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Are you one of the 20 percent of Americans with acid reflux and heartburn? You’re probably chalking the problem up to too much stomach acid, but in many cases it’s the opposite causing the problems – too little stomach acid is the culprit behind those fiery episodes that feel like they’re burning a hole in your chest.

How can that be possible?

The environment of the stomach is highly acidic so that it can quickly break down meats and other foods, protect you from poisoning and infection from bacteria, fungi, and other toxins, and help you better absorb minerals. Good stomach acidity also helps ensure smooth function of the rest of the digestive tract and can help relieve not only heartburn but also indigestion, belching, gas, constipation, bloating, yeast overgrowth, food allergies, and other symptoms related to compromised digestion.

Why is stomach acid low?

Various factors can cause insufficient stomach acid. Stress, bacterial infection, poor diet, and nutritional deficiencies can hinder the stomach’s production of hydrochloric acid (HCl), or stomach acid. The most common cause of low stomach acid is infection from H. pylori, a bacteria also linked with stomach ulcers.

Pernicious anemia, hypothyroidism, a deficiency of zinc, B12, magnesium, or chloride can also contribute to the problem. Long-time vegetarians or vegans may be deficient in zinc and B12, as these are found in meats, and may need the support of HCl supplementation when adding meat back into their diet.

How low stomach acid causes heartburn

The stomach contents must be very acidic to trigger the release of food from the stomach into the small intestine. When stomach acid is too low it fails to trigger this release because the contents are not the right acidity to safely enter the small intestine.

As a result, the trapped food shoots back up into the esophagus. Although stomach acid is too low, it is still too acidic for the delicate tissue of the esophagus. This causes that fiery burning and pain of heartburn and acid reflux.

Why antacids and acid blockers can make the problem worse

Antacids or acid blockers bring temporary relief but may cause long-term problems with your overall digestive function. Proper acidity of the stomach triggers the pancreas to secrete digestive enzymes and the gallbladder to secrete bile. Enzymes and bile help ensure proper nutrient absorption, fat emulsification, protection against infections and parasites, and proper functioning of the large intestine.

Chronically low stomach acid hinders the function of these organs, often leading to larger problems throughout the digestive tract.

Correcting low stomach acid

If stomach acid is too low the most important thing to do is address the root cause, whether it is nutritional deficiency, hypothyroidism, or an H. pylori infection. You can also boost stomach acid by taking an HCl supplement. Just be aware that if you have gastric lesions or an autoimmune reaction to the tissue in your stomach, an HCl supplement could make you feel worse.

Ask my office for advice on whether you need supplemental HCl and how to use it safely and for the best results if you have heartburn or acid reflux. We can also help you get to the root cause of your digestive issues.

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No one can be blamed for wanting relief, especially when acid reflux makes it feel like molten lava is shooting up through your esophagus. Antacids can bring quick relief, but their long-term use can also bring lasting problems. It’s better to identify and address the underlying causes of acid reflux than simply to squelch the symptoms.

Acid reflux occurs when the contents of the stomach backwash into the esophagus. These contents can include stomach acid, bile, food, or sour liquid. Although the lining of the stomach is designed to handle such an acidic environment, the more delicate tissue of the esophagus is not. As a result, symptoms include indigestion, a burning sensation in the chest (heartburn), and tasting regurgitated food or liquid in the back of your mouth.

Many factors can cause acid reflux, including overeating, obesity, or the types of foods you eat. Spicy foods, fried foods, coffee, chocolate, and citrus are frequently cited as triggering acid reflux. When the reflux becomes constant, it’s worth exploring some of the common underlying conditions.

Possible underlying causes of acid reflux

H. pylori overgrowth: An H. pylori infection occurs in the stomach and is the most common chronic bacterial infection, affecting more than 50 percent of the world’s population. An H. pylori infection may promote acid reflux by decreasing stomach acid. Although acid reflux is associated with too much acidity, the truth is in many cases too little stomach acid causes acid reflux, which I’ll explain in the next paragraph.

Too little stomach acid: Sufficient stomach acid is necessary to break down dietary proteins, ensure absorption of vital nutrients and minerals, and protect the digestive tract from harmful bacteria. It’s believed that low stomach acid, or hypochlorhydria, results in improperly digested food lingering too long in the stomach. Eventually it backwashes into the esophagus, and although the contents are not acidic enough for the stomach, they are too acidic for the delicate esophageal tissue. Factors that cause too little stomach acid include an H. pylori infection, a nutrient-poor diet, stress, and antacid medications.

Gluten: If you eat gluten, it could be a culprit in your acid reflux. One study found chronic acid reflux affected 30 percent of patients with celiac disease compared to less than 5 percent of those not diagnosed with the disease. Another study found almost 40 percent of children with celiac disease suffer from esophagitis, inflammation of the esophagus that causes heartburn.

Acid reflux usually just one of many digestive symptoms

Acid reflux is often just one of many digestive symptoms that can result from poor digestion, food intolerances, chronic stress, gut infections, and other factors. In fact, one study showed that participants with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were nearly twice as likely as non IBS participants to suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a chronic, advanced form of acid reflux. Conversely, another study found a majority of participants with GERD also suffered from IBS.

Although antacids can bring temporarily relief, they may also worsen your acid reflux problem in the long run. Ultimately, antacids reduce stomach acid, hinder digestion, and inhibit nutrient absorption. In addition, antacids are shown to weaken bones and increase the risk of food poisoning.

For natural ways to relieve your acid reflux, please contact my office.

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Call it acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD, but having stomach acid splash back up into your esophagus is painful and distressing. Although researchers cite various causes, one that many doctors overlook is gluten, the protein found in wheat, spelt, rye, barley, and other wheat-like grains.

Studies link gluten with acid reflux

Research shows acid reflux symptoms more commonly affect those with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease triggered by gluten. One study found 30 percent of celiac disease patients had GERD compared to less than 5 percent of those not diagnosed with the disease. Another study found almost 40 percent of children with celiac disease suffer from esophagitis, inflammation of the esophagus and heartburn.

Gluten-free diet found to relieve heartburn

Fortunately, researchers also found a gluten-free diet relieved symptoms of GERD rapidly and persistently. Some people have found they also need to give up grains, processed foods, or other foods to which they are intolerant (such as dairy) to completely relieve acid reflux.

GERD could be autoimmune

Some research shows that stomach acid is not acidic enough to immediately damage the esophagus. Instead, it triggers an inflammatory reaction within the tissue of the esophagus, causing damage.

What does gluten have to do with this? Gluten has been shown to be very pro-inflammatory in many people, and has been linked with 55 autoimmune diseases. It’s possible acid reflux could be yet another inflammatory disorder triggered by gluten.

Antacids increase health risks

Most people relieve acid reflux by taking an antacid to neutralize stomach acid, with sales of the drug topping $10 billion annually. Not only does this fail to stop stomach acid from washing back up into the esophagus (one study showed protein-pump inhibitors actually induce acid reflux), it also impairs nutrient absorption.

Antacids may increase food poisoning risk

Stomach acid is vital to the absorption of minerals and vitamins, and protects the stomach from bacteria, fungus, and infection. Chronic use of antacids has been linked to increased risk for bacterial infections, candida (yeast) overgrowth, and food poisoning.

Antacids may increase osteoporosis risk

Chronic antacid use also impairs absorption of minerals, including calcium, which can increase the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

Proper testing for gluten intolerance vital

With one in five people now believed to be suffering from gluten sensitivity, it’s important to know whether you are too, and whether undiagnosed gluten intolerance is contributing to heartburn.

The conventional tests to screen gluten intolerance are notoriously inaccurate. For cutting-edge testing, please contact my office.

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Question

I went to see my natural medicine practitioner for depression and she wants to work on my digestive health. I don’t get the connection.

Answer

Many people would be surprised to learn how greatly gut health affects brain health. A poor diet, inflamed gut, and intestinal permeability definitely can promote depression.

Depression a not-so-obvious symptom of poor digestion

Sometimes digestion issues are obvious; they cause gas, bloating, heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain. For others the main symptom is not so obvious—depression. An unhealthy diet and compromised gut health can promote depression in several ways.

Poor nutrition

When one eats a junk food diet laden with processed foods, trans fats, sugars, and artificial chemicals, the brain suffers. The brain needs healthy fats, high-quality protein, abundant vitamins and minerals, and a diet low in starchy foods and sugars.

Gluten

Gluten is directly linked to depression in some. It causes gut inflammation, which can lead to inflammation in areas of the brain that regulate mood. Some people digest gluten into gluteomorphin, an opioid similar to heroin or morphine that can cause depression (not to mention constipation). Gluten can also cause autoimmune attacks in the brain with symptoms of depression.

Dairy or other foods may also cause depression, depending on sensitivity.

Leaky gut

Leaky gut happens when the lining of the intestines becomes overly permeable. This allows undigested foods, bacteria, and other pathogens into the bloodstream, creating inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation in the brain may cause depression.

Inflammation in the gut also inhibits absorption of nutrients necessary for good brain function. An example of such a nutrient is tryptophan, an amino acid found in proteins. The brain synthesizes tryptophan into serotonin, a brain chemical that promotes feelings of well-being and joy.

Always consider gut health

Depression is a complex, multi-faceted condition that can have its roots in various causes. However the role of diet and digestive health should always be included in a functional approach to depression.

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