WEAK STOMACH ACID AND THE RELATIONSHIP TO
POOR DIGESTION, DYSBIOSIS, AND DISEASE
The problem is that each of these myths (not to mention dozens of others --- HERE) directly affects your health in an adverse manner. Today we are going to throw one more on the junk heap. There is a myth that is so ingrained in people's minds that getting it out is often times impossible --- the myth that your digestive issues are caused by too much or too strong stomach acid.
Acid is rated on a pH scale (see diagram above left). 7 is neutral, 14 is the strongest base (alkali), with 0 being the very strongest acid. How strong should stomach acid really be? Listen to what my 1986 version of Guyton's Textbook of Medical Physiology (the standard physiology text for all doctors) says about the gastric secretion of stomach acid. "The pH of this acid solution is approximately .8, thus illustrating it's extreme acidity."
Let me spell out to you what Dr. G is saying here. Considering battery acid (sulfuric acid --- H2S04) is the strongest acid listed on most pH charts (it's about 0), the fact that normal stomach acid (hydrochloric acid --- HCl) is next on the list should at least get your attention. Add to this the fact that on a pH scale, each number represents a factor of 10 (in other words, 1 is ten times more acidic than 2, 100 times more acidic than 3, 1,000 times more acidic than 4.....), and you can start to see how acidic stomach acid really is. What does 'strong' stomach acid do? We'll get there momentarily, but first it's important to understand how you are being conned.
When it comes to marketing, the medical community spares no expense. One of the ways that medical marketing has exponentially increased market share is by convincing people they have "Diseases". If that tag-team of YOUR DOCTOR and BIG PHARMA can convince you that you have a disease that can never be cured --- only 'MANAGED' with a lifetime of drugs and surgeries --- they see you and your diseases as a cash cow that will put money in their pockets for decades to come. Multiply this scenario by tens of millions of people, and you have a gold mine whose value is unfathomable. Take, for instance, GERD (Gastro Esophogeal Reflux Disease).
GERD used to be known as 'heartburn'. And of course everyone knows that heartburn is caused by too much or too strong stomach acid. Or is it? It's funny how the medical research is catching up to the things that the "Alternative Practitioners" (aka QUACKS) have been telling their patients for decades.
Despite the fact that acid-blocking PPI's (PROTON PUMP INHIBITORS) are the third most-prescribed class of drug in America (as of 2008, Nexium --- the 'purple pill' --- was America's number two selling drug behind only LIPITOR), the mainstream medical community is starting to realize the wisdom of men like DR. ROYAL LEE. You see, it has only been in the past couple of decades that the medical community 'discovered' that both Gastritis and Stomach Ulcers are caused by a bacteria ---- Heliobacter Pylori (usually just called H. Pylori). Listen to what Dr. Lee wrote eighty years ago.
The ability of the human body to resist the invasion of its tissues by microorganisms is dependent upon a number of factors. But probably the best way to insure the highest degree of resistance for any given individual is to see that his dietary intake of vitamins is amply high.... Stomach ulcers are probably the best instance of a bacterial invasion primarily due to lowered resistance resulting from vitamin deficiency. Dr. Royal Lee from the September 18, 1933 issue of The Vitamin News
- 15% of the entire American population has Hypochlorhydria.
- 40% of the 40 year olds have Hypochlorhydria.
- 50% of the 60 year olds have Hypochlorhydria.
- Over 30 percent of the over-60 crowd suffers from something called Atrophic Gastritis, a condition characterized by Achlorhydria (they produce zero stomach acid) .
- 40% of women over the age of 80 have Achlorhydria .
- One in five Americans experiences heartburn monthly.
- Nearly half of these have heartburn daily.
- GERD is thought to be dramatically underestimated because of the crazy numbers of people taking over-the-counter antacids and PPI's.
- Approximately 20% of those who have H. Pylori infections end up with ulcers.
- About 1% of these get Stomach Cancer.
- 70% of partners / spouses share H. Pylori.
- H. Pylori is the only bacteria recognized as a Grade I Carcinogen by the World Health Organization (it is strongly associated with Stomach Cancer and Pancreatic Cancer).
These statistics on Hypochlorhydria and Achlorhydria are shocking. Throw in the stats on H. Pylori and they are stupefying. As you can see, this problem could (and probably should) legitimately be referred to as an epidemic. But what are all of these people told over and over and over again by their PCP's and Gastroenterologists?
They are told that they have too much or too strong stomach acid. Not only is this not true, it is 180 degrees opposite of the truth. Make sure you catch this point. As crazy as it sounds, the reason that most people have GERD-like symptoms is because they are making too little or too weak stomach acid. Allow me to explain.
Healthy people have a slightly alkali body (about 7.4) and a very acidic stomach. Unhealthy people (a huge percentage of Americans) tend to have a body that is more acidic (all sick people are acidic) and are wearing out the machinery for buffering this acid. Because there should be, at least in healthy people, be an inverse relationship between the acidity of the body and the acidity of the stomach, this means it's likely that this group's stomach will not be acidic enough. What are the consequences of poor quality / quantity of stomach acid? They are many and potentially severe.
(LOW STOMACH ACID)
Not only is this a huge misconception, low stomach acid has actually been tied to a wide array of serious diseases. And if your digestion is screwy, the nutrition you consume is going straight through you without being broken down and absorbed into your bloodstream.
COMMON SIGNS OF HYPOCHLORHYDRIA
- Bloating, Burping, and Gas immediately following meals / Staying full long after a meal is over
- Bad breath (seen with H. Pylori infections or Putrefaction) / PERIODONTAL DISEASE
- Heartburn / Indigestion
- Diarrhea or CONSTIPATION or other common symptoms of IBS (IBS is now the second-leading cause of missed work, behind only the common cold.)
- Undigested food in stools / Feeling Hungry despite Eating (due to maldigestion and malabsorbition of protein)
- Zits (HERE)
- CANDIDA (yeast overgrowths) / Rectal Itching / PARASITES / DYSBIOSIS
- Food Sensitivities such as GLUTEN, ALLERGIES, and ASTHMA
- Iron Deficiency / Various types of ANEMIA --- particularly Vitamin B-12 / Mineral Deficiencies in general / OSTEOPOROSIS
- Chronic Fatigue / Adrenal Fatigue (FIBROMYALGIA) / Lethargy / Apathy / DEPRESSION
- Dry Skin, Dry Hair, Cracked Nails
- Severe Morning Sickness
- Spontaneous Recurrent Abortion (INFERTILITY)
- Autoimmune Diseases of all kinds, including HYPOTHYROIDISM
- Various forms of CANCER, including Stomach and Pancreatic
Weak or diminished stomach acid is bad for you in three chief ways. Firstly, all alkalizing minerals (the minerals that create the slightly alkali pH that your body requires) can only be absorbed in an extremely acidic environment. This is why antacids are a huge cause of Osteoporosis, even though some (like TUMS) actually tout themselves as anti-osteoporotics due to the fact that their buffering ingredient is calcium (i.e. a poor source; Calcium Carbonate -- limestone or chalk). Click HERE to learn about the single best calcium supplement on the planet.
Secondly, strong stomach acid prevents Dysbiotic overgrowths of bacteria from making their way from the intestines to colonize the stomach. If your stomach's pH is too high (too alkali), you create an environment for bacteria to gain access, take hold, grow, and reproduce. The most common of these is Heliobacter Pylori (H. Pylori for short). Although these critters are normally found in the Gut in small numbers, they should never be present in the stomach. The drugs taken for heartburn (PPI's) are commonly found to cause all sorts of Dysbiosis (HERE).
Thirdly, it is stomach acid that stimulates the pancreas to release the proper ENZYMES needed for digestion. Without the acid trigger, digestion will be severely hampered. If you are not digesting your food properly, there is no way to get it into your system in its proper form (a "Leaky Gut" doesn't count).
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE HYPOCHLORHYDRIA?
Although there are several ways to test for hypochlorhydria (HERE is one of them), there are a couple that I recommend you start with in the privacy of your own home. I do not feel it is necessary to swallow the radio transmitter pill that broadcasts stomach pH back to the doctor in charge. Great test, but it will cost you about 500 bucks. Another popular test is consuming a significant amount of Baking Soda and seeing how long it takes to belch. Truthfully, if you have the symptoms listed below, rest assured that you have Hypochlorhydria.
In fact, when recently discussing the the test in the link at the top of the paragraph with a practitioner with decades of experience in FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE, he said he has never one time seen a person with too much stomach acid except in the case of gastric tumors called gastrinomas (Zollinger / Ellison Syndrome) --- an extremely rare disease that is a major risk factor for Pancreatic Cancer.
- YOUR SALIVARY pH IS TOO LOW: If your salivary pH is low, this means that your body is probably too acidic. Remember the earlier discussion on stomach pH? The pH of the body has an inverse relationship to the pH of the stomach. If you have an acidic salivary pH, it probably means that your stomach is not acidic enough. Get some test paper at the local drugstore (pH paper) and check it. Your salivary pH should be a slightly alkali 7.4.
- YOU FEEL CRAPPY WHEN YOU EAT HIGH PROTEIN MEALS ---- PARTICULARLY MEAT: Stomach Acid (HCl --- Hydrochloric Acid) is what helps break down and digest protein. When you are unable to digest proteins, they go through a funky process whose name alone might make you vomit ---- putrefaction. Putrefaction occurs when the food you eat fails to digest. It tends to move slowly through the digestive tract and can actually undergo a process almost identical to fermentation.
- YOU ROUTINELY HAVE HEARTBURN OR INDIGESTION: Some people don't even have to eat protein to get stomach symptoms. They get it routinely from anything they eat.
- YOU ARE NOT DRINKING ENOUGH WATER: Although I do not recommend that you drink much water with your meal (it tends to dilute your stomach acid), you need lots of water throughout the day if you want your stomach acid to be strong and effective. Here is a simple moniker to help you understand why. Hydro means 'water'. Hydro-chloric acid is a water-based acid ---- it is manufactured by your body using H2O. Without ample water, your stomach acid will be too weak. Many people can cure Hypochlorhydria simply by hydrating themselves properly with water or green tea.
- YOU GET POST-MEAL GAS IN THE FORM OF BELCHING, BLOATING, OR FLATULENCE: Although this can be caused solely from food sensitivities such as those seen with Gluten or Dairy, it is also a common symptom of having low stomach acid (Food Sensitivities themselves are actually heavily associated with Hypochlorhydria). Much of this has to do with a Dysbiotic Gut. Because your food is muchly digested by your good bacteria; and strong acid keeps the bad bacteria from overgrowing your digestive tract --- strong acid keeps the bad bacteria at bay. Too many bad bacteria and you have half of the double-sided coin that is POOR GUT HEALTH --- Dysbiosis. Once you have Dysbiosis, it won't be long before you have the other side of the coin --- a Leaky Gut (you can read about both in a moment).
- MYOFASCIAL SYNDROMES AND MUSCLE SPASMS / CRAMPS: When you fail to absorb minerals (all minerals can only be absorbed in a highly acidic environment), there is the potential to end up with MUSCLE ISSUES.
THE MECHANISM OF HEARTBURN OR GERD
As you have seen, one of the major signs / symptoms of this whole problem is gas --- lots of gas. This gas causes a major increase in the pressure inside the stomach (bloating). This pressure, coupled with the closure of the sphincter valve between the stomach and the duodenum (it will not open unless there is enough acid to trip the trigger) will tend to push the putrefying food mass --- a mass that happens to be extremely acidic --- back up past the valve and into the esophagus. People with severe GERD will sometimes have a red ring around their mouth from being burned by stomach acid and a putrefying bolus of partially digested food. Since the esophagus is not protected by the same lining as the stomach, it is highly susceptible to being burned by HCl.
Now throw in LEAKY GUT SYNDROME, and sooner or later you'll end up with one or more of THESE Autoimmune Diseases (Autoimmune Diseases are like Lays Potato Chips --- "you can't have just one."). Along the way, you'll develop GERD because the valve at the top of the stomach will fail to work properly. And what does this all mean to you --- the average American?
American doctors are writing over 100,000,000 (100 million) prescriptions a year for acid-blocker drugs known as PPI'S. As a NON-EVOLUTIONIST, I simply have to ask myself if it makes sense that we humans were created so faulty as to require such a huge segment of our population to be reliant on heartburn drugs? In other words, is such a huge segment of our society really making too much stomach acid? No way! So; why do these drugs appear to work --- at least on a temporary basis?
They block the acid that is part of the mess being refluxed back up the esophagus. But it's kind of like "REBOUND HEADACHES" (headaches caused by the medications being taken to control headaches). And believe it or not, research has shown that if your body is not making enough stomach acid, it will actually increase the numbers of acid making cells in the stomach ---- helping to perpetuate the cycle. Having plenty of strong stomach acid helps the digestive process stay on track, preventing gas / bloating, and helping to keep the valve between the esophagus and stomach closed. This helps to prevent stomach acid and putrefying food from backing up into the esophagus or "refluxing". But where do you start as far as fixing this problem is concerned?
HOW TO FIX HYPOCHLORHYDRIA
- TRY AND EAT WHEN YOU ARE NOT STRESSED: There are two parts of the nervous system --- the Sympathetic and the Parasympathetic. The Sympathetic Nervous System is geared toward fight or flight. It gives us a rush of adrenaline and moves blood away from the digestive organs to our limbs so that we can flee or stand and fight (this reaction occurs even if the stressor is not physical in nature). Conversely, the Parasympathetic Nervous System is all about relaxation and digestion. To learn more about that relationship, read my post on SYMPATHETIC DOMINANCE.
- EAT LOW CARB: Sugar, Fructose, High Glycemic-Index foods, and even artificial sweeteners mess with your digestive system by decreasing stomach acidity. Some of this is because they acidify the body in general (creating the inverse relationship we spoke of earlier). Some of this is due to the fact that these things have a tendency to feed part of the very problem we are trying to correct ---- Dysbiosis. Also be aware that there is thirty years of research tying Gluten Sensitivity back to Hypochlorhidria. A PALEO DIET is a potential solution to all of this and more.
- IF YOU HAVE IBD OR IBS, DON'T EAT YOUR CARBS AND PROTEINS TOGETHER: For those of you struggling with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), it might behoove you to try eating your carbs separate from your protein (at completely different meals), since the acid is needed for protein digestion. All foods (fats, carbs and proteins) are digested via enzymatic activity. But it's important to remember that the enzymes the body uses to digest protein are only activated in the presence of strong stomach acid. Oh, and while we are actually talking about digestive enzymes, not only can they be purchased almost anywhere relatively inexpensively, but most can be found naturally in raw whole foods.
- GET TO A HEALTHY WEIGHT: Although GERD symptoms can hit just about anyone, like numerous other health-related problems, they're much more common in those who are overweight. Interested in getting to a healthy weight? CLICK HERE.
- GET PERIODIC ADJUSTMENTS: Although people who have never been to a Chiropractor do not understand this point, Chiropractors and their patients do. There is not a day that goes by where someone does not come to get adjusted because of their heartburn. Nerves from the spine (HERE) control the organs, glands, and tissues of your body. When the vertebrae are either misaligned or not moving freely in relationship to each other, it creates subtle dysfunctions in the nerves that may or may not lead to pain, but can often trigger other seemingly unrelated symptoms. Heartburn is actually one of the most common of these.
- CHEW YOUR FOOD COMPLETELY: Not only does this help ease the digestive process, chewing actually stimulates the production of stomach acid.
- RAW APPLE CIDER VINEGAR AND LEMON JUICE: This is a concoction that despite being extremely acidic itself, will actually alkalize the body while acidifying the stomach. I generally use Braggs vinegar. This is because it needs to be raw and unpasteurized as opposed to the stuff in your pantry. I even know people who have been cured of their GERD by eating the proverbial apple a day.
- BETAINE HCl: Betaine Hydrochloric Acid is a simple inexpensive way to see if you are deficient in HCl (we use Standard Process's Zypan, which not only has the acid, but the enzymes as well). Just take HCl with your meal and see how you do. (WARNING: DO NOT DO THIS WITHOUT A DOCTOR'S SUPERVISION --- particularly if you are on NSAIDS, CORTICOSTEROIDS, or other Anti-inflammatory drugs. These drugs are known to damage the stomach's protective lining. Although it is not uncommon to get some degree of discomfort from taking Betaine HCl (particularly at first), this discomfort should not be severe. If it is severe, IMMEDIATELY STOP TAKING THE PRODUCT AS YOU COULD AGGRAVATE AN ULCER. Specific directions for taking HCl are forthcoming.
They range from Gluten, to SUGAR, to Alcohol, to Anti-inflammatory drugs and Antacids, to dietary toxins, to even coffee (as a side note; both black and green tea have been shown to inhibit H. Pylori). Notice that this list looks suspiciously like the list causes low stomach acid. As a survival mechanism, H. Pylori actually releases chemicals (toxins) that decrease stomach acid. How do you know whether or not you actually have H. Pylori? You can do a stool sample or you can do a breath test.
TOP TEN WAYS
TO KNOCK OUT
H. PYLORI NATURALLY
The good news is, there are a number of things you can do to knock it out without having to go on Antibiotics. Here is my top ten. Again, you'll notice that some of these overlap the list I gave you for low stomach acid. They are in no particular order.
- GET TESTED: There are a couple of ways to do this. Firstly, you could check via a Stool Sample. This is nice because you can check for other things like parasites, dysbiosis, leaky gut, etc, at the same time (see earlier link on parasites). Or you could simply do the urea breath test. Here's the thing. If you suspect H. Pylori, it is easy and inexpensive to confirm via testing. The breath test is cheaper, but a comprehensive stool test will provide tons more information about GUT HEALTH.
- GO LOW CARB (OR BETTER YET, PALEO): High Glycemic Index Carbs are the food of choice for Dysbiotic infections of all sorts (HERE) ---- including H. Pylori.
- AVOID PROCESSED FOODS: Smoked foods, refined flour, sugar and sugar substitutes, additives, preservatives, and chemicals found in foods are known to contribute to H. Pylori via their acidity (they acidify the body, while alkalizing the stomach). They also don't contain any of the enzymes needed to digest your food as do most whole foods --- particularly when eaten raw.
- GO GLUTEN FREE: If you Google "Gluten Hypochlorhidria" you'll probably be shocked at just how much information there really is on this unholy connection. To see the multitudes of ways that GLUTEN can adversely affect your health, just click the link. To see what it will take to go Gluten Free, HERE is the place to start.
- TAKE A STOMACH ACIDIFIER: I covered these earlier. If raw apple cider vinegar does not work, then some form of Betaine HCl is the way to go, but you need to use it the correct way. Just prior to eating a high protein meal, take a tablet (we use Standard Processes' Zypan). If you do not notice symptoms of burning or GI distress, you can continue this for a couple more days. Next, do the same thing with two tablets --- then three tablets, etc. When you hit the point where stomach discomfort occurs, back off by one tablet. Warning: do not hold these tablets in your mouth as they can burn you. If you already have ulcers, they can burn you as well. In that case, you'll need to do a different protocol. Besides helping with digestion, the higher acidity (lower pH) will help to kill H. Pylori by ruining their environment. DISCLAIMER: Do not do this unless you are under the supervision of a physician.
- AVOID ANTIBIOTICS AND OTHER DRUGS: Plainly stated, ANTIBIOTICS are the reason people usually end up with H. Pylori in the first place. Unfortunately, NEARLY ALL DRUGS are antibiotics. By the way, according to a 2/8/2012 memo from the FDA, Acid Blocker drugs are not only being associated with H. Pylori (see the previous link on PPI's), but are being strongly associated with C. DIFF as well.
- TAKE PROBIOTICS: This is a critical step, but in and of itself will probably not get the job done (HERE). However, IT IS A START. Some of you might have to go OFF THE PROVERBIAL RESERVATION to restore your Microbiome.
- DRINK LOTS OF WATER AND ONLY WATER: Amazingly enough, there is actually a great deal of peer-reviewed scientific literature on this very thing. Hydro [water] chloric acid will help create an environment that H. Pylori hate. I will warn you, however, that soda (EVEN DIET SODA) will feed this problem. Although I have seen studies pooh poohing it, I tend to not drink with my meals so as not to dilute my stomach acid.
- EAT A WHOLE FOOD DIET: Diets chocked full of WHOLE FOODS, particularly things like onions, garlic, fresh hot peppers, Licorice, Cinnamon, Ginger, citrus seed extracts, Ethiopia's own berberi, rhubarb, cinnamon, and Coconut oil have all been shown to have beneficial effects on H. Pylori infections (HERE). Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, and kale, have been shown to be effective in clinical trials as well (HERE). Bear in mind that the immature 'sprouts' of the cruciferous vegetables have been shown to contain 50 times the active ingredients as mature plants. Eating sauerkraut or even drinking the juice has been shown effective in regulating stomach acid, as have other fermented vegetables. There is also evidence that raw vegetables such as carrots, green leafies, and sweet potatoes can be beneficial as far as getting rid of H. Pylori infections are concerned. Plants such as Gentian, Dandelion, Scutellaria, Goldenseal, and Ginger have also shown themselves beneficial as they increase secretions of stomach acid.