Now that you’ve had a tour of your digestive tract let’s talk about what can go wrong in different parts, and some ideas how to fix it. (If you missed the tour of your digestive tract, you can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
We’re going to start with the stomach. I call the stomach the “washing machine for your food”. Your stomach acts like a front load washing machine mixing up the food with hydrochloric acid (HCl) and digestive enzymes. This washing machine action gets the food broken into smaller and smaller pieces so there is more area for the HCl and digestive enzymes to attack. You want your food to get broken down into tiny pieces so that the basic nutrients – carbs, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals – can be absorbed into your body.
Two of the main things that can go wrong in your stomach are: 1) not having enough HCl, and 2) not having enough digestive enzymes. In this post, I’ll talk about hypochlorhydria – or low stomach acid. Next week, I’ll talk about low digestive enzymes.
You need HCl in your stomach for several reasons. HCl helps you digest – break down – proteins, and it helps you absorb iron, calcium, zinc, copper and all of the B vitamins.
Why might you be low in HCl? As we get less young (I don’t like to say “old” or “older”), our bodies may produce less HCl than when we were younger. Proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) -prescription drugs that treat acid reflux – reduce the production of HCl. An H. pylori infection -which may cause stomach ulcers – may also reduce the production of HCl.
How do you know if you have hypochlorhydria? Symptoms that may indicate that you have low stomach HCl include: indigestion; heartburn; poor quality finger nails; hair that is brittle or won’t grow; feeling full after only eating a small amount especially if it contains protein; feeling like your stomach heavy or is “filled with sand” after eating; experiencing bloating, gas, and/or belching after eating; morning diarrhea or diarrhea after eating; or constipation. That’s quite a list! And, a lot of those symptoms can be caused by other things. How do you know low HCl is the cause of your symptoms?
You can do a medical test where you swallow a device that measures the levels of stomach acid. Or, you can add in some HCl supplements and see what happens. You should NOT take HCl if you are on any PPI (more on this below). When working with clients, I have specific protocols I use to add in HCl and determine the dose. Logging your food and symptoms can also help you figure out which foods are causing problems. I’ve got a log that can help. The information on how to get it is below.
If you are on PPIs, there are protocols to follow that can help you wean off of them. You do NOT want to stop PPIs abruptly. Since PPIs reduce your body’s production of HCl, taking HCl and PPIs together can spell trouble.
One of the best ways to get a happy gut is to track your food and symptoms. I’ve created a Symptom Log for Digestive Wellness based on my years with IBS and working with clients with digestive issues. I also created a series of videos to go along with the log to help you learn how to use it, figure out what may be triggering your symptoms, and other resources to get a happy and healthy gut. If you want the Symptom Log and other goodies, you can sign up to get it here.