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If you experience regular heartburn or other gastrointestinal issues, there’s an excellent chance that your body does not create enough stomach acid, according to Dr. Jonathon V. Wright.

I know this seems counterintuitive. We’ve always been told the cause of GERD, acid reflux and other GI problems is too much acid production. It is this theory that has prompted doctors to prescribe antacids in droves.

While these drugs can treat the symptoms, they do not address the root cause of gut health issues. In fact, drugs such as Nexium, Pepcid, Prevacid, Prilosec, Zantac and others, can actually cause more damage than good over a period of extended use.

In his book, “Why Stomach Acid is Good for You,” Dr. Wright goes into a detailed explanation. He says that 50 percent of Americans over 50 are not producing an adequate amount of stomach acid for proper food digestion.

The Inner Workings of the Stomach

The stomach is one of the more fascinating organs which is lined with mucus-secreting cells and two highly important glands:

Gastric Gland

The gastric gland secretes pepsinogen, mucus, intrinsic factor, and hydrochloric acid.

Pyloric Gland

The pyloric gland secretes mucus and helps to protect the stomach from hydrochloric acid.

There are three stages to the method, which are under constant control of hormones and nervous system signals:

Intestinal Phase

The duodenum yields slight amounts of gastric juices when foods enter the small intestine.

Gastric Phase

Parietal cells in your stomach release extremely acidic hydrochloric acid (0.8 pH). This process is triggered by food in your stomach.

Cephalic Phase

Smelling or even just thinking about food can cause your stomach to begin producing gastric secretions. In fact, 20 percent of these acids are produced before food even enters your mouth.

In the end, the acids in our stomach break down proteins into the crucial nutrients and amino acids. This also explains why patients with reduced stomach acid are susceptible to insufficient neurotransmitter-related illnesses, such as Parkinson’s disease, depression and anxiety. One study actually found that as many as 60 percent of Parkinson’s sufferers had proven reduced levels of gastric acid production.

Gut Health Trilogy

The Side Effects of Proton Pump Inhibitors

Keep in mind that several body systems govern this entire process, which can explain why patients using medication to fight acid indigestion can more times than not experience multiple symptoms that, on the surface, appear to be unrelated to stomach acid.

An excellent example is with prescription proton pump inhibitors (PPI). PPIs lower acid production in the stomach by blocking key enzymes that produce acid. We’re told that PPIs can help stop ulcers and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). We’re also told that a reduction in stomach acid gives the body the opportunity to heal itself of these conditions. None of this is true.

Since nearly all GI problems can be attributed to reduced stomach acid, Prevacid and other PPIs are virtually useless and have been associated with many side effects, including: (1)

  • Seizures
  • Muscle cramps and muscle weakness
  • Spastic muscle movements
  • Nausea and stomach pain
  • Feelings of being “jittery”
  • Headache
  • Coughing and a choking sensation
  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Confusion and dizziness

More over, patients prescribed PPIs to reduce stomach acid often see other health concerns:

  • Leaky gut & food allergies
  • Nutrient malabsorption
  • Imbalanced gut flora
  • Improper protein metabolism

Acid Reflux: A True Story

The truth is that reduced stomach acid has nothing to do with acid reflux. The real culprit behind heartburn and GERD is a leaky valve, which lets acid enter the esophagus. Basically, the door between the esophagus and the stomach – the esophageal valve – cannot shut properly and stomach juices are able to sneak in. Common causes of this include:

Too Little Acid

Going against everything we’ve been taught over the years, reduced acid production in the stomach is behind a slew of gut health issues that contribute to or directly cause acid reflux.

Smoking

Since smoking tobacco is known to damage mucus membranes, increase acid secretion, impair muscle reflexes and lower salivation, smoking is a major cause of acid reflux.

Pregnancy

A growing fetus can sometimes put too much pressure on parts of the body, including the esophageal valve.

Hiatal Hernia

We all have a diaphragm that helps prevent acid from entering the esophagus. However, if a hernia causes the upper area of the gut to move above the muscle, acid can get through.

Healing Low Stomach Acid: A Step-by-Step Guide

Believe it or not, it’s actually not too hard to heal conditions relating to reduced stomach acid, but it does require a little determination and work. Personal experience shows that this systematic guide is a great path to better GI health.

1. Digestive Enzymes

Taking probiotics and digestive enzymes are a great idea for people suffering from GI-related issues. These two things can help digest food, which takes some of the pressure of the gut while it heals. Since our diets tend to be low in probiotics and high in antibiotics, people have found it to be beneficial to continue to supplement with probiotics and digestive enzymes after the GI system has healed.

2. Apple Cider Vinegar

Raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) is my go-to natural remedy for boosting low stomach acid levels. Vinegar is naturally acidic; therefore, it will help to lower the pH in your system. Moreover, ACV can control the growth of candida, which is known to contribute to reduced levels of stomach acid. Start by taking two tablespoons of ACV in a glass of water three times a day.

3. HCL With Pepsin

For patients with low stomach acid, try supplementing with hydrochloric acid and pepsin. This combination, in addition to the ACV protocol, works great. But I must warn you, do not combine HCL supplements with corticosteroids or anti-inflammatory drugs such as NSAIDS (Advil or Tylenol). These medications are notorious for damaging the GI lining and can increase your chances of developing stomach ulcers.

4. Eat Better Food

It is important to eat a quality diet when starting a GI healing plan and attempting to restore normal acid levels in the gut. If you want a recommendation, I would suggest the GAPS Diet (make sure to include sauerkraut juice and Manuka honey).

This particular diet was founded by Dr. Natasha Campbell and it was designed specifically to heal the gut, reduce inflammation and heal autoimmune and neurological issues. The diet consists of simple foods that are easy to digest, giving the gut the power it needs to heal completely.

5. Chew

This could be the number-one culprit when it comes to GI problems and the cause of low stomach acid. Simply put, chewing your food sends neurogenic signals from your brain to your gut to begin the digestive process.

If you eat too quickly and don’t chew your food thoroughly, you’re cutting this process time in half, which can significantly reduce gastric secretions connected to the cephalic stages I mentioned earlier. While there is really no rule, per say, make sure you chew enough to the point in which the food in your mouth becomes soft and pasty.

This also helps prevent overeating and helps with weight loss. In fact, a recent article in The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics said that chewing slowly can not only reduce the amount of food you eat and the energy density, but “Eating slowly led to lower hunger ratings in both groups and increased fullness ratings in the normal-weight group at 60 minutes from when the meal began.” (2)

6. Intermittent Fasting

We have witnessed the benefits of intermittent fasting since the beginning of time. Unlike it is today, food hasn’t always been readily available 24/7. The majority of intermittent fasting routines center on fasting in the morning or evening and require that foods only be eaten during a 4-5 hour window.

Not only has new research been focusing on how fasting can help restore stomach acid levels and help heal acid reflux, but also promote weight loss and help cure a number of other diseases.

In fact, the British Journal of Nutrition published the results of a clinical trial in which 115 overweight women with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer were placed on a diet that included intermittent fasting. These women showed greater improvements in insulin sensitivity and weight control than generic daily calorie restriction. (3)

Here are a few other tips that can help restore proper levels of acid in the gut:

  • Don’t eat when you’re stressed.
  • Avoid highly allergenic foods.
  • Stay away from foods high in fiber.
  • Limit water consumption to prevent over-hydration.

If you follow these simple steps and are dedicated to healing your GI issues, you should see great results within days, if not a week or two.

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References

  1.   http://www.rxlist.com/prevacid-side-effects-drug-center.htm
  2.   http://jandonline.org/article/S2212-2672(13)01673-0/abstract
  3.   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23591120