An estimated 30% of North Americans have low acidity. Natural aging, a poor diet, chronic use of certain medications, and past infection with the Helicobacter pylori bacteria can impair the stomach’s ability to produce acid.
Stomach acid, technically known as hydrochloric acid, is essential for proper functioning of the digestive system. It activates digestive enzymes that break down food into small particles for absorption. Low acidity may result in only partial digestion of foods, leading to gas, bloating, belching, diarrhea or constipation. Gastric cancer is also linked to too little stomach acid as it create inflammatory changes in the stomach lining and a condition called chronic atrophic gastritis, which over time often leads to cancer.
Normal levels of stomach acid help to keep the digestive system free of bacteria, yeasts and parasites. With low acidity and the presence of undigested food, bacteria are more likely to colonize the stomach or small intestine and interfere with the digestion and absorption of protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Many vitamins and minerals require proper stomach acid in order to be properly absorbed, including magnesium, zinc, calcium, iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid.
Signs and Symptoms of Low Acidity
The H. Pylori link…
Unfortunately, people with reduced acid levels frequently suffer from what they assume is elevated stomach acid (heartburn, bloating, nausea, frequent burping), and as a result often take acid-lowering drugs or remedies. By doing so, they encourage greater H. Pylori activity and thus increase the risk to develop peptic or duodenal ulcers, pancreatic / gastric cancer, and mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma. H. Pylori infections can also lead to some forms of arthritis (calcification,spurs), iron-deficiency anemia, and Vitamin B12 deficiency that may develop as a result of lowered stomach acid levels and damage to parietal cells which produce the intrinsic factor. H. Pylori is further implicated with heart disease, gum disease, rosacea, asthma, and chronic headaches or migraines.
In the past decade, there has been increasing interest among researchers about the effects of three B vitamins – B6, B12, and folate. We now know that deficiencies occur with greater frequency than ever suspected previously, particularly in older adults. We also now know that deficiencies, if not corrected, can result in irreversible damage in some people. For example, some health professionals are beginning to suspect that these three vitamins may be significant factors in Parkinson’s, Heart and Alzheimer ’s disease.
B6, B12, and folate…what may happen if we are not absorbing these nutrients?
These are essential nutrients, meaning that they are vital to life. These three vitamins work both independently and together in many of the body’s systems.
Vitamin B6 assists in making hormones, new proteins, and neurotransmitters (“messengers” between nerve cells) for the body’s use. It also helps release stored sugar when we need it for fuel. It works together with B12 and folate to remove homocysteine from the blood. Homocysteine is a substance increasingly associated with a number of
diseases including stroke, heart disease, alzheimer’s disease, and osteoporosis.
Vitamin B12 plays a role in the synthesis of DNA, needed for formation of new red blood cells. It takes part in the manufacture of the myelin sheath – the protective coating that surrounds nerve cells. With B6 and folate it removes harmful exceess homocysteine from the blood.
Folate, also called folacin or folic acid, is a partner with B12 in DNA synthesis and in removal of homocysteine, and is required in many other vital processes. Without folate, B12 would be unable to complete many of its functions, and vice versa. Folate is the form found in foods, folic acid is the form in dietary supplements.
Diseases Associated With Low Hydrochloric Acid
Are You Confused?
Are you confused about pH? A healthy acid/alkaline balance of your body is the key to great health. When your body is functioning in top form, the digestive tract alternates back and forth between an alkaline and acid pH. Digestion starts in the mouth (which works optimally at an alkaline pH). Moving downwards, digestion in the stomach requires an acid pH. Next, the small intestines need an alkaline pH. Finally the large intestine works best in a slightly acid pH. If any segment fails to keep its proper pH, then the segment before or after it can begin to malfunction. For example, the stomach works best at a low acid pH. If the stomach can’t produce enough stomach acid, then it becomes too alkaline. This in turn, can cause the small intestines (which should be alkaline) to become too acid.
For many people, as they get older, the parietal cells in the stomach lining produce less and less hydrochloric acid. This is especially true of those who eat: 1) heavily cooked foods (which have no live enzymes), 2) difficult-to-digest foods such as red meat or fried foods, 3) chemicalized foods, such as those containing artificial preservatives and additives, 4) soft drinks, which contain high amounts of phosphorus, white sugar, and immune-stressing chemicals and 5) barbequed foods, which cause high digestive stress. (The blackened areas of the food contain carcinogenic [cancer-causing] agents.)
People Over Age 60
Over 50% of the people over age 60 have low stomach acid. By age 85, 80% have low stomach acid. These are shocking statistics. Healthy stomach acid is crucial to digest food properly in order to maintain good health. Hydrochloric acid is one of your body’s first line defenses against disease-causing microbes. Weak stomach acid allows infecting organisms (that would normally be killed by the acid) to get past the stomach and set up infections in other areas. They can cause food poisoning and dysbiosis of the intestinal tract (abnormal overgrowth of unhealthy intestinal microbes).
For people aged 60 to 80, over 20% have bacterial overgrowth in the intestines. Over age 80, the percentage increases to 40%. This abnormal bacterial overgrowth is also common in younger people. It is linked to low stomach acid as well as eating a nutrient poor diet, using antibiotics or pain killers, drinking excess alcohol and other factors. Thus, healthy stomach acid is a critical part of maintaining healthy intestines.
Your goal is to gradually grow accustomed to the HCL capsules and then wean yourself off the capsules once the proper acid level has been restored. This process will ensure you have just the right amount of stomach acid – not too much and not too little – for excellent nutrient absorption, one of the key secrets to looking and feeling your best every day.
By Dr. Natasha Turner ND