Gastrointestinal dysfunctions are the most overlooked disorders in healthcare today. Pain, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, etc. are not normal!
The important thing to note is that GI problems can lead to problems throughout the body and vice verse. It can affect the immune system, adrenals, thyroid, sex hormones, oxygenation status, cardiovascular system, liver, etc. Therefore, it is imperative to maintain GI health and integrity.
We are going to talk about one of the most common dysfunctions, low levels of hydrochloric acid (HCL) also referred to as Hypochorhydria.
What does HCL do?
HCL stimulates the release of bicarbonate which allows the valve to the small intestine to open to continue the processing of our food. If not, pressure is relieved through the esophagus which can lead to GERD symptoms such as pain and burning. At the same time, HCL stimulates the pancreas to secrete digestive enzymes and bile required to complete the process of digesting our food.
HCL helps protect the body from ingested pathogens including viruses, parasites, yeasts, and bacteria as well as sterilizing our food. HCL is required for absorption of minerals, especially calcium and iron but also magnesium, zinc, copper. It aids in the absorption of B12 and helps to maintain the pH balance of the body. Knowing its importance, the last thing we want to do is shut down its production!!
What is the issue with low HCL?
In addition to food sterilization and nutrient absorption issues, if your gut doesn’t have sufficient stomach acid, it cannot effectively convert proteins into amino acids. This creates a two-fold problem. First, foods can putrefy leading to leaky gut. Second, we may minimize our “pool” of amino acids needed to create proteins—the very ones required by our immune system to function.
What causes low HCL?
Causes of decreased HCL secretion may include:
- Infections such as h. or c. Pylori (which setup alkaline environment for survival)
- GI inflammation due to food intolerances and/or infection
- Lack of protein in the diet
- Excess carbohydrate consumption
- Birth control pills
- Adrenal stress
- Candida, chronic overeating
- Low estrogen levels
- Drug interactions
- Too much coffee consumption
- Vitamin/mineral deficiency such as zinc, B vitamin or magnesium,
- Poor vagal tone, etc..
What is h. Pylori?
H. pylori is often the source of low HCL. It is a persistent pathogen that populates the lining of the stomach. In order to thrive, h/ pylori forms colonies that wrap themselves in a protective coating. As the colonies grow, the bubble ruptures, releasing new pathogens into the stomach.–where they then to form more colonies. Since these pathogens require a non-acidic environment to thrive, as their numbers continue to build, stomach acidity is reduced.
Are there different types of h. pylori infections?
According to Dr. J. Moss, there are three types of h. Pylori infections— each creating a different effect on gut acidity and slightly different support.
- Body-predominant: the most common type, occurs in the middle region or “body” of the stomach and is associated with decreased stomach acid secretion.
- Antral-predominant:: the least common type, occurs in the lower part of the stomach and is associated with increased stomach acid secretion.
- Mixed type: occurs in both the middle and lower portion of the stomach and typically has a neutral affect on stomach acid secretion.
This is a very difficult infection to treat and often requires multiple types of antibiotics. We have good success with herbal remedies and biofilm busters.
How do you test for HCL levels?
The best and most cost effective way is an HCL challenge test in which acidity is slowly increased to determine how symptoms are affected. Urine indican and sediment levels may provide information in some. The Heidleburg Capsule test requires swallowing a capsule to obtain pH info.
In our office, we start with Functional Blood Chemistry and look for patterns of markers that trend toward HCL dysfunction as well as potential underlying cause.
What can you do to help heal the gut?
As with any gut issue, we utilize a “4R” protocol to help alleviate GI issues. This includes removing offending foods and/or infections, replacing whatever the body temporarily needs to help breakdown and digest food, repairing an inflamed gut, and reinoculating the GI system with friendly bacteria temporarily —concurrently adjusting our diet to create an more friendly environment for our microbiome. You can learn more about digestive health here.
We also utilize beneficial yeast to improve the efficacy of helpful bacteria while providing short chained fatty acids for fuel. As a natural kickstart, We often recommend the use of digestive bitters to stimulate the release of digestive chemicals at the start of a meal.