We think of stomach acid as this unpleasant thing that occasionally makes unannounced visits up our esophagus. But few of us ever consider the importance of the contents of our stomachs. Some people suffer from maladies that lead to a suppressed production of stomach acid. Crazier still are millions of people now following a doctor’s orders to suppress the production of stomach acids on purpose! But we’ll get back to that in a minute. In either of these cases, there are serious consequences to not producing sufficient amounts of gastric acid. It is what we call achlorhydria: the stomach acid is inhibited to a point where proper digestion is compromised.
What is Achlorhydria?
Achlorhydria is the absence specifically of the chemical compound hydrochloric acid (HCL). In general terms, it’s a lack of gastric or stomach acid, as HCL acts as the primary catalyzer and makes up a large percentage of gastric acid. We all learned in elementary school that our body uses stomach acid to help break down the foods we eat into nutrients that are necessary for nourishing the body. But no one outside of medical school (and often no one inside) learns anything about the critical balance of chemicals making up your acidic base of gastric compounds. HCL is the main actor in the initial process of breaking down the food you consume into tiny enough constituents that it can easily absorb into the bloodstream via the intestinal walls “downstream”.
When your body lacks sufficient gastric acid, it can lead to an array of complications, from the immediate, (bacterial overgrowth, and intestinal metaplasia) to the long term (you pretty much name it – osteoporosis, heart disease, malnutrition). Achlorhydria has also been linked to iron deficiency anemia (IDA) due to the fact that acidic pH assists in the process of iron absorption, and this process appears to be particularly sensitive to pH.
How does long-term Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) use disrupt gastric function?
While there are many risk factors that can leave you susceptible to achlorhydria, there is one that is actually preventable by making the right choices when it comes to how often you use it: proton pump inhibitors or PPIs. Doctors recommend PPIs for chronic heartburn, without ever considering the root causes of the heartburn. And as patents run out, these drugs have become available as over the counter medications. In an incredible twist of irony, use of PPIs has been shown to make matters demonstrably worse over time. One of the major adverse effects is…you guessed it: achlorhydria. PPIs work to interrupt the production of HCL by stopping the flow of the hydrogen that is needed to support the HCL production. People often grab for PPIs thinking that they will be good to treat almost every gastric or acidic related situation (indeed they are marketed this way!). This is crazy-making!
What role does nutrition play in reversing Achlorhydria?
Nutrition plays a vital role in reversing achlorhydria, but let’s be clear: we’re starting with the problem that you aren’t digesting things well. So even basic nutritional supplementation may not work without getting foundational about your gut! We recommend a product by Standard Process called Gastrex that we will often suggest to our patients when they are thinking about reducing or eliminating their dependence upon PPI’s. They might do this in and of themselves, however we recommend they do so with their physician’s assistance. This serves to bolster the pH in the gut first, to reignite the furnace of digestion, before getting more specific with treatment. It is possible to do this with whole foods, by locating and regularly consuming sources of pepsin, and Betaine Hydrochloride. A compromised digestive system will benefit more from concentrated digestive supplements with these major compounds already present.
Make no mistake: getting your gut right is necessary so that stomach pH levels can return to a normal balance, but doing so through prepared food only will take a long, consistent effort to slowly reverse the damage done. To one degree or another, you are starving and malnourished during this period.
Our patients have access to a set of concentrated supplements in a protocol to address your nutritional needs when combating achlorhydria. The protocol is meant to speed up the process of balancing gut pH to get you digesting properly almost immediately. Seriously think twice about messing with your stomach’s natural acid production. Shutting down or disrupting your own body’s metabolism is nothing short of inviting disaster.
This is because stopping the digestion of proteins robs your body of the very building blocks necessary to sustain the structure, organ integrity, and the body’s ability to heal itself. This is no little thing. Our strength comes from our food, obviously. We are not plugged into an outlet. We have to digest our proteins, which will not happen when we take drugs that stop this vital process from happening. Our podcast #102 addresses this very issue.