Let’s talk about stomach acid, a.k.a. HCl (hydrochloric acid).  Sexy topic, right?  It may not sound interesting or appealing, but producing enough stomach acid in your body is so important!  It is critical for the body to be able to kill parasites, properly digest proteins, and break down other macronutrients (carbs and fats). Remember learning about pH in science class?  Your stomach wants to have a normal pH of 1.5-3.0. That is a super acidic environment.

What does HCl do?  HCl has numerous roles including: bathes and disinfects the stomach, kills bacteria and parasites, activates pepsin (critical for the digestion of proteins), stimulates gastrin, and breaks down proteins.

Why is this relevant to me?  Having poor digestion means having a lack of nutrients. What does that lead to?  Poor overall health. About 90% of Americans produce too little HCl.  Factors that can inhibit HCl production are: STRESS, excess carbohydrate consumption, alcohol, nutrient deficiencies, and allergies.

So what happens if my body does not produce enough HCl? Here are a few things that can happen:

  1. Bloating
  2. Our first line of defense against pathogens is gone – say hello to HAVOC in the GI tract
  3. You experience Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – FEEL THE BURN
  4. Chyme (acidic mixture of partly digested food and gastric juices) does not want to travel down into the duodenum so it may stay longer in your stomach and start to degenerate. This can lead to MORE BURNING and foods start to ROT in your tummy
  5. Poor overall digestion

If I am experiencing burning, shouldn’t I take an antacid?  No, you do not want to reduce the acid – you want to increase it.  Having too much stomach acid is very rare.  There is a huge misconception about stomach acid due to the prevalence of antacids.  Antacids raise the pH of chyme (that acidic mixture of food and gastric juice that I mentioned) to neutral.  This relieves the esophagus from burning, but it is a TEMPORARY fix to a much larger problem.  Now, the chyme is too alkaline and your carbohydrates begin to ferment, your proteins begin to putrefy, and your fats begin to rancidify.  Yikes!  An even scarier notion is that reduced HCl secretion and the overuse of antacids can lead to gastric cancer.

Help! What can I do?  Here are some tips for producing more HCl:

  1. RELAX before meals. Take deep breaths.  Before eating, your body needs to be in a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state.  Digestion actually begins in the brain. If the body is in a ‘fight or flight’ state, then the brain cannot signal to the other organs to prepare for digestion. This can lead to bloating, diarrhea, acid reflux, and undigested food in your stool.
  2. Take a long time to chew your food. You want to chew and break down your food and release saliva for moistening. This excretion of saliva is a critical component to breaking down carbohydrates.
  3. Take an HCl supplement to help break down proteins. Never take on an empty stomach and please work with a doctor or practitioner for proper dosing.
  4. Take digestive bitters before meals. This will help stimulate digestion secretions such as saliva, bile, HCl, and digestive enzymes.
  5. Incorporate acidic foods to stimulate the production of HCl. Sip on warm lemon water or water with a TBSP of apple cider vinegar before meals.
  6. Manage stress. This is easier said than done, but stress has such a huge effect on our mental and physical state. It can completely throw off our digestion and affect the other organs in our body.  Take some time for yourself to nourish your body in any way you can.  Take a walk, call a friend, sit in a tub – anything that will bring you some relief.
  7. Work with me! Having proper digestion is not always straightforward and it can be hard to know where to begin.  Work with a practitioner so you can learn how to absorb nutrients and take care of your health.