Stomach Acid Problems
Many people today have digestive problems, which is mainly caused by the stomach producing "too little" stomach acid. We may think our stomachs are “overly acidic” because of heartburn, sour stomach, or overall stomach upset, nausea and pain, when in fact having "too little acid" creates exactly the same symptoms as an "over acid" stomach.
The technical term for low stomach acidity is “hypochlorhydria,” and a stomach that is not producing any acid is called “achlorhydria.”
The most common symptoms of low stomach acidity include:
- heartburn (if there isn’t enough stomach acid the valve that closes the end of the esophagus won’t close properly, so even low stomach acid can burn the esophagus)
- upset stomach, nausea
- sour stomach
- a heavy feeling, as if the food is just sitting in the stomach in a lump
Our stomachs are supposed to be acidic, so it is important that it produces high concentrations of hydrochloric acid (HCl). When the stomach produces HCl it also produces bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) which protects the lining of the stomach from being damaged or eaten up by HCl. When the stomach doesn’t produce enough HCl, it also will not produce enough bicarbonate of soda so the stomach can become ulcerated.
When hydrochloric acid is low it causes malnutrition and digestive problems. HCl mainly digests protein, breaking it down into small molecules, which are further digested in the intestinal tract.
Low stomach acid is associated with a higher incidence of gastrointestinal problems like h. pylori bacteria which cause stomach ulcers, acid reflux (heartburn), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease, diarrhea, constipation, etc.
Our stomachs need adequate acid so we can get the benefit of a good diet and the nutrients it contains, and for digestion to proceed like it should throughout the intestines.
How Foods Are Digested
Carbohydrates (carbs) start being digested by enzymes produced in the mouth. Carbs are all foods that are not classified as protein or fat, including vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, seeds, sugars, starches, herbs, spices, etc. Some carbs also contain protein and fat, such as grains, nuts, seeds and some vegetables. Also some protein foods contain carbs and fats such as eggs.
HCl (hydrochloric acid or stomach acid) mainly digests protein. When a person starts to eat the stomach is stimulated to start producing hydrochloric acid (HCl). Stomach acid gradually increases during a meal. When the stomach acid gets high enough, which normally takes about 20-30 minutes after eating, it neutralizes enzymes from the mouth so carb digestion stops.
Digestive enzymes from the mouth only work on carbs while the mixture is alkaline. Therefore, if HCl supplements are taken too early it stops carb digestion in the stomach too soon. HCl also neutralizes any digestive enzyme supplements, so taking them is a waste. That is why it is important to take HCl supplements 30-45 minutes after eating a meal.
When the mixture of food, water and HCl (called chyme) empties out of the stomach it has to go through a hole that is a little larger than the size of the end of a pencil. The mixture squirts through that small hole in spurts. The rate that foods empty out of the stomach is highly regulated. If the mixture is too solid and doesn’t contain enough fluid it isn’t as able to get through that small hole. That is why drinking enough fluids with meals is also very important.
When the mixture starts squirting through that small hole, if the pancreas detects it contains enough fluids and HCl it is able to do its job. First the mixture must be made alkaline, so the pancreas pours lots of bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) onto the mixture as it is squirting through that small hole. Pancreatic digestive enzymes only work on an alkaline mixture, just like enzymes in the mouth.
Next, the pancreas produces several enzymes that digest carbs, fats and further digests protein, i.e. protease digests protein, amylase digests carbs, and lipase digests fats. The small intestine also produces digestive enzymes that only work on an alkaline mixture.
Therefore taking HCl supplements and improving its production in the stomach, along with having enough fluids with meals, is very important for proper digestion, whereas taking digestive enzymes are a waste since they are neutralized by stomach acid.
Improve Digestion with Foods
The following foods stimulate stomach acid production, but sometimes it is necessary to also take HCl supplements.
- Meats and eggs.
- natural fats, i.e. unrefined coconut oil, butter, lard, naturally occurring animal fats, etc.
- Unrefined ocean sea salt.
- Mineral-Rich Bone Broth
How to Increase Stomach Acid Production
- Nature provides the most effective stomach acid regulator, which is unpasteurized sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is unique because it raises stomach acid “if” it is too low, and it lowers stomach acid “if” it is too high. Eating 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sauerkraut with meals is one of the best ways to improve digestion.
- If sauerkraut doesn’t help you, take betaine hydochloric acid supplements (HCl) 30-45 minutes after eating – see How to Take Hydrochloric Acid Supplements.
- Properly prepare foods according to “traditional preparation methods” used by our ancestors, which makes them easy to digest and to get the most nutrients – see Making Foods Digestible & Fit for Human Consumption.
- Avoid raw vegetables until digestion improves, except for fermented raw vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi (kimchee), etc., which are actually pre-digested vegetables. All plant cell walls are made of cellulose fibers, and the human digestive system is incapable of breaking them down so they end up in the large intestines. Therefore, the cellulose cell walls of plants must be broken down before they are digestible, and in order for nutrients, including minerals, and enzymes to be available since they are inside the cell walls – see Raw Versus Cooked Carbs (Plant Foods).
- Do not cook meats or eggs using high heat, and do not overcook them. Cooking proteins actually pre-digests them, called denaturing. However overheating or overcooking them makes them lose moisture and binds the protein molecules tighter together making them harder to digest. Meats can also be pre-digested (denatured) by soaking them in an acidic medium, i.e. lemon or lime juice, tomato juice, apple cider vinegar, etc. Marinating meats is a good way to pre-digest or pre-cook them – see these Marinade Recipes.
- Eat protein and natural animal fats or unrefined coconut oil with every meal. Protein stimulates stomach acid production, and protein and fats stimulate the gall bladder to dump bile into the small intestines. Fats are also very important for the health of the liver that it uses to produce bile.
- Always have unrefined ocean sea salt with meals since salt is important for proper digestion and it also stimulates stomach acid production.
- Drink enough fluids with meals so the mixture in the stomach is able to squirt through the small opening from the stomach into the first part of the small intestines.
- Chew foods thoroughly to stimulate digestive enzymes in the mouth, and to break up foods into the smallest particles possible for better digestion.
- Eat enough foods at each meal that includes a good balance of proteins, natural fats (coconut oil, butter, lard, etc.) and cooked or fermented vegetables.
- Eat at least 2 complete meals per day, but not more than 3 meals.
- Avoid snacking in between meals in order to allow time for your body to digest foods properly.