Surprise! Stomach acid IS actually something that’s essential for your health.
With the recent news that Zantac may actually be detrimental to health and the news that CVS Pharmacy is pulling the product from it’s shelves (the drug carries low levels of nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) that is a probably human carcinogen)- there’s no better time to embrace the actual health benefits of stomach acid.
I see clients all the time in my practice to help them with GI issues of all sorts- many including reflux and over/under production of stomach acid. It comes to their surprise that I am a stomach acid-cheerleader and often like to work to help clients get off of ant-acids and help their bodies to naturally work with their own stomach acid, and in many cases produce more.
You see, stomach acid was put there for a reason, and in fact is one of the MOST important ways that our bodies fight off disease and that we’re able to stay healthy. Ant-acids were originally designed for short term use to help in the treatment of stomach ulcers (an issue that really DOES require an ant-acid), but not for long term use. Long term reduction of stomach acid can be involved in many deleterious effects, including bone loss, nutrient mal-absorption, increased allergies and asthma, colonization of unhealthy gut bacteria, low nutrient status, and many more things.
In response to the above, clients often say to me, “but I make too much acid, I have acid reflux” — no, over-production of acid isn’t the problem, acid in the wrong place is the problem when it comes to reflux (this can be the root cause of reflux, Barret’s esophagus etc).
Remember, everyone’s case is different, and on a case by case basis people often do need ant-acids, but not as frequently as they’re given out.
OK, so let’s get you comfortable with your stomach acid…
Here’s 10 key reasons you need stomach acid:
- Digestion-protein: Our food needs to be digested, and stomach acid helps (specifically with protein) to break down the protein structure into amino acids for use by your body
- Digestion- fat and carbs: Stomach acid prompts the pancreas to produce enzymes to be released that break down fat and carbohydrates
- Disease prevention: Our food is LOADED with bacteria. Stomach acid is the first line of defense against many pathogens that can actually make us pretty sick. Often when clients come to me with SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth)- many of them actually have chronically low stomach acid, and therefore unfavorable bacteria may set up shop and thrive further down the GI tract
- Helps your body to absorb the iron in your food: Not only that but stomach acid also helps to convert iron in your food to the active form that can be used by your body
- Helps your body to absorb and utilize other key nutrients: Including magnesium, vitamin C, folic acid, b12, and zinc- both key for many different functions in your body including brain health, bone health, hormone production, hearth health, allergies, and more
- Increased risk for skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema with low stomach acid. Adequate stomach acid can help promote skin health and
- May reduce asthma symptoms and allergies. People with asthma and allergies often don’t have enough stomach acid, and become hyper-reactive
- Prevents risk of a long list of ailments:
- Weak or cracked fingernails
- Post-adolescent acne
- Iron deficiency
- Mineral deficiencies
- Chronic intestinal infections
- GI intolerance: Burping, gas, diarrhea, bloating
- Having enough acid is actually key for preventing reflux: People with adequate stomach acid have better digestion and run the risk of less reflux. Why? Because when the acid in the stomach is doing it’s job and food is digesting swiftly and well, we end up with fewer risks
- Bone health issues. Mineral absorption requires stomach acid! When we have low stomach acid low mineral status is a major issue. Have bone health issues? Talk to your doc about potential low stomach acid.
We’re not quite done yet!
Frequent causes of low stomach acid:
- H. Pylori (it’s a bacteria that when overgrown can cause stomach ulcers and reduce acidity in the stomach)
- Eating too quickly / not paying attention to your food.
- Allergies–> most people with allergies and asthma have concurrent low stomach acid
- Age. The older we get the lower it is.
… amongst others!
How to optimize stomach acid:
- In certain cases, reduce/get off of ant-acids (work with your GI doc or me to help you!)
- Make sure you don’t have H. Pylori (talk to your doc)
- Pay more attention to your food while eating it/ slow down how much you’re eating- eating large meals can reduce amount of stomach acid available for digestion
- Separate your vitamins (most of them) from your meals– digesting your pills plus your food is just too much for allowing optimal stomach acid to be present
- Watch how much water you’re drinking with meals. We LOVE water, but too much at meals can actually reduce stomach acid
- Try taking a betaine HCL supplement– generally I have people start at 200 mg first and increase (talk to someone like me to help you!)