Our stomach is teeming with acid. This necessary acid serves two main purposes: to eliminate pathogens and to properly digest food.
Although this underlying purpose is taught in medical schools, throughout the years, stomach acid was unfairly labeled as a “bad guy” that needed to be neutralized or inhibited. Medical focus shifted toward a “seek and destroy” model, pushing drugs that would stop stomach acid production such as Prilosec, Zantac, and Tagamet. These RXs are heavily marketed, peddled by MDs and now rank as the most prescribed and top-selling drugs on the planet.
The destruction to our health has been far-reaching and tragic. No matter the disease, I guarantee that diminished stomach acid is a contributing factor. In this post, I am focusing on heart disease.
Stomach Acid Boosts Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide (NO) is 1 atom of nitrogen paired with 1 atom of oxygen. This compound magically moves around the body, opening up blood vessels, lowering inflammation, and naturally thinning the blood.
NO is CRUCIAL for heart health. And what is needed to make this NO? Stomach acid!
Yes, stomach acid makes nitric oxide by converting food sources of nitrite (NO2) into NO. If you have low stomach acid, your NO will also be low. This is a huge problem!
Stomach acid also helps digest protein so we can absorb amino acids. We need these amino acids as another way to make NO, thru arginine and citrulline.
Why Stomach Acid Can Be Low
While there can be many factors to consider, treating low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) depends on the underlying cause. Here are a few to check out:
- Acid blockers and antacid medications- These are obvious. Speak to your doctor before making any abrupt changes to your RX, but taken long term, these can lead to hypochlorhydria without a doubt.
- Hypothyroid or underactive thyroid- We need thyroid hormones to make stomach acid. Get your FULL thyroid panel; most doctors test only one or two markers. We do a full panel as part of our Cardiovascular Panel. For thyroid support, check out our Thyrokick supplement.
- Poor Diet– Eating a diet containing too much sugar or low in protein can lead to low stomach acid. An estimated one billion people worldwide suffer from inadequate protein intake, especially those living in institutions or hospitals or who follow a nutritionally imbalanced diet. I recommend the Paleo diet for its nutrient density and macronutrient balance.
- Vitamin Deficiencies– Being deficient in zinc or B vitamins, which are some of the building blocks needed to make stomach acid will contribute to a deficiency. This can be a result of poor dietary choices, being depleted by pharmaceutical drugs, stress or long term cigarette or alcohol usage.
- Stress– Chronic stress can lead to lowered levels of stomach acid. Living in today’s age, this is certainly an area to explore and improve upon.
- Infections– Long term exposure to pathogens in the GI tract such as H Pylori can contribute to low stomach acid among other gastro-intestinal issues. Nearly 60% of all adults are affected by the H Pylori bacteria, so we recommend testing.
- The aging process– Hypochlorhydria becomes more and more common as we age. People over the age of 65 years are most likely to have low levels of hydrochloric acid, which creates a vicious cycle of less nutrient absorption, and then less acid made.
Get Your Acid Back on Track
Once your thyroid has increased function, speak with your doctor about weaning off of acid-blockers and start normalizing stomach acid for best health and digestion. In the meantime, here are a few steps you can take to naturally help increase your stomach acid levels on your own:
- Properly chew your food– An overlooked aspect of digestion is the part that starts when you sit down at the table. Pause, give gratitude for the food, and eat slowly. Your grandmother’s advice to chew each mouthful 20 times wasn’t far off! Slowing down allows your salivary glands to produce enzymes to start breaking down your food before it gets to your stomach. Don’t underestimate the power of this practice.
- Cut out the processed foods– As we read above, high sugar and too low of protein will lower stomach acid. Processed, chemical laden foods will also increase inflammation in the stomach, disrupting proper digestion. Stick to a paleo diet of organic whole foods.
- Incorporate fermented vegetables– Adding in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi apple cider vinegar or raw kefir can assist in naturally improving digestion, increase your stomach acid, add in extra needed enzymes and help reduce inflammation. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is an affordable product and can help naturally reduce acid reflux, offering a better alternative to RX.
- Spice it up– Incorporating raw ginger into your diet can be healing for the GI tract as it helps decrease inflammation thereby promoting healthy stomach acid and enzyme production. In fact, ginger has been widely used as a natural means of reducing acid reflux and digestive upset. Recent research has even seen anti-diabetic and beneficial cardiac effects with this traditional herb. Try grating it into salads, mincing it for use in stir fry, and sipping it as a healing tea.
As a foundation, organic Paleo foods, sunshine, sleep, and lowering stress are all necessary steps in stomach acid production.
Digestive products containing betaine HCL, and enzymes are well known in the natural health world for their efficacy. Nearly all of our patients we work with over age 45 take our Digest. I created it with all the necessary components you need to digest your food, make nitric oxide, and live healthy and happy.
We suggest 2-3 caps of Digest in the middle of each meal. Keep a bottle on the kitchen table so it’s always handy and you don’t forget. Keep an extra bottle at the office on your desk or in your purse as well.
Let us know how you’re doing! Our coaches are available for guidance and to help you find your best path. Make your first appointment here.