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Walking around the NC State Fair last Sunday, I passed by a pharmacy truck. They were selling everything from aspirin to ear plugs. The product that they were featuring the most, however, were the digestive aids, especially antacids. Now obviously, anyone who has been to the fair could easily see why these things were needed. It's not every day you eat a Twinkie that has been stuffed with a Twix bar, then wrapped in bacon and deep fried (Yes that is a thing and it is called a Twinx). The fair can humble even the most iron clad of stomachs. However, the truth of the matter is, 60 million people suffer from heartburn at least once a month and about 25 million suffer from it daily just eating regular food. Seems like a ton of people, and, well, it is. Unfortunately the most common way for these millions of people to manage their symptoms could actually be making everything way worse!

Now what if I told you that the underlying cause of most acid reflux is actually NOT HAVING ENOUGH STOMACH ACID!

**insert tires screeching, loud gasps, and bewildered looks**

…Yes this sounds counterintuitive and hard to believe, but if you give me a few minutes I promise I can explain this in a way that will not only make sense to you, but will probably inspire you to sing the praises of stomach acid to all that will listen!

So to begin, why exactly is stomach acid so amazing?? Here is a quick list of all of the important things stomach acid does for us:

  1. It's one of our first lines of defense against bad guys (harmful bacteria/candida/viruses) lurking in our food/drink/environment including H.Pylori (think ulcers, and in rare cases stomach cancer)
  2. Triggers release of digestive enzymes to speed up the process of digestion (think break down of complex protein and carbohydrates into smaller components usable by the body)
  3. Helps to break down food itself
  4. Helps to absorb minerals like magnesium, sodium, and iron
So stomach acid protects us and helps us to assimilate the food we eat! Seems pretty important to me!!

Ok, so great, stomach acid is important, that probably isn't a shock to too many people, but how exactly could low stomach acid be behind heartburn and acid reflux? Let's take a closer look at the consequences that occur when low stomach acid is present.

As mentioned above, stomach acid helps digest food quickly and efficiently. Without it, improperly digested food sits in the stomach for much longer than it should. This translates to the food fermenting and festering, allowing bacteria to thrive. In a healthy individual, the pH of the stomach is so acidic that most bacteria cannot survive, however when there isn't enough stomach acid, it becomes a hotbed of bacterial activity. Unfortunately, this causes issues not only in the stomach itself, but also further along the line in the small intestine and large intestine. Anyways, one thing that is consistent throughout the digestive tract is that the harmful bacteria feed off of all the improperly digested food, and the byproduct of that is gas, bloating, and poor digestion. All this gas and bloating leads to an increase in the amount of pressure in your digestive tract. This gas has limited options on how to escape. So, when the pressure in the stomach gets too high it will actually cause the little trap door between the esophagus and the stomach (lower esophageal sphincter) to relax and open and allow stomach content to invade the esophagus. Look at the figure to the right to see the basic digestive anatomy. The amount of pressure will dictate the severity and duration of the acid reflux. The acid coming into contact with the sensitive lining of the esophagus is what gives us heartburn.

Don't forget, in addition to this whole gas/bloating/pressure situation we've got, the other part of the story is that we aren't digesting our food!!

We need the vitamins, minerals, nutrients in food to perform every aspect of living. Iron, Vitamin B12, Folate, Calcium, and Zinc are just a few of the many nutrients that don't get absorbed well without proper stomach acid levels. This is a very big deal! Some of the symptoms of low stomach acid are the following (1):
Guess what almost all of the current treatments of heartburn include? Acid suppression and neutralization!

Hopefully you can see how this will only make things so much worse! The chronic poor absorption of nutrients that happens when on these meds long term can lead to osteoporosis, Iron deficiency anemia, cardiovascular disease, and depression. Those are only a few of the possibilities!

So why might you have low stomach acid (HCL)?

For a lot of us the cause and perpetuation of low stomach acid can also be the cure. Diet. The type of food we put in our bodies can shift the balance in the stomach for better or for worse.

Foods to Avoid

High carbohydrate meals/foods
Hydrogenated oils
Artificial sweeteners
Any food sensitivities
If you are looking to increase your stomach acid/reduce inflammation in your stomach:
  • Chew your food very well
  • Aloe vera juice (get this from your local health food store)
  • 1tbs of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice in an ounce or two of water 10-15 mins before a meal
  • Ginger root tea
  • Add fermented foods

Still struggling?? Try adding the following supplements in addition to the above: If you are battling acid reflux and heartburn, please do not hesitate to let me know. I can help!

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Center for Chiropractic & Wellness   |   8300 Health Park, Suite 133 Raleigh, NC 27615    |    Phone: (919)845-3280    |   Fax: (919)845-3276