Stomach acid is essential for good digestion and absorption of nutrients from your diet. Suppressing stomach acid only treats the symptoms, it does not treat the cause of the disease. In fact, it can actually make things worse. Taking acid blocking drugs long enough will cause numerous nutrient deficiencies, including vitamin, mineral, and especially vitamin B12 and amino acid deficiencies.
Studies have shown that people who take acid blocking drugs long term, may end up with a variety of illnesses including osteoporosis, hip fracture, IBS, fatigue, nerve damage and eventually dementia. Long term use can also lead to an overgrowth of clostridia in the small intestine that can be life threatening.
Stomach acid, also called hydrochloric acid (HCL) is needed for both, separating vitamin B12 from food to make it absorbable and also for breaking down protein rich food so that the amino acids can be absorbed. Not enough amino acids can lead to depression, insomnia, brain fog, anxiety, trouble building and maintaining muscles and more. Amino acids are precursors for essential neurotransmitters which are needed for proper brain function.
Stomach acid is essential for killing bacteria and other pathogenic organisms that might be ingested while eating or drinking. If the stomach acid is too low, these pathogens can colonize in your intestines and cause many health problems.
When pathogenic organisms take up residence in your digestive tract, they can create gas and bloating while feeding on the food you have eaten. The pressure from the gas and bloating can push up through the stomach and then through the upper stomach valve (esophageal sphincter) causing acid reflux.
A urine test or breath test for small bowel bacterial overgrowth can diagnose the presence of certain strains of bacteria.
Hiatal hernia can also cause acid reflux. This can be diagnosed with an x-ray. Extra fat around the midline can also contribute. Stress is another contributing factor.
Food allergies to gluten and dairy products may also contribute to acid reflux. I suggest completely eliminating these two foods for a month or so and see if it makes a difference. Other food allergies may also be a factor.
Nutritional deficiencies can also lead to acid reflux. If you are on a low sodium diet you might become deficient in the minerals sodium and chloride. Zinc, magnesium, vitamin C and B vitamins are also needed to have a properly functioning stomach.
Helicobacter pylori, is another common cause of acid reflux. However, unless you go to a holistic or functional medicine doctor, you most likely will not get tested for it unless you have an ulcer. H-pylori can be diagnosed with a simple stool test.
Numerous holistic and functional medicine doctors have been testing their clients who have acid reflux and finding that most of them have low stomach acid levels. Not high levels!
The following is an example of how low stomach acid can lead to acid reflux.
When the acid level in the stomach is too low, the upper stomach valve might not stay closed and the acid from the stomach can leak up into the throat. Our body needs to sense enough HCL in the stomach in order for the upper valve to stay closed properly. Note that in this case, acid reflux is caused by low stomach acid and not by high stomach acid. It is very often the case that people identify acid reflux as having too much stomach acid while most of the time it is caused by not enough stomach acid.
Traditional medical doctors are trained to prescribe acid blocking drugs to treat the symptoms and seem to overlook the dangers of using these drugs. Instead they should be testing the person’s stomach acid level, testing for microbial overgrowth or looking for other causes.
The gastric analysis by radio telemetry test is the most accurate way to measure stomach acid. One just needs to swallow a small capsule with a radio transmitter that measures the pH of the stomach. The result of this test provides you with a graph showing your pH levels at regular intervals over time. If the test shows the HCL level to be low, a betaine HCL supplement can be taken with meals to raise the acid which may keep the upper valve closed when food is present.
There are also two other tests. These can be done at home but are not very accurate. The baking soda test is performed by drinking ¼ teaspoon of baking soda mixed into 5 ounces of water first thing in the morning after waking up. Because the baking soda is very alkaline and your stomach should be very acidic, it will produce carbon dioxide gas that causes burping. You need to measure the exact amount of time that passes from the time you drink the solution until the time that the burping starts. The result gives you an idea of the amount of HCL in the stomach. If it takes more than five minutes to start burping, in may mean that you have low stomach acid. Please note that this test is not always accurate because there are many variables that can give false results.
The betaine HCL test for low stomach acid is the most reliable at home test you can perform. The test is done by taking a betaine HCL pill in the middle of a protein rich meal. If there is no burning sensation after the meal, then do the same thing at your next protein rich meal. If you do this several times and there is no burning sensation, most likely you have low stomach acid.
You may then take 2 pills in the middle of your next protein rich meal and wait to see if there is a burning sensation. Again, if there is no sensation, do the same thing at your next protein rich meal. You can raise the amount of pills by one after every few protein rich meals and see how many pills it takes to feel the burning sensation. When you finally get to the point that you feel the burning, you should then take one less pill during the next meal.
Now that you have determined how many pills your body needs, continue to supplement the HCL with protein rich meals. Over time, your body should need less and less of the HCL supplements as your stomach acid levels normalize. Eventually, you should be able to go off the supplement and not have reflux if the reflux was caused by low stomach acid.
If you have acid reflux, no matter what the cause, it is important to avoid overeating. You will also need to avoid acidic food items such as tomato sauce, fried food, soda, coffee, alcoholic beverages, spicy food and citrus. It is also very important to not eat for a few hours before lying down.
I suggest working with a qualified practitioner who can help you find the cause of the reflux and then slowly wean you off acid blocking drugs. Quitting acid blocking drugs can be dangerous if not supervised by an experienced doctor.
And last thing I would like to share is that there are nutritional supplements that can help. Probiotics are essential to colonize the intestines with good bacteria. DGL (deglycerized licorice) can help with the symptoms. Magnesium is an important nutrient for the proper function of the valves at the top and bottom of the stomach. These valves are actually muscles and muscles need magnesium. And a high quality multivitamin and protein supplement will help replenish nutritional deficiencies that were caused by the acid blocking drugs.