Hypochlorhydria (Under-Active Stomach)

19 Jun

Not complete on GAPS intro but 90% there.

I feel worse and not in the die-off way. With every meal of soup, I suffer extreme bloating, nausea and generally feeling crappy. Bacteria on my tongue started to return and my skin started looking worse. After two days of this, I wanted a break today and so had nothing but a little coconut yogurt till about 3pm. I actually felt better. My body started digesting and everything started moving along. My skin became less inflamed and I generally just felt better.

I had soup about an hour ago and again, all the symptoms have return. The first soup was broccoli, carrot and onion. Prior to GAPS, I was eating raw broccoli and caarrots without issues and so I thought maybe its the onion. This time I added just pumpkin and carrot.

I asked for some opinions and someone suggested Hypochlorhydria. The inability to produce enough stomach acid to digest food.

Signs and Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid

  • Stomach aching/pain/discomfort or bloating after meals (Got it)
  • Feel unwell/fatigued right after meals (Got it)
  • Food or water ‘sits in stomach’ like a brick (Yep)
  • High protein or fat foods cause nausea/stomach upset (before GAPS was eating mainly greens and little fish, felt awesome)
  • Undigested food in stool (will have to check)
  • Reflux and/or heartburn (no)
  • Poor appetite or feel overly full easily (yep)
  • Poor fingernail health/splitting easily/white flecks (got breaking/splitting/brittle)
  • Multiple food sensitivities (multiples of 10)
  • Trouble digesting red meat (worse than chicken)
  • Constipation (when I eat meat)
  • Low iron levels (all good)
  • Frequent nausea (sometimes)
  • Nausea/reflux after supplements (e.g. fish oil) (a little)
  • Burping after meals (nope)
  • Thin, weak or fragile hair (nope)

Health Problems Commonly Arising From Hypochlorhydria:

  • Failure to digest your food properly. This is the one I commonly see and there are a few ways to see if this is an issue with you. Do you feel bloated after meals, a sensation of fullness? Can you see any undigested food particles in your motions? Protein mal-absorption is the common one, and this will manifest in different ways such as poor growth of fingernails, nails that are weak or flake/split easily. Your hair may be weak, thin or fragile as well. You will probably be tired with protein mal-absorption in addition, simply because your body just isn’t getting enough of the building blocks (amino acids) it requires to sufficiently “charge” it up.
  • Failure to absorb minerals and trace elements in particular. We covered this a little in point 1. Minerals in particular are the building blocks of your body, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if these macro minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium are somewhat lacking, then you may well be on the road to disturbing the delicate biochemistry of the body. The trace elements, and there are many of them such as selenium, boron, copper, manganese, zinc and many more, are all critical to the body’s biochemistry in the correct proportions and balance. If these are not present in their correct proportions, then the body’s systems will be impaired causing eventual dysfunction resulting in disease. Therefore, one would expect to see people getting diseases, such as cancer, heart disease and chronic neuro-degenerative conditions such as Alzheimers disease before their time.
  • Failure to sterilise the stomach contents. Not being able to sterilise your digestive system is a big problem. You will become much more susceptible to infections, parasites and over growths of pathogenic bacteria and viruses causing potentially gastroenteritis and possibly enteroviruses such as Epstein-Barr virus, Coxsackie virus, Echovirus and so on. Gastric acid is a critical part of your body’s normal defences against disease and is also absolutely essential for eliminating any undesirable bacteria and yeast that appear in your diet. Those who have hypochlorhydria are the ones who seem to get the “tummy bugs” more easily, and are in particular much more susceptible to the more virulent strains which can easily cause simple food poisoning. The other dilemma which arises is that if there is an overgrowth of bacteria and yeast in the stomach, then foods will get much more easily fermented instead of being digested, causing fermentation dysbiosis. This produces wind and gas resulting in bloating and even the production of alcohols. Those with candida yeast infections suffer from very sensitive stomachs which can become easily upset – is it any wonder, if the stomach isn’t working sufficiently and the stomach produces that little acid and enzymes that it has become more susceptible to candida albicans? Especially in candida yeast infections it is important to increase a patient’s HCL.
  • Higher risk of Helicobacter pylori infection. The bacteria is the one implicated in over 90% of cases of stomach ulcers, and if you have hypochlorhydria long enough you increase your risk of this terrible infection which can remain in your stomach for many years giving you plenty of grief. You could be like the 25% of Australians and New Zealanders who has a H.pylori infection unknowingly.
  • Higher risk of stomach cancer. Having higher levels of hydrochloric acid in your stomach helps to prevent the most common type of digestive cancer – stomach cancer. The wrong bacteria, particularly Helicobacter pylori, increase you risk of this mostly fatal type of cancer.
  • Food allergies or sensitivities. Now this is interesting, patients who have very poor stomach function have multiple food allergies. If you have allergies, have you ever thought (or your practitioner) that low stomach function could be the cause? I’ll bet you have never even considered it. It makes sense, because if your stomach cannot help cleave proteins right down to their tiniest amino acid components, then you will be passing larger protein molecules into the small intestine. These are called peptides or poly-peptides, and these may slip through the digestive system and challenge your immune system. This is called Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS). LGS and an underactive stomach are quite common in those with food allergies, and the most common things that practitioners do is to remove the offending foods without sufficiently repairing the underlying digestive disorder. This is like painting a house while ignoring its decaying foundations. Fix the gut problem and the allergies take care of themselves, and who hasn’t got some sort of allergy nowadays?
  • Malabsorption of vitamin B12. It is a well known fact that Vitamin B12 has a complex way of binding to a hormone called intrinsic factor in your stomach. There are special cells called parietal cells which produce this hormone. Once B12 is bound to intrinsic factor, is travels down the digestive tract where it is absorbed at the terminal end of the small intestine. Vitamin B12 must be in a stomach producing sufficient acids and enzymes to bind properly, and by using drugs such as “acid blockers” (Omeprazole, for example) you will be reducing your absorption of B12 to less than 1% of expected! Many people already suffer from borderline B12 deficiency – this is a difficult vitamin for the body to assimilate, but essential for normal biochemistry.

The Natural Treatment of Hypochlorhydria
There are four main ways you can treat an under-active stomach in terms of natural medicine, but probably the quickest and most effective way is to take Digestive Enzymes Tablets. You would do well to have lemon juice and apple cider vinegar in your diet regularly in addition. If you are a fan of herbal medicines, take gentian. It is a powerfully bitter herb and can quickly restore hypochlorhydria.

  • Apple Cider Vinegar – The other solution is to take Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) on a daily basis, about one dessert spoon each day in a little water. You can sip this during meals for best effect. The elderly would do well to have ACV on a daily basis, and to try taking digestive enzyme tablets in addition. ACV contains acetic acid, and it has been long used to help acidify the stomach and improve digestion. This explains why cider vinegar was such a popular treatment for many health problems. Clearly, by improving the acidity of the stomach it has the potential to affect a wide range of health conditions. The only drawback with cider vinegar is that it contains yeast and would therefore not be tolerated by many people with candida yeast infections in particular.
  • Vitamin C – Another good option is to take high dose of ascorbic acid at mealtimes. Indeed, my standard recommendations for those who want a health boost in general is to take my Daily-C powder at mealtimes. Ascorbic acid, combined with the minerals, reacts to form a combination of mineral ascorbates and hydrochloric acid. This is the perfect mixture to optimise your stomach’s absorption because it mildly acidifies the stomach and places the minerals into the best available form to be absorbed, i.e. the ascorbate, and, of course, an acid environment.
  • Digestive Enzymes – The third approach is to take a digestive enzyme containing betaine hydrochloride. This is available in tablets or capsules, which need to be taken with food and the dose adjusted according to the response. I suggest that you start off with one capsule initially and build up to, maybe, four or five capsules depending on the size of the meal and the response to treatment. Often in the longer term with the correct diet (low glycaemic index, low allergy potential, smaller meals), getting rid of helicobacter pylori, and correct gut flora this cures the chronic gastritis and the stomach is again able to produce acid normally. You can purchase Digestive Enzyme Tablets.
  • Gentian – The fourth approach is to take a small quantity of the powerfully bitter herb called gentian, just before meals. I love bitter foods and am not that keen on sweet things. This is something that you develop over time, and in my experience those who love sweets are not that keen on bitter things! You will get gentian from your herbalist.

Digestive Enzyme Supplementation
How much digestive enzyme supplementation do I need? The best way to determine how much digestive enzyme supplementation you require is to do the “tummy tolerance method”. Capsules or tablets are taken in increasing doses with meals until symptoms of excess acid are evident, at which time you would cut back on how many capsules or tablets taken.

This is what a typical digestive enzyme “tummy tolerance” program would look like:

Meal 1 – Take 1 tablet at the beginning of your meal.
Meal 2 – Take 2 tablets at the beginning of your meal.
Meal 3 – Take 3 tablets at the beginning of your meal.
Meal 4 – Take 4 tablets; two at the beginning of your meal and two in the middle of your meal, and so on, up to 8 tablets per meal.

NOTE: When taking several tablets they will help you more if you take them throughout the meal (beginning, middle and end). For individuals that are daring and want more rapid results, you could increase the dose by two tablets each meal instead of one. If any irritation occurs (heartburn, stomach ache, heaviness, nausea), you can take baking soda in water to neutralise the excess acidity (1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in 250mls of warm water), but sip it only long enough to alleviate the symptoms. At your next meal you would take 1-2 tablets less than the number that caused symptoms. Sometimes small meals (or those with little protein) do not require as many tablets as required for a larger meal. Remember that symptoms of high stomach acid are exactly the same as low stomach acid, i.e. heartburn, stomach aches, a sense of heaviness behind the sternum and low grade nausea.

Taking all the following information, I feel like this is part of my problem. It certainly explains why I gravitate towards meat free diets and was vegan for many years. Last year I was diagnosed with a B12 deficiency as well. I have been eating meat for 8 months now and definitely struggle more with red meat than chicken or fish, and my digestion has really slowed. My nails have been crappy for years, despite whatever supplements I took. I can get my candida under control but I always have to be very, very careful and my food intolerances are out of control and even worse when I eat more meat.

I would like to try digestive enzymes, they are recommended on GAPS, to as I believe the root of all my problems stems from my gut and anything that can improve its function has got to be worth a try. I already take Vitamin C but not regularly enough and will try before every meal. Apple Cider Vinegar is hailed as a miracle product, but now I understand why it shouldn’t be used by people with candida and why I have problems with it.

Tomorrow, I have my appointment with Chinese Medicine Practitioner No. 2 and I am very interested to hear what they have to say about all my bodily issues.

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