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Frequent bouts of acid reflux and indigestion can be a red flag that your stomach acid, or hydrochloric acid, is actually too low.
If you suffer from chronic acid reflux and indigestion, keep note of specific foods that trigger your symptoms.
If foods high in carbohydrates and starch upset your stomach, you could have an issue with your pancreatic enzymes. On the other hand, if you react negatively to high-protein foods then you may have a deficiency of stomach hydrochloric acid (HCl).
What hydrochloric acid does
- Helps break down, digest, and absorb nutrients.
- Neutralizes pathogens.
- Creates a sterile environment for the gut.
- Changes the pH balance of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Impacts microbiome diversity.
Symptoms of low hydrochloric acid
- Difficulty digesting proteins.
- Bloating and gas.
- A feeling of heaviness in the stomach after eating.
- Heartburn and acid reflux.
Why do you have low hydrochloric acid?
Hypothyroidism, H. Pylori infections, traumatic brain injuries, gluten sensitivity, and chronic gut inflammation are all common causes of low hydrochloric acid.
However, it can also simply be a product of aging. As we grow older, our parietal cells function less effectively and our bodies naturally produce less hydrochloric acid.
Long-term health issues caused by low hydrochloric acid
While it’s common knowledge that an H. pylori infection is a common cause of acid reflux and stomach ulcers, what is lesser known is that low levels of hydrochloric acid can lead to more serious health issues.
Sufficient hydrochloric acid is necessary for the absorption of calcium and other essential minerals, so low levels can lead to a number of different deficiencies. For example, iron and B12 deficiencies are very common in those with low hydrochloric acid and a B12 deficiency specifically can lead to such health issues as depression, dementia, and even cardiovascular disease.
When you lack hydrochloric acid, your stomach also can’t digest proteins as it should.
Because proteins aren’t being broken down, an over abundance of undigested food proteins in the small intestine can cause the gut’s immune system to become hyper reactive. Over time this can lead to a loss of oral tolerance and increased food sensitivities.
This in turn results in a less diverse gut microbiome as you are unable to tolerate more and more kinds of food, which further worsens loss of oral tolerance in a vicious cycle.
How to test your hydrochloric acid levels at home
You can test your levels of hydrochloric acid at home without the expensive tests and advanced imaging technology using the apple cider vinegar challenge.
Take two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar alone or with water and see if your symptoms either get better or worse.
If your acid reflux symptoms go away, it’s a strong indication that you lack hydrochloric acid. But if your acid reflux symptoms worsen, you could be suffering from gastric irritation or ulcers caused by an H. Pylori bacterial infection.
These infections can be treated by an antibiotic or botanical compounds, which you should follow with deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) to heal the accompanying ulcers.
Gauge your reaction to apple cider vinegar again after 2–3 weeks of DGL. If all is well, you can begin taking hydrochloric acid supplements to treat your acid reflux and continue to take apple cider vinegar with your meals to aid digestion.
The gallbladder is another potential source of indigestion. This organ is responsible for the release of bile that emulsifies and digests fat.
Bile builds up and thickens when the gallbladder is unable to release it, forming gallbladder sludge. The sludge eventually forms stones that can obstruct the gallbladder altogether.
Symptoms of gallbladder sludge
- Bloating and distention when you eat fats
- Issues digesting fatty foods
Risk factors for gallbladder problems
Gender, race, weight, and hormones are all factors in assessing your level of risk for gallbladder issues.
Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and women are more likely to have gallbladder problems, and pregnancy and estrogen replacement are also associated with a higher risk.
Obese patients and those who recently lost a significant amount of weight are both at a higher risk for gallbladder issues.
But not all risk factors are beyond your control. Diet and exercise play a significant role, and those who engage in regular physical activity and eat a diet low in fat and high in fiber are at a lower risk of these kinds of health issues.
Health issues associated with gallbladder problems
Gallbladder problems can lead to deficiencies of fatty acids and vitamins D, A, E, and K – and these deficiencies can sometimes cause serious health issues.
A lack of vitamin A eventually causes dysfunction of the gut barrier, lung barrier, and general immune cell function.
Found in nuts, seeds, avocados, and fish, fatty acids are critical for brain function, skin health, clotting, and blood vessel health. Insufficient fatty acids can even lead to neurodegeneration and cardiovascular diseases.
How to improve your gallbladder health
As I said before, staying physically active and eating well are pivotal ways to prevent gallbladder issues. You can even try removing all fats from your diet for a period of time and taking gallbladder support to heal your gallbladder function.
Certain nutrients are known to thin bile and prevent build-up. You can try coffee, beetroot, ginger extract, milk thistle, dandelion root, phosphatidylcholine, ox bile, or the amino acid taurine.