HCL is a potent acid necessary for crucial functions like breaking down proteins into amino acids (a process called proteolysis), the assimilation of B vitamins, signaling the pancreas to release digestive enzymes, and killing off microscopic pathogens to prevent us from getting food poisoning. Our stomach environment is acidic, and should/needs to be that way in order to effectively carry out these tasks. Unless we have a gastric ulcer, the stomach is equipped with a mucosal lining meant for containing stomach acid, and we should not "feel" this natural and desirable state of acidity. So the question remains, what is happening when we do??
From the moment food enters our mouth and we start chewing it (which I hope you are all doing WELL, as this in and of itself can lead to the symptoms we are discussing), our digestive process is signaled to begin. Once chewed food enters the stomach, HCL and other digestive enzymes are waiting to begin breaking everything down and denaturing proteins, producing an end product called chyme (a delightful mixture of HCL and broken down food). Now, the problem lies in the situation where our stomach environment lacks the necessary acid to break down this food. When this happens, the following symptoms may occur:
- Burning sensation (heart burn)
- Frequent gas and belching after meals
- Feeling that food is just "sitting" in our stomach/not being digested
- Constipation and/or diarrhea
- Undigested food in stool
- Frequent food poisoning, bacterial infections, parasites
- Candida overgrowth
- Constantly cracking fingernails
- Receding gums (periodontisis)
- Multiple food sensitivities (due to undigested proteins)
Fun!!! So again, why do these things occur? Well, lets be clear that heart burn is not a Tums deficiency! All too commonly, people use antacids to relieve their symptoms on a very regular basis, suppressing our already low HCL levels. HCL is responsible for signaling opening and closing of the lower esophageal sphincter (the valve allowing food to pass from our esophagus to our stomach) and also the opening/closing of the pyloric sphincter (valve allowing chyme to pass from the stomach to the small intestines). When we do not have enough HCL to carry out these tasks, particularly controlling the lower esophageal sphincter, stomach acid is therefore able to pass into the esophagus, which is an alkaline (non-acidic) environment. We then feel that burning sensation, and try to calm it with antacids.
SO HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE LOW HCL, AND WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT???
- First of all, you can self-administer this simple and harmless at home test with beet juice to get an idea if you are low in HCL. See below for more details.
- Use natural digestive aids like 1-2 tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar in room temperature water OR 1-2 tbsp organic, fresh lemon juice in water 20 minutes before a meal. Another option is the use of digestive bitters.
- High carbohydrate diets (particularly refined carbs like white flour, sugar, processed breads, pastries, grains) can worsen symptoms. Stick primarily to a whole foods diet of quality protein, lots of organic vegetables and fruits, and lots of high quality saturated and unsaturated fats.
- CHEW YOUR FOOD!!!
- Relax (all the time, but especially when you eat). When our nervous system is in its' sympathetic state (aka, fight or flight mode) we physically cannot digest foods. It is essential to be in a parasympathetic state, which does allow digestion to occur. Take 10 deep belly breaths before eating, and try your best to be sitting down, no distractions.
- If the above doesn't work, consult a professional about supplementing for a time with HCL tablets, but not if you have or suspect having an ulcer.
AT HOME BEET JUICE TEST
This test is not 100% accurate, but can definitely give us an idea of our HCL levels. For a few consecutive days, drink about 4 ounces of fresh, pure, organic beet juice with a bit of protein. You may be able to find this at your local juice bar, or steam beets on your own, chop, and put in a blender with some water. Record what color your urine is over these days. If we have enough HCL, the red pigment (betalaine) of the beets should be neutralized and your urine will not appear pink or red.