Digestive health is a foundation for the health of the entire body.
There are multiple reasons why even having the best clean nutrition does not result in optimal health. Your digestive tract should be your best friend when we talk about absorbing nutrients from the food, and this is where digestive secretions come into play. Let’s talk about stomach acid first.
Hydrochloric acid is one of the key components of stomach secretions. Not only is it necessary for the proper breakdown of proteins, but it also affects digestion further along the intestine.
The effect of hydrochloric acid is not limited to the stomach. Its normal level is necessary for the proper functioning of the small intestine, pancreas, and gallbladder. In general, low levels of hydrochloric acid lead to incomplete digestion of proteins (and therefore, the lack of amino acid building blocks for synthesizing the body’s own proteins) and impair the absorption of vitamins (B12 and C) and minerals (iron, calcium, zinc, selenium, magnesium, and boron). Hydrochloric acid also prevents bacteria from multiplying, so its low levels can lead to the syndrome of excessive bacterial growth in the small intestine, also known as SIBO.
There are numerous causes of low stomach acid:
1. Deficiency of vitamin B1, B6, and zinc.
2. Chronic stress (excessive activation of the sympathetic nervous system, which reduces gastric motility)
3. High refined carbohydrates diet
4. Autoimmune gastritis
5. Taking proton pump inhibitors
6. Chronic infection with H. pylori
7. Age (after 50 years, the amount of hydrochloric acid gradually decreases and about 30% after 65 have hypochlorhydria)
8. Vegan or vegetarian diet
The following set of statements can help you understand whether you may suspect hypochlorhydria.
1. You get bloated with cramps and pain after eating, and may feel like food stays in your gut.
2. Your nails are peeling.
3. Your iron and B12 blood tests are low.
4. You have heartburn and repeated belching shortly after eating.
5. You take antacids, antihistamines, or proton pump inhibitors on a long-term basis.
If that’s the case, the digestion of proteins, carbohydrates and fats is compromised due to the role of stomach acid in a section of bile and pancreatic enzymes further along the intestine.
In the next blog post, I’ll be sharing some ideas around a naturopathic approach to low stomach acid.