Gut health is all the hype right now and for good reason!
It is estimated that 70% of our immune system lives in the lining of our digestive system. So when we have digestive issues, our immune function is often compromised.
Plus, 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin is largely responsible for mood, appetite, sleep, and even regulating the movement of our intestines.
You can eat all the most nutrient-dense food (and take all the natural supplements) to address a specific health issue… but it’s pointless if your body is unable to absorb those important nutrients.
We are not what we eat, but what we are able to absorb!
Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid
- heartburn / acid reflux / GERD
- burning sensation when drinking lemon or ACV
- diarrhea / constipation
- undigested food in Stool
- h. pylori / Candida / C. diff infection
Low stomach acid over time can lead to osteoporosis, anemia, nutrient deficiencies (like Vitamin B12), weakness, fatigue, cramping and indigestion.
Stomach acid also serves as the first line of defense against pathogenic microorganism that might otherwise cause infection in the GI tract. With little stomach acid, the pH of the stomach is not low enough to kill ‘bad’ bugs such as clostridium difficile or candida, resulting in nausea, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, etc.
Think You Have Low Stomach Acid?
There are a few ways to increase stomach acid naturally.
First we need to relax.
As a culture, we are stressed (like, really stressed). Because digestion starts in the brain, you need to be in a parasympathetic, relaxed state to properly digest food.
What To Do: Take several deep, long breaths before eating a meal. Enjoy your food sitting down and free of distractions.
Second, we need to chew our food.
If we don’t take time to properly chew our food, the brain won’t trigger an adequate production of saliva, stomach acid, and digestive enzymes. Without proper excretion of these ‘digestive juices’, undigested protein, fats, and carbohydrates eventually end up in the colon, which can ferment, putrefy and become rancid. This can cause dysbiosis, gas, bloating, cramping, and weird BMs. Chewing impacts how efficiently your body is able to absorb nutrients (like iron and Vitamin B12), plus the more you chew, the less energy expended in the downstream process of your GI tract – a double win!
What To Do: Notice the consistency of the food in your mouth before you swallow. Can it be chewed slightly more? Start with 5-10 more chews per bit and try to work up t0 30 times per bite! Basically, make your food liquid before it goes down the hatch.
Third, check your stomach acid.
Stomach acid (hydrochloric acid or HCl) production can be inhibited by stress, eating too many processed carbs, nutrient deficiencies, allergies, and/or excess alcohol consumption. Without adequate HCl, your first line of defense against pathogenic microorganisms is gone, foods do not get properly broken down (which can actually cause acid reflux), and partially digested food stays in the stomach longer than it should causing carbs to ferment, proteins to putrefy, and fats to get rancid.
What To DO: The gentlest way that may help stimulate acid production is to drink a glass of room temperature lemon water upon waking (squeeze 1/2-1 organic lemon into a glass of water) and/or dilute 1 T. of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in 4 T. of room temperature water. Digestive bitters are another way to increase stomach acid by stimulating bitter taste receptors on the tongue that then stimulate the vagus nerve and release of digestive juices. Our ancestors consumed bitter plants regularly, but our modern diet (sadly) severely lacks them. Take 1/4 teaspoon before meals. We love Urban Moonshine. The most powerful way to increase HCl is to take Betaine HCl, a naturally occurring amino acid compound usually derived from beets. While this can be done safely on your own with care, it is best to work with a practitioner to determine appropriateness and correct dosage. Betaine HCl should not be taken by anyone who has ulcers, gastric inflammation, and/or is on medications, especially anti-inflammatory medication (e.g. corticosteroids, aspirin, ibuprofen, or other NSAIDs).
Fourth, we want to hydrate!
Hydration is imperative for healthy digestion. Not only does pure water help the body flush toxins, but it also is essential for the body to produce adequate stomach acid.
What To Do: Drink half your body weight (lbs) in ounces of pure water each day. If you drink diuretics (alcohol, coffee, caffeinated tea, soda), drink an extra 12 ounces for every 8-ounce diuretic beverage in addition to your baseline ounce requirement.
Fifth, and this goes without saying, but we need a diet full of whole foods.
Eating a fiber-full, nutrient-dense diet while avoiding processed foods is required for adequate stomach acid production. HCl depends on key nutrients, like zinc and thiamine, which come from whole foods. Processed foods (and stress!) actually deplete your body of these important nutrients that your digestive system depends on.
What To Do: Eat whole, nutrient-dense foods and avoid processed foods. If your digestive system is already impaired, remove inflammatory foods from your diet, like gluten, dairy, low-quality fats (processed vegetable oils and all trans fats), alcohol, and all refined carbohydrates (including sugar!) so that the digestive system can heal.