Denver - Design District - Alameda and Broadway
368 S Broadway
Denver, CO 80209
The holiday season brings with it a welcome of out-of-town family, friends near and far, and food adorned with holiday flair. What’s not-so-welcome is the dreaded indigestion or heartburn (or both) that comes with our tendency to overeat, or eat foods that we normally wouldn’t. But before you reach for another antacid or acid blocker, consider this: Low stomach acid may be the culprit behind your indigestion and heartburn. In fact, you may need more stomach acid to properly support digestive health, and blocking or reducing your stomach acid could be making matters worse. Especially as we age, stomach acid starts to decline and unpleasant digestive symptoms may begin to rise. Supplementing with betaine hydrochloric acid (HCL)or apple cider vinegar, incorporating fermented foods into your diet, and taking digestive bitters will all go a long way to support healthy digestion, and improve symptoms of indigestion and heartburn.
Our stomach secretions are made up of hydrochloric acid (HCL), enzymes like pepsin, and a mucus coating that protects the lining of our stomach. HCL helps our body break down, digest, and absorb minerals, vitamins, and macronutrients, such as protein.1 2 But why does stomach acid get such a bad rap? There’s a common misconception that excess stomach acid causes heartburn. It makes sense to our brain that when we feel fi re and burning in the esophagus, it must be because of excess acid, right? Not necessarily. It’s true that heartburn is caused when acid from the stomach leaks into the esophagus, but that fi re feeling is from any amount of acid leaking through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is the ring of muscle that seals the esophagus from the stomach.3 Normally, the LES opens when we swallow and then squeezes tight to prevent food and acid in the stomach from leaking into the esophagus. When the LES does not seal tightly, it remains relaxed between swallows, allowing digestive juices to enter and irritate the esophageal lining. Certain foods, low stomach acid, smoking, alcohol, and increased abdominal pressure due to excess weight or pregnancy are all factors that can weaken, relax, or loosen the LES.4
Did you know that a healthy stomach secretes two to three liters of gastric juices per day?5 Unfortunately, many suffer from under-secretion of these gastric juices, or low stomach acid, a condition called hypochlorhydria.6 According to a 2013 review, hypochlorhydria is the main change in the stomach of older adults when, between the ages of 60 and 65, there’s a significant reduction in stomach acid production.7 8 9 Low stomach acid can also be caused by the overuse of acid-suppressing medications, such as antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), bacterial infection caused by H. pylori, chronic stress, too much alcohol, taking certain antibiotics, eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and extreme calorie-restrictive diets.10 Low stomach acid symptoms include gas, bloating, burping after meals, flatulence immediately after meals, excessive fullness after eating, stomach pain, indigestion, diarrhea, or constipation. With adequate HCL levels in the stomach, indigestion symptoms and heartburn may improve.11
HCL Betaine hydrochloric acid is the most common hydrochloric acid supplement that supports proper digestive function. Betaine HCL aids in the absorption and assimilation of minerals, such as iron, and vitamins, such as folic acid, ascorbic acid, and beta-carotene, by increasing their bioavailability. 12 According to research, a number of minerals and trace elements are poorly absorbed in cases of low stomach acid, including iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, chromium, selenium, manganese, vanadium, molybdenum, and cobalt.13 14 By increasing stomach acid levels with betaine HCL, you can restore normal gastric acidity to support healthy gut function.
Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and pickles can naturally increase and support healthy stomach acid levels. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, and their beneficial bacteria and enzymes can improve digestion, reduce harmful bacteria, and decrease inflammation from low stomach acid.15 16 Raw apple cider vinegar (ACV) is a fermented liquid made from apples, bacteria, and yeast that is rich in protein and enzymes. It increases stomach acid levels by introducing more acid into the digestive tract. In addition to increasing stomach acid levels, ACV has been shown to reduce symptoms of heartburn.17
Digestive bitters are typically found as combinations of bitter herbs, and while the blends may vary, they all work to support healthy digestion. Bitters, which may include herbs like gentian, burdock root, and ginger, stimulate the production of stomach acid, enzymes, and bile, and can relieve gas, bloating, nausea, and other symptoms of indigestion, as well as heartburn. When the bitter receptors on your tongue are stimulated by a bitter taste, the vagus nerve (the nerve that connects the brain to the digestive system) relays a message to the stomach, pancreas, and liver, which jumpstarts digestion. There are also bitter receptors in the stomach, which when stimulated, promote a feeling of satiety, or fullness, helping to prevent overeating.18 Most of us don’t consume many bitter foods in our modern-day diets, so the addition of digestive bitters can be a great way to incorporate them. NOTE: If you are taking any type of acid blocker, you should not take these supplements at the same time. They are antagonists and will work against each other.