By Dr. Jeff - October 21, 2014
Healing the Gut - The Stomach Acid Myth
The biggest misconception of digestive trouble is that the stomach has too much acid. Millions upon millions of dollars are spent every year for the wrong solution to the problem.
It’s no mystery to doctors who specialize in nutrition and natural medicine that ‘fixing the gut first’ is the key to many ‘miracle’ cures. Dr. Jonathon Wright, MD, a legendary alternative doctor states that “correcting a minor problem [in the stomach] can help you achieve "breakthroughs modern science has deemed ‘impossible.‘” The gut is the key entry portal of the body for receiving and processing the vital nutrients that sustain and nurture life. When the stomach and intestinal channels are damaged, health problems of every bodily system may, and most often will, ensue.
The number one most common health symptom worldwide is heartburn, also known as gastro esophageal reflux or GER. A staggering 45% of the US population suffers from GER. That’s almost twice as many people as who suffer from heart disease, our nation’s leading cause of death. The more chronic form of heartburn, gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) is typically characterized by inability to eat certain foods, difficulty lying down flat and often a chronic reliance on medications. While GERD distresses less people than GER, at 23% it still affects a vast portion of the population.
Unfortunately the treatments that we have come to believe to be appropriate and helpful, antacids or acid stopping medications, are far from curative. In fact, they actually make the ailment worse. These typical remedies can only provide symptom relief and often they eventually fail at that. Astonishing as it is, the dosage instructions on anti-acids and acid stoppers like Prilosec or Nexium say to stop taking them after 2 weeks.
Most people start out using antacids, but because they are ineffective at fixing the problem, sufferers then become dependent on the various acid stopping drugs, often for years. Regardless if the drugs give any relief, many are still restricted from enjoying a variety of foods. But that’s not all – more critical consequences come about because digestion is permanently impaired, eventually leading to more and more serious problems for one’s health. Most critical of all is when these drugs are given to infants.
In order to reverse this condition and restore the normal health and digestive function of the stomach, a different approach needs to be made. A largely misunderstood fact is that our stomachs are designed for and rely on the production of strong acid. Problems come about when we lose the strength and production of a healthy amount of stomach acid. To put it in perspective, battery acid, considered a very strong acid, has a pH of 1.5 and a healthy stomach should have an acid pH between 1 – 1.5, which is even a bit stronger!
Stomach acid will naturally decline after the age of 50 when other metabolic and dietary demands naturally decrease. But the greatest cause of losing good stomach acid strength is the over-consumption of processed and unhealthy, ‘sugary’ foods. Secondarily is over-consumption in general and eating too much at once, too fast. Suffice it to say, whether you are getting on in years or you’re one of the many who are victims of dietary influences, there is an effective means of restoring good gut health.
Doing so is vitally important. Without adequate stomach acid strength, there is a breakdown in the processing and assimilation of essential nutrients, and an interference in normal metabolism and organ function. In essence, dysfunctional digestion has implications on one’s health in many more ways than most people are aware. Here is a summary of things to know about stomach acid:
- Most indigestion and reflux is caused by too low or weak stomach acid, not too much acid.
- The heartburn pain thought to come from ‘too much acid’ actually comes from a low-acid stomach that cannot fully digest foods. Foods sit in the stomach for too long, rot and ferment creating fermentation acids, mostly from carbohydrates, which causes expansion and pressure on the upper stomach sphincter. This allows the fermentation acids, which is the real culprit in heartburn, acid indigestion, reflux, etc., to leak up into the esophagus causing the discomfort and pain. This ‘leaking’ is also a leading cause of hiatal hernias.
- Strong acid is necessary to break down and ‘emulsify’ fats. One of the next most common problems of digestive disorders brought about from poor stomach acid strength is an intolerance to fatty foods and eventual gallbladder problems.
- Strong acid is required to break apart and ‘denature’ proteins. The body can’t access the individual essential amino acids when not digested properly. The bulk, undigested foods that pass into the intestines set the stage for constipation, the second most prominent digestive disorder behind GER.
- The ‘good bacteria’ of the stomach rely on strong stomach acid for their health. When the stomach pH raises (lowering acid strength), bad bacteria and yeast overgrowth occurs. Candidiasis is a serious problem that affects millions of people and most don’t know they have it. It can cause skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, rashes and fungal infections, chronic fatigue, irritability or depression, seasonal allergies, strong sugar cravings and even serious autoimmune diseases.
- The stomach enzymes like pepsins and proteases require a very low pH to be activated and perform their enzymatic function. Weak acid strength prohibits the enzymes from breaking down foods, further hampering thorough digestion.
- Mineral uptake is impaired without strong stomach acid. Minerals should be released from foods in the stomach where they are activated, in a sense, from the acid. They are then absorbed and assimilated into the metabolism in the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine just past the stomach. Many health problems are caused due to mineral deficiency. There is an increased incidence of bone fractures in women who take acid stopping medications because their calcium uptake is seriously impaired, regardless if they consume extra calcium.
- Low salt diets can lead to low stomach acid as real salt is needed by your body to produce adequate quantities of stomach acid. Millions of Americans are on a low-salt diet (a proven-false medical premise), which interferes with hydrochloric acid (HCL) production.
- Poor stomach acid strength is often present in individuals frequently suffering from colds and flu’s because your immune system is dependent upon adequate stomach acid.
- Besides dysbiosis (abnormal gut flora) and candidiasis, low stomach acid and chronic use of antacids are also responsible for malabsorption syndrome, intestinal damage and leaky gut syndrome.
- A baby’s development is vitally dependent on the nutrients it consumes, especially for the brain and nervous system. All the factors above are amplified for a developing baby. In addition, when given drugs that impairs their digestion, babies don’t take in vitamin B-12. Their cognitive development and learning skills are jeopardized because B-12 is critical for their brain development.
With low stomach acid, your maladies and ‘diseases’ may be deemed medically incurable. The truth is if you are relying on the drugs and maintaining a chronically malfunctioning stomach, then in that state your condition is most likely incurable. Without adequate stomach acid your body suffers from nutrient starvation and ultimately chronic disease.
Antacids, acid blockers and acid stoppers are grossly overprescribed, they do nothing to correct the underlying cause of most indigestion, and they cause problems and side effects that can destroy your health.
In my practice, I address this issue with patients on a weekly if not daily basis. The patients that I have helped have most likely been taking antacids or the more harmful drugs for years. I have helped many to return to normal dietary practices without medications. It starts with healing the stomach while supporting the return of normal stomach enzymes and ultimately healthy stomach acid. What’s exciting is that many people who have recovered often discover that many other facets of their health and energy are restored.
Returning the natural acid strength of the stomach provides a sustainable solution to an otherwise unmanageable condition. Once we engage a program to restore gut health, I work with my patients throughout their course of treatment and any dietary modifications that may be involved. The time it takes to restore a healthy gut and the ability to eat more normally will vary among individuals. However, I can usually assure my patients that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel. When we reach the point of successfully overcoming years of discomfort and misery, patients are often ecstatic at the change in their life. They are smiling and happy patients who have finally gotten relief!