Monday, February 2, 2015

Why You Need Stomach Acid (Part 1)

My Story

I have been having some problems with my digestion recently. I had a lot of stress in the past months, which lead to me having GERD symptoms. At first I had a mild burning sensation across my esophagus. Nothing too bad a well placed Rennie couldn't help out. But then these burning sensations started increasing in frequency and also in intensity. That's when I decided to visit a doctor. Without even looking at my stomach (I eventually did have an endoscopy) he claimed that I was secreting too much stomach acid.
At the time I thought that might make sense (and probably did but not for long):
  • When a person starts to eat, the stomach is stimulated to start producing Hydrochloric Acid (HCL). The HCL activates the chief cells in the middle portion of the stomach to start secreting a protein-digesting enzyme known as pepsinogen. Pepsinogen requires the presence of hydrochloric acid in order to begin digesting protein. And thus, stomach acid starts increasing gradually during a meal [1].
  • So the theory would imply that once you have reached increased levels of acid that your stomach cannot contain anymore, the valve between the esophagus and the stomach (called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES) would relax, open itself and acid would start flowing into the esophagus, which is the one producing that burning sensation [2].
If this theory were to be proven true in my case, then a suppresion of the HCL would have solved all of my problems. So, for my increased stomach acid, the doctor prescribed me proton pump inhibitors (PPI) which have a hydrochloric acid suppression function. Trusting my doctor I decided to go on with the PPI therapy (I took pantoprazole) for as long as he ordered it. I took pantoprazole for almost a complete month. In order to supress bad cases of reflux, I took some antiacids, but that happened only three times.
After almost a month my GERD was almost gone and I was feeling great except for the fact that I was starting to belch more constantly than before. With each passing week the belching would increase more and more. This belching got so bad that it was even hard to breathe and/or swallow at times. That's when I stopped with the PPI's and guess what? GERD returned.

Now I had besides GERD, this awful belching which impaired my breathing. This made me think that GERD might not necessarily be (only) caused by increased stomach acid, but could also be caused due to low stomach acid. Eventually I started developing a rash on the left and right side of the skin of my face (eczemas) and even developed a lactose intolerance which I got tested positive from. I also felt bloated and heavy after a meal no matter how much I ate. PPI's only made everything worse.


Research

I started researching a lot about this subject and found out that many doctors agree that GERD could also come from low stomach acid. Some would be doctors even claimed they had the cure for GERD and lower stomach acid. I have tried so many different therapies for increased periods of time only to find out that they don't actually work on me. What I found is that a low stomach acid or also called hydrocloric acid deficiency (lack of adequate HCL) can have many consequences and has been associated with the following [3]:
  • Malnutrition – reduction of absorption of nutrients from foods
  • Iron deficiency anemia, owing to poor iron absorption
  • Osteoporosis, resulting in part from decreased calcium absorption
  • Periodontal disease – receding gums
  • General allergies and food allergies
  • Leaky gut syndrome
  • B12 deficiency
  • Gallstone risk – more than half the people with gallstones show decreased HCL secretion compared with gallstone-free patients
  • Diabetes – elevated blood sugar
  • Impaired tissue repair
  • Skin problems – eczema, psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, vitiligo
  • Increased number of bacteria, yeasts, and parasites growing in the intestines
  • Lowered pancreatic secretion  – which contains the majority of enzymes that actively break down foods, which then further contributes to poor assimilation and nutritional problems
  • Heartburn and acid reflux (commonly thought to be due to too much stomach acid and if there isn’t enough stomach acid the valve that closes the end of the esophagus at the stomach won’t close properly)
  • Ulcer formation – lack of protection from infectious agents such as H. Pylori
  • Rapid aging – HCL is necessary for restoring cellular methylation reserves  
  • Fermentation and putrifaction 
  • Reduced liver function 
  • Reduced oxidation of lactic acid
  • Reduced white blood cell activity
  • Retention of carbon dioxide
  • Bloating, belching, and flatulence immediately after meals
  • Indigestion – heavy feeling in the stomach
  • Candida
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea

What causes low hydrochloric acid

There are number of reasons that can cause a low hydrochloric acid production in your body. Some of those that have been documented include the following [1]:
  • Eating when upset. Hydrochloric acid secretion may be completely inhibited by stress, emotion, or worry. It is the low-grade, long-term, emotionally oriented life stress that is more the culprit here.
  • NOTE: Intense stress caused by high stress situations or desire for high achievement is associated more with HCL over (hyper) secretion and peptic ulcer disease (at least initially). As the stress continues, the body is exhausted and HCL production is no longer adequate.
  • Eating a nutrient deficient diet of processed and fast foods
  • Lack of sufficient minerals in the daily diet
  • Excess carbohydrate consumption and poor food combining
  • Zinc deficiency
  • B vitamin deficiency especially thiamine deficiency
  • Refined sugar. Refined sugar depletes minerals. Replace mineral-depleting refined sugar and sweeteners with maple syrup, honey, or stevia.
  • Chronic illness
  • Drinking ice water with meals
  • Age. As you get older, stomach acid production tends to decrease especially if there is any chronic illness.
  • Anti-acid use
  • Taking prescription and over the counter drugs that suppress HCL production either directly or indirectly (like PPI's).
  • Candida (rare)


As we can see, a low acid production can have many nasty side effects! Don't let your doctor tell you have too much acid without testing positive beforehand. It can have dire consequences to supress your stomach acid! Try to endure a few more days with the symptoms if you can, but have yourself tested first. In the mean time you can try drinking fresh ginger tea. That will help with the burning and the GERD. 

I've listed some of the causes of GERD and some causes of reduced hydrochloric acid production. In Part 2 I will explain how you can increase stomach acid and what other natural alternatives you have for dealing with reflux.

Sources:

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