transform your health. Personalized consultations to suit your specific needs are offered via phone, Skype or in person. Lydia offers a variety of packages offered to suit your individual needs. Contact Lydia today to get started as well as to learn more about what she has to offer you!

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Anna April 18, 2012 at 8:45 pm

Thanks for your article. I’ve had my gallbladder removed and I never even think about it. It really hasn’t seemed to affect my life at all. However, now I’m starting to wonder if it is having more of an impact on my health then I realized. Could this be why I have a hard time losing weight even though I eat all whole foods and fairly low carb?

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lydia May 9, 2012 at 7:37 am

Hi Anna,

If you’ve had your gallbladder removed you will need to support yourself with bile salts for life, it’s like a gallbladder in a bottle. If you can’t digest your fats properly yes you can have issues with weight, though I can’t speak to whether that is the soul case in your situation.

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Sereena May 25, 2012 at 5:04 pm

I actually stumbled on your blog after searching for “liver pain caused by beet kvass”! As you mention, every body is different. I had my gall bladder removed about 7 years ago. I have never been able to lose weight since, can’t digest my food very well and have suffered on and off bloating and aches ever since.

I’ve been making and enjoying milk and water kefir for months now without any problems. In fact, both of these kefirs have helped calm my digestive system and liver a great deal.

I also started taking some digestive enzymes that have ox bile in them, after reading how good ox bile is after losing a GB.

Having read about the amazing health benefits of beet kvass for liver and digestion, I made it. I followed the general instructions of a small glass morning and night. After a week, I started getting a gnawing pain over my liver area, which spread to my pancreas as well. For the past 4 days, I’ve been in pain with this. I stopped taking both the enzymes and kvass, it is slowly calming down pain wise, but I am going to see the doctor today, because I am concerned I have damaged myself somewhat.

I had exactly the same reaction when I tried green smoothies. Again, like the kvass, they are presented as harmless mixtures that are beneficial to all. However, for somebody who has a troubled digestion to start with, like I do, they can cause problems.

Of course, this could be some sort of reaction and possibly a sign that it is doing something very good, I don’t know. I’ve noticed too that my pee is never beet coloured, although everyone talking about kvass says it colours theirs.

I’m considering that perhaps the enzymes were too much and I should just take straight ox bile instead.

I’m now taking things very gently and hopefully I’ll be fine, but until I see a doctor, I won’t know.

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lydia May 25, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Hi Sereena,

Glad you found me! Milk and water kefir are a completely different thing than beet kvass. Beet kvass is VERY cleansing to the liver and it could be that you had a major detox reaction to it. I’d suggest taking it VERY slowly if you try it again. I do think beets in some form are important for people without gallbladders – you need to really support your liver and help to keep the bile thin and free flowing. Also, it’s critical to be eating only the right kinds of fats – bad fats or even rancid fats will thicken your bile. I think enzymes are great too, it just could have been too much for your body at once and I think you are right to take things gently – just try one thing at a time very gradually to let your body adjust. See what your doc. says though.

Green smoothies are not my favorite – I personally don’t recommend them on a regular basis as the greens have various issues raw – I eat most of my dark leafy greens cooked.

I do not have beet colored urine from beet kvass. I never did – it is supposedly a sign of low stomach acid, but it’s not a definitive thing. I wouldn’t worry about that issue.

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Steph September 12, 2012 at 11:57 am

An extremely informative post. Thank you! I have had my gall bladder removed and find it pretty difficult to digest fats. I have been taking Biotics Beta-TCP (x2) and Hydro-Zyme (x3) tablets with each meal for the past two months. I have noticed slight improvements but my digestion of fats is still not adequate (everything just goes straight through me and I have difficulty maintaining weight and energy). In your post, you mention to NOT take Beta-TCP if you have had your gallbladder removed. Can you tell me why this might be? Also you recommended a different product, Beta plus. Would you recommend taking this supplement in addition to the Hydro-zyme?

I have only just found your site and look forward to exploring it further.

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Judy September 23, 2012 at 11:07 am

I just found your post and loved it! I was diagnosed as not digesting fats well (but I do have my gall bladder!) and wonder what I can take to help. I wanted to try the Beta-TCP but have chronic constipation so sounds like that won’t work. I also have digestive issues like bloating, gas, nausea, etc.. I’m trying the GAPS diet right now. Thanks for any advice!

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Natalia September 24, 2012 at 12:18 pm

I am so happy that I came across this post. My mother had her gallbladder removed a few years ago. She also had 2/3 of her intestines removed and pancreas trimmed 10 years ago. So she is a complete mess!
After gallbladder removal she was avoiding eating fats till we discovered GAPS diet which helped a lot with some other symptoms like high BP and extremely high triglycerides.
We are still concerned about her consuming high-fat foods. Her recent liver test numbers were slightly elevated and her stool turned white. She started to supplement with Ox Bile which took care of the stool color, but after a GI visit she discovered that she has bile reflux and gastritis. Doctor prescribed some meds but we are strongly opposed to any kind of medication as we are working on detoxing right now.
It is so confusing to me to understand what is going on. If stool turned white it means there was not enough bile, right? But then Endoscopy showed too much bile in the stomach. Does Adding OxBile increase the production of bile in liver or just adds salts for fat digestion? I am not sure whether she should avoid OxBile because of bile reflux.
I don’t think she is digesting fats properly as she has a lot of sign poor fat digestion such as low vitamin D in spite of taking fermented cod liver oil, D3 supps and consuming animal fat regularly.
I would greatly appreciate any feedback as I am completely lost at this point while trying to help her.

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lydia September 25, 2012 at 9:11 am

Steph,

Beta TCP is not recommended for those without a gallbladder based on Biotics Research product information. It does not do the same thing as the bile salts. Beta Plus is what is recommended (for life) when you do not have a gallbladder. I am not sure your dose of hydrozyme is enough for you – have you ever done a dosing test to find your dose? It’s rare anyone starts out with that low of a dose. Consider reading my post on hydrochloric acid; http://divinehealthfromtheinsideout.com/2012/03/why-i-am-supplementing-with-hydrochloric-acid/

..and yes I would take both. Please note that I do offer coaching calls and coaching packages if you would like further help with these issues.

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lydia September 25, 2012 at 9:15 am

Judy,

You may want to consider the Beta Plus until your constipation is remedied. You will need some support while on GAPS because of all the good fats you will likely be consuming. Since I do not know enough about how your body is functioning I really can’t get too much into dosing and such in a comment on a post. You want your pathways of digestion to be clear before you add the bile thinning support or things could just get more congested if you are not regular with your bowels. I have a special offer this month on Coaching calls, I could help you figure out how to manage this if you would like; http://divinehealthfromtheinsideout.com/2012/09/special-offer-coaching-calls-transform-your-health-with-lydia/

Hope that helps, I think GAPS is a great plan!!

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lydia September 25, 2012 at 9:22 am

Natalia,

I hesitate to give out too much advice on this, since I feel like I’d have to know a lot more to properly answer you, and considering she has had surgeries that makes things even more complicated. The best I can suggest for now, is for her to try adding hydrochloric acid, read this post on how; http://divinehealthfromtheinsideout.com/2012/03/why-i-am-supplementing-with-hydrochloric-acid/

And, I would learn about the proper fats to eat and be sure to NEVER consume bad fats EVER – read here on good fats; http://divinehealthfromtheinsideout.com/2011/05/how-to-ditch-processed-foods-what-fats-should-you-be-consuming/

Again, like I mentioned to the others, I am offering a special offer on my coaching calls this month, giving you more support for your $$ – talk to your mom and consider this offer, I could help you come up with a gameplan to support her; http://divinehealthfromtheinsideout.com/2012/09/special-offer-coaching-calls-transform-your-health-with-lydia/

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Natalia September 25, 2012 at 11:17 am

Lydia,
Thank you so much for your feedback!
My mother has been on GAPS for 10 months now and mostly Intro, so bad fats are never consumed in this house any more. I am not sure she should try HCL at this point as she has gastritis and possible ulcer from bile reflux.
We will consider your consultation offer, but it is highly unlikely we could do it, as my husband has lost his job last months and things haven’t been great.
In any case, thank you again!

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lydia September 25, 2012 at 11:37 am

Natalia,

Sounds like you are heading down the right path with GAPS – often people need the ‘cherries on top’ along with the protocol. If you suspect your mother may have some ulcerations in her stomach, you will want to heal the stomach first. The fresh pressed green juices should help with that, also try adding in something like George’s Aloe vera juice – spend a good month healing the stomach, then try a test with HCL.

Hope that helps – let me know how it goes if you try it!

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Natalia September 25, 2012 at 11:48 am

Lydia,
we definitely need some cherries on top because she has so many issues and no one seem to find any answers.
I have read that cabbage juice heals ulcers fast, but her doctors told her to avoid cabbage because of her operated pancreas. You say any green juice would do? We are juicing in am, but mostly carrots, beets, celery and apples.
I actually gonna do the HCL test myself because I have a lot of digestive issues too.

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lydia September 25, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Natalia,

It’s the chlorophyll in the green juices that can help heal any ulcerations. You could mix some green juice with the aloe juice to take. But only take while healing any ulcers. If green juice is not tolerated, just try the aloe.

Everyone that can take HCL, should for sure!

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Grace April 26, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Hi – Just wanted to say thanks for this info. I’m post bariatric surgery (sleeve) and now post GB surgery and have post bariatric reactive hypoglycemia. My stools have been nearly white since before GB surgery and did not change afterward. I also stopped losing weight after my first big GB attack though I did try beets and various types of herbal teas to help. Anyway, it stopped working and started to make me more sick so I let them take it out and now I can’t seem to digest even a tiny salad of butter lettuce. All I can get down is either meat with a sauce on it or junk food like ice cream and that’s the last thing I want. Saw a specialist dietician who told me to eat fat free (!!) and never to have coconut oil. Well, I tried that for a week and felt just awful. I’m back on my coconut milk and for the last two days have tried bile salts with much success. I think it will take some time and experimentation but it’s better than before! Anyway, thanks!

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lydia April 26, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Hi Grace! I’m so sorry to hear of all you have been through, that must have been a really rough season for you. I am so grateful that this information has helped you! Thanks for sharing about it.

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shelly July 18, 2013 at 12:21 pm

I had gallbladder removed 5 months ago, I have put on more weight than before op cannot even wear clothes I wore before op. I have been on a healthy diet but stomach is very bloated, was not like this before op, I have had stomach scan liver and bile duct slightly swollen and blood tests ok, can you please think of any advice you can give me. Thankyou

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lydia July 30, 2013 at 7:00 am

Shelly,

I’m sorry your having some troubles. I can’t really give out advice generally speaking without knowing more, which is why I offer consults. However, you may want to get on some bile salts right away. Enzymes and probiotics could help a lot too. Good luck!

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Cleora September 19, 2013 at 12:27 pm

If a gallstone blocks the bile passage in the gallbladder, nausea, vomiting and pain in the upper right abdominal region occur. These symptoms often arise after the individual has eaten fried or fatty foods. The pain can be very intense.

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Marci December 30, 2013 at 10:14 am

Having Gallbladder issues and have stones, too. Recently had a major ‘attack’ and ended up in the E.R. I was ready to have my GB removed but now I want to save it if I can. I have a few questions. Are bile salts and ox bile the same thing? If not, which is best to take with meals? If bile is released in the upper intestines, why would bile be in the stomach? Isn’t digestion done in the stomach only & absorption in the intestines? Is the bile released by the GB for fat absorption not ‘digestion’? If I take bile salts to aid my GB, should I also take digestive enzymes & HCL with all meals as well or just ‘fatty’ ones? Believe me, I am going easy on fatty meals for awhile! I NEVER want to be in THAT much pain again! Thanks for all help. Great article.

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David December 31, 2013 at 12:15 am

Hi Marci,

I’ve been taking ox bile as well as HCL and find it works well. I bought mine from the company called Nutricology. I stopped using digestive enzymes and just used HCL. I also drink all my water with apple cider vinegar as well as put it on my food. I’ve been following the gaps diet and highly recommend it.

David

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lydia December 31, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Marci,

Yes they are the same thing.

Your question about bile being released in the intestines, so therefore why supplement with it since it will have to start out in the stomach is an excellent question. Unfortunately, it’s not a perfect solution. Yes, Bile is released from the gallbladder by the presence of fat in the duodenum (small intestine). Bile emulsifies the fats, cholesterol, and fat soluble vitamins you have eaten by breaking them into tiny globules. These create a greater surface area for the fat-splitting enzyme lipase to act on during digestiong. Fat is actually digested in the small intestine -unfortunately there are no enteric coated bile salts that I know of that can make it through the stomach fully -however, taking them supplementally still seems to work as it seems some of the bile salts do reach the small intestine – dosage will vary from person to person.
I can’t tell you what you should do personally as I don’t know your entire situation -however, if you do still have your gallbladder in take you may want to support it to make sure the bile is thin and free flowing and support your stomach to digest in the first place with enzymes pre-meal (extra lipases possibly) and HCl end or post-meal. Another thing to consider would be food sensitivities – that seems to be a common thread I see with my clients. And yes, watching how you respond to fats will be key – go easy on them for sure. And bile salts could still benefit you for a time – you will just have to test it all out carefully on yourself. Best bet would be to find a practitioner well versed in all of this to work with.

Hope that helps some!

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Kristen January 3, 2014 at 11:50 am

Is the Beta Plus safe to take during pregnancy? I am pregnant and have had my gallbladder removed. I am having some major issues digesting fats with this pregnancy and need to take it, but not sure if it safe?

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lydia January 3, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Yes, it is safe to take. Just keep in mind when you start any new protocol/supplement you can have possible uncomfortable healing reactions -that said, it’s advisable to start out slowly. So long as you don’t have an allergy to beets -this should be fine…..

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anne February 6, 2014 at 12:29 pm

This doesn’t make sense to me could you please explain..
1. Bile isn’t only released when eating fat. We also need to digest fat. So lowfat doesn’t equal ultimate sluggish bile. Also, the body doesn’t use bile to digest coconut oil. I know because I cannot digest fat and have sluggish bile but have no problem with coconut. Plus I’ve read this on a natural doctors website. Can you explain what you wrote to clarify for me.

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anne February 6, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Meant to say We also need bile to digest meat. I couldn’t edit my last comment.

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Sarah February 13, 2014 at 2:35 am

excellent post! I have just tested my zinc levels as per your post about that. I am low. So my question is, I want to now test for the HCL and I suspect I am also low in this. If the zinc helps to make HCL I am wondering if I also need to take the HCL if I test low as the zinc could over time let my body make the HCL I need? Or should I just take the HCL?

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