Low Stomach Acid May Be Causing Your Digestive Upset
Written by Andrea Maxim, Naturopathic Doctor
If you suffer from digestive upset and you’re unsure why? You are not alone. “More than 20 million Canadians suffer from digestive disorders every year” says the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation (http://www.cdhf.ca/digestive-disorders/statistics.shtml). Many suffer from low stomach acid without even knowing and I am finding in my practice that to be the root cause of many of my patients digestive issues.
Stomach Acid and Proper Digestion:
1) Pepsin (Gastric enzymes) – The stomach is the first place that proteins get broken down. Pepsin breaks down the proteins in food into amino acids and smaller fragments to increase absorption in the intestines
2) Intrinsic Factor – released to protect vitamin B12 from stomach acid so that it can be absorbed in the terminal ilieum.
Both of these key factors are dependant on the release of hydrocholoric acid from parietal cells. If you do not secrete enough stomach acid, then you are not digesting your proteins or assimilating your vitamins and minerals.
How Do I Know if I Have Low Stomach Acid?
- Bad Breath
- Metallic Taste in Mouth
- Sore Tongue
- Stomach Bloating
- Belching Right After a Meal
- Foul Smelling Gas
- Diarrhea or Constipation
- Undigested Food in Stool
These are just some basic signs and symptoms, but if they continue to go unaddressed, you could develop more chronic diseases like: chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, food sensitivities, systemic parasite/candida infections and autoimmune diseases.
How Did My Stomach Acid Become Low in the First Place?
Low stomach acid can be potentiated by stress, poor eating habits, eating on the go, excessive exercise basically anything that uses up a lot of energy. The pH of stomach acid is 0.8 and our blood pH is about 7.0 which means we need to create cells that are 3 million times more concentrated than blood = Energy costly!
Most people suffering from any of the symptoms listed above will also turn to digestive aids like TUMS, antacids or go to their doctor for a prescription (the most common cause, and my personal pet peeve). These medications for lowering stomach acid are incredibly over-prescribed (12.4 millions prescriptions in Canada in 2004 alone and up to 70% have no appropriate indicaton) and under monitored (a Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) should only be prescribed for about 6 weeks at a time).
“Long-term PPI use may have an effect on mineral absorption and metabolism, including calcium malabsorption, resulting in an increased risk of hip fracture. In addition, PPI use may increase the risk of enteric infections such as Clostridium difficile and nonenteric infections” says another study.
What I encourage my patients to do is understand the value of stomach acid to our nutritional status before continuing down a path of poor health with these PPI or acid blocker medications. These turn off your body’s ability to make stomach acid AT ALL which is why you get instant relief, but remember that most of us have low stomach acid to begin with and these medications are only adding more fuel to the fire.
If you want to directly test your stomach acid status you will need to go through some rather invasive testing. In my office we do very easy, but indirect, testing: Zinc Tally Test (watch video), Betain HCl challenge and salivary pH.
If you would like to further assess the cause of your indigestion, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org