September 14, 2013
Balancing Stomach Acid
Creating and maintaining the appropriate acid balance in the stomach is a hugely important yet challenging task. When acid imbalance is prolonged it may result in unhealthy absorption and digestion within the GI tract. It's important for stomach acid to be in balance not only because it help us breakdown and absorb nutrients, but it creates a much needed and important barrier to invading organisms.
Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is naturally secreted in the stomach in order to digest food in order to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Many people have a deficiency of this acid, which can lead to other vitamin deficiencies and chronic imbalances. After the age of 50, the body's ability to produce HCL begins to decline. Chronic stress also tends to deplete HCL, characterized by consistent indigestion, and resulting nutritional deficiencies.
Stomach acid is secreted from parietal cells, which are in charge of making HCL. This highly acidic environment helps to breakdown proteins, activate digestive enzymes, and facilitate in absorption. Parietal cells are hugely important because of the role they play in making the HCL. Normal function of parietal cells can be affected by different factors such as chronic inflammation, stress, or free radical activity. They can also be damaged by the overuse of antacids. When HCL is low, the food in the stomach is not digested quickly, and therefore the food lingers longer than it is suppose to, resulting in fermentation, and the increase of the wrong type of acid.
Balanced HCL levels also help to destroy organisms swallowed in food (preventing parasitic infection). Therefore low stomach acid carries an increased risk of yeast, mold and bacterial infections - invaders that don't belong in the GI tract and otherwise would be relegated out of it with proper biochemical balance. In extreme cases, low HCL, also known as achlorhydria, can lead to stomach cancer if left untreated.
Fortunately, there are many natural ways to increase HCL in the stomach. Adding a natural version of hydrochloric acid in supplement form can help improve absorption of nutrients and aid in digestion. However, when it comes to digestive enzymes it's important to remember that when used in excess, the body begins to rely on them therefore creating less on its own. Digestive enzymes can be a useful approach for a short period of time, or can be used with foods that are difficult to digest.
We like to use Trikatu, an Ayuverdic herbal blend of herbs and spices that acts almost like an adaptogen. It helps the body produce more of its own HCL and digestive enzymes, thereby increasing nutrient absorption. Or infrequently, we introduce clients to what is called the HCL challenge. In the HCL challenge, we supplement with HCL to the point of burning, and then back off by 1. By repeating this process, one can challenge the body to begin to produce its own natural amounts of HCL again.
Other strategies to support stomach health:
Stress management such as breath work, yin yoga, or meditation.
Test pH levels in the urine and saliva. Ideal pH is between 6.8-7.2.
HCL supplements or digestive enzymes (to be used temporarily), or the use of Trikatu with meals (helps with B12 absorption and to offset gluten and dairy intolerances).
Increase dietary antioxidants (especially turmeric!).
Chew your food!
Drink ginger tea. This will aid in digestion and reduce bloating. Ginger is considered a digestive tonic in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine and stimulates the bodies own HCL production.
Increase consumption of garlic. Allium, a substance that occurs naturally in garlic, helps prevent ulcers caused by the Helicobacter pylori (h. pylori) bacteria.
Decrease consumption of coffee, tea, tobacco, sugar, alcohol, spices from hot peppers/hot sauce, and fried foods - all deplete HCL and thin the gut lining.
Give your body time to digest. Try to go to bed before 10pm when digestion becomes active again.
by Emily Potter
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