Have heartburn? You may need more stomach acid

Like Nate, I’ve had my fair share of digestive issues. I feel like I’ve tried it all…

Enzymes, fermented foods, teas, apple cider vinegar, pureed foods, elimination diets, not drinking with meals, walking after meals, eating slowly, chewing each bite 20 times…

Some things helped, for a while.

But one thing has helped more than all the others: betaine HCL with bitters.

Betaine HCL is a substance that increases stomach acid production, and bitters are herbs that stimulate bile production.

Now, if you have heartburn, you’re probably thinking there’s absolutely no way having more stomach acid is a good idea. Isn’t too much acid what’s causing your problem in the first place?

The makers of proton-pump inhibitor heartburn medications would certainly like us to think so. And it seems they’ve convinced us, too. In 2013, Nexium was the second best-selling drug in America, raking in over $6 billion in sales.

But you might want to think twice before using these drugs long term. Studies show they may lead to low levels of calcium, magnesium, B12 and iron[1]. Other research shows people taking PPIs are at increased risk of getting pneumonia.[2]

But many people do use these drugs long term. So are we really suffering from an epidemic of too much acid production?

Well, according to Dr. Jonathan V. Wright of the Tahoma Clinic, there’s a good chance it’s actually too little stomach acid that can cause heartburn and other digestive woes.

Dr. Wright, the author of Why Stomach Acid Is Good for You, has found that over 90% of the patients tested at his clinic since 1976 have low stomach acid. And supplemental betaine HCL is able to treat mild to moderate cases of heartburn, GERD, and indigestion.

How?

There’s a valve at the top of your stomach called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES allows food to pass into your stomach when you eat but is supposed to stay closed the rest of the time. This keeps acid from splashing up into your esophagus.

While certain things like caffeine, alcohol, or food sensitivities can cause the LES to relax when it should not, the theory behind why people with low stomach acid get heartburn is that if stomach acid is low, the valve doesn’t get the signal that it needs to stay shut.[3]

By increasing stomach acid, the valve gets the message and heartburn is prevented.

Too little stomach acid can also lead to improper digestion. This can allow partially digested food to enter the small intestine, where bacteria feast on it and contribute to gas and bloating. The trapped air can then put pressure on the stomach and push acid into the esophagus.

In addition, if you don’t have enough acid, the bacteria on the food you eat may not be killed and make its way into your intestines. Not good.

Too much bacteria in the small intestine and plenty of undigested food to feed them can lead to a condition called small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which causes extreme gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and irregular bowel movements.

(I’ll be talking more about SIBO in future issues of Living Well Daily, because new research is suggesting many people are suffering from this condition but have no idea they have it.)

For me, taking betaine HCL with bitters before eating has nearly eliminated the bloating issues I used to get after every meal. I’m using Doctor’s Best brand, which you can get from vitacost.com or your local health food store.

There are a few ways to test if you think you have low stomach acid. Check out this article for them. But please note, if you use any sort of NSAID or corticosteroids, you should not try betaine HCL without first talking to your doctor, as both of these medications can increase your risk of stomach ulcers.

Have you tried betaine HCL or any other digestion remedies that work for you?

Let me know! livingwelldaily@lfb.org

To living well,

Jasmine LeMaster

[1] Association of Long-term Proton Pump Inhibitor Therapy with Bone Fractures and effects on Absorption of Calcium, Vitamin B12, Iron, and Magnesium. Curr Gastroenterol Rep. 2010 Dec; 12(6): 448–457.

[2] Are proton pump inhibitors associated with the development of community-acquired pneumonia? A meta-analysis. Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol. 2012 May;5(3):337-44.

[3] What REALLY Causes Heartburn? DR. Jonathan V Wright, M.D.

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