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Posted 01/10/2024 in Food & Nutrition by Joseph Bershad

Debunking the Acid Myth: Why Low Stomach Acid Might Be Your Real Digestive Foe


Debunking the Acid Myth: Why Low Stomach Acid Might Be Your Real Digestive Foe

In the realm of human physiology, few domains have been subject to as much confusion as stomach acid. Popular discourse often paints a picture of toxic overabundance, but the reality for many individuals hinges on the opposite end of the spectrum: a sluggish digestive system struggling to unlock nutrients from their food. This prevalent phenomenon, known as hypochlorhydria or low stomach acid, manifests in a plethora of uncomfortable symptoms, ranging from bloating and gas to indigestion, nutrient deficiencies, and even increased susceptibility to gut infections.

As a functional nutrition coach, I have consistently witnessed the transformative power of addressing low stomach acid in individuals burdened by such issues. By employing evidence-based strategies, we can shift your digestive paradigm from a sluggish swamp to an efficient ecosystem, unlocking the vibrant health potential within.

Beyond the Burn: Why Heartburn Isn't Always Acid Reflux (and What Actually Is)

Contrary to widespread belief, heartburn, acid reflux, and silent reflux are often not indicative of excess stomach acid but rather dysregulated esophageal function. True hyperacidity is relatively rare, and focusing on its management without proper diagnosis can further compromise digestion. Instead, our attention should be directed towards the far more prevalent concern: low stomach acid production.

Nature's Digestive Powerhouse: Unveiling the Secret Weapon Within Your Gut

Stomach acid, a potent cocktail of hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes, plays a crucial role in digestion and overall health. It:

  • Efficiently breaks down food: Proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are cleaved into smaller, absorbable units, ensuring optimal nutrient availability.
  • Safeguards against harmful bacteria: A robust acidic environment creates an inhospitable terrain for unwanted invaders, protecting us from gut infections.
  • Facilitates nutrient absorption: Crucial minerals like iron and calcium require a low stomach pH for efficient uptake.
  • Aids in waste elimination: Smooth muscle contractions, triggered by stomach acid, propel digested food waste efficiently through the intestines.

The Culprits Behind Low Stomach Acid: Age, Diet, Stress, and More

While the focus lies on addressing low stomach acid, understanding its potential causes can empower individuals to make informed choices:

  • Age: Stomach acid production naturally declines with age, making older individuals more susceptible to hypochlorhydria.
  • Diet: Deficiencies in essential nutrients like zinc, B vitamins, and vitamin C can impair acid production. Additionally, excessive consumption of processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats can hinder gut health and contribute to low stomach acid.
  • Chronic stress: Chronic stress disrupts the delicate balance of the gut, impacting hydrochloric acid secretion and digestive function.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as antacids, proton pump inhibitors, and some prescription drugs, can suppress stomach acid production as a side effect.
  • Autoimmune conditions: In some cases, autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto's thyroiditis or pernicious anemia can affect the stomach lining and its ability to produce acid.
  • Lifestyle factors: Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and sleep deprivation can negatively impact gut health and potentially contribute to low stomach acid.

Bitter Bite, Fermented Elixir, and Chew to Conquer: Simple Steps to Spark Acid Production

Here are six scientifically supported strategies to optimize your stomach acid and empower your gut health:

1. Embrace the Bitter Bite: Bitter taste receptors on your tongue act as potent triggers for gastric acid production. Incorporate bitter greens like arugula, radicchio, and dandelion into your diet, or consider a morning ritual of a bitter greens smoothie.

2. Unleash the Fermented Elixir: Raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (ACV) offers a dual benefit. Its acetic acid aids in food breakdown, while its probiotic content nourishes healthy gut bacteria. Dilute a tablespoon in filtered water before meals or incorporate it into salad dressings.

3. Chew for Optimal Breakdown: Thorough chewing not only mixes food with saliva, rich in digestive enzymes, but also sends signals to your stomach to prepare for its acidic duty. Slow down, savor your meals, and give your digestion a head start. Strive to chew each bite at least 30 times.

4. Move Your Body, Move Your Gut: Physical activity stimulates gut motility, the rhythmic contractions that propel food through your digestive tract. Embrace a brisk walk after meals, explore gentle yoga poses, or find any movement that brings you joy.

5. Probiotic Powerhouse: These microscopic allies help crowd out harmful bacteria, regulate digestion, and boost nutrient absorption. Yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut are natural sources of probiotics. For individuals who require supplementation, consult a healthcare professional to identify the optimal product.

6. Stress Less, Digest More: Chronic stress wreaks havoc on the gut, impairing digestion and even contributing to low stomach acid production. Prioritize stress management through deep breathing, meditation, or just anything that you enjoy doing and can do on a consistent basis.  Remember that a happy gut is a health gut.

Anti-Inflammatory Mediterranean Recipe for Gut Health:

Lemon-Herb Salmon with Roasted Chickpeas and Asparagus: A Gut-Loving Recipe for All

This dish incorporates all the elements for a gut-friendly feast: protein, healthy fats, fiber, and gluten-free carbs. The lemony marinade stimulates stomach acid production, while the roasted chickpeas and asparagus provide fiber and prebiotics to nourish gut bacteria.

Ingredients:

  • 2 wild-caught salmon fillets
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon organic dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon organic garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon organic black pepper
  • 1 can (15.5 oz) organic chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 pound organic asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 organic red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh organic parsley or basil

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a shallow dish, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Add salmon fillets and marinate for 15 minutes.
  3. Toss chickpeas, asparagus, and red onion with 1 tablespoon olive oil and spread on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and arrange salmon fillets on top of the vegetables. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 10-12 minutes, or until salmon is cooked through.
  5. Serve immediately, garnished with fresh parsley.

Tips:

  • For a richer flavor, add a tablespoon of capers to the marinade.
  • Add other vegetables to the roasting pan, such as broccoli florets or bell pepper slices.
  • Enjoy this dish with a side of organic tri-colored quinoa or a purple sweet potato for a complete meal.

Conclusion:

By incorporating these evidence-based strategies and delicious anti-inflammatory recipes into your life, you can embark on a journey towards optimal gut health and unlock a vibrant well-being within. Remember, your gut is your inner ecosystem, and by nurturing it with care, you empower it to flourish and fuel your journey towards holistic health.

I hope this comprehensive information and recipe provide a valuable resource for optimizing your digestion and igniting your gut health!

Sources:

On Low Stomach Acid and its Impact on Health:

  • National Institutes of Health: “Achlorhydria” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507793/
  • Harvard Health Publishing: “Achlorhydria: Not enough stomach acid?” https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/what-is-hypochlorhydria
  • Cleveland Clinic: “Hypochlorhydria (Low Stomach Acid)”. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/heartburn-lifestyle-changes-to-reduce-acid-reflux-symptoms

On Strategies to Optimize Stomach Acid and Gut Health:

  • The American Journal of Gastroenterology: “Lifestyle Habits and Dietary Factors Modulate Gut Microbiome Composition and Diversity: A Review” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4303825/
  • World Journal of Gastroenterology: “The effect of probiotic supplementation on gut microbiota: a meta-analysis of time-series studies” https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/38148685/

Are you suffering from symptoms of poor gut health?

You have three options…

Option One: Do nothing.

It's tempting to ignore the signs and hope they'll disappear alone. But here's the truth: untreated gut issues can impact your overall well-being and quality of life. If you continue going about your days with unaddressed gut issues, you can only expect it to get worse.

Option Two: Treat yourself.

Taking matters into your own hands is a brave and empowering step. You always have the option to educate yourself about gut health and make positive lifestyle changes. The issue with a DIY approach is that often, the symptoms get addressed but NOT the root cause, meaning the underlying problem is still there.

Option Three: Get a professional to help.

Sometimes, seeking professional guidance is the most effective and efficient way to tackle gut health head-on. Consulting with a functional nutrition coach like myself can provide expert advice, accurate diagnosis of the root cause, and personalized treatment options. We can help you navigate through the complexities of your condition and develop a targeted plan for your well-being.

Please check out my website at www.rerootnutritioncoach.com to learn more and to book your free 30 minute discovery call with me to help amp up your own stomach acid to improve your gut health today.


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