I remember being a teenager and getting my first heartburn. I kind of felt like I had graduated into being an adult, because my dad was always harping on about heartburn, and he generously shared his fruit-flavoured antacids with me.
I was part of the club. I can still recall the strange feeling and powdery metallic taste as the medication foamed up to form a barrier between my unhappy esophagus and all the “evil stomach acid” that was attacking it.
Over the next decade or so, I suffered with increasing digestive distress and painful acid reflux, while the mainstream media just kept telling me to pop those powdery pills. Who was I to question things?
It turns out those ads and my dad’s well-meaning gesture were actually promoting the exact opposite of what we should have been doing to ward off our gastric discomforts.
The counterintuitive truth is that many of these upsets are the result of having stomach acid levels that are too low, not too high. Sound crazy? Let’s briefly look into the details:
Sphincter signals: The Lower Esophageal Sphincter, which acts as the doorway between the esophagus and the stomach, ordinarily functions well and stays tightly sealed to keep acid out of the upper tract. However, it can get mixed signals for a few different reasons, including when stomach acid levels are too low.
This causes pressure to build and the sphincter to loosen, allowing acid into the bottom end of the esophagus. This area is not equipped to deal with acid like the stomach is. Sounds like heartburn! Some other reasons for lower esophageal sphincter malfunction can be food allergies, eating too much or too fast, and some types of medications.
Putrefaction problems: Stomach acid levels should be high to allow food to break down properly before moving on to the small intestine. When acid levels are low, the stomach doesn’t pass the food forward because it hasn’t completed its job. The food sits in the stomach too long and can putrefy, causing gas, bloating, belching and constipation. Bad breath and low immunity are other common side effects, since stomach acid is meant to zap any bugs that ride into the body on our food, rather than allowing them to colonize in the upper digestive tract.
Malabsorption mishaps: After all this acid leakage and putrid food buildup, the food we consume isn’t properly broken down into useable nutrition. This is because one important function of stomach acid is to stimulate the production of enzymes from the pancreas, gallbladder and small intestine.
Low acid leaves us unable to adequately absorb many nutrients including minerals (iron, copper, zinc and calcium), vitamin B12, folic acid and proteins. Since this leaves the body in a state of craving vital nutrients, the result can be constant “hunger” even though we’ve consumed plenty of calories. Does this sound familiar?
If you find yourself nodding your head along with this information, I’m happy to report that I have some solid solutions for increasing your stomach acid production back to healthy levels naturally. Here are some of the easiest and most affordable ideas that have worked for me:
Don’t drink too much water: I know we constantly hear “drink more water.” However, drinking too much (more than 8-10 glasses, unless you’re very active or it’s very hot) will just dilute your stomach acid and systemic electrolytes.
Try raw honey: Try some good local raw honey, complete with natural enzymes and other compounds which help to heal the stomach lining and tame H. pylori overgrowth (H. pylori thrives in a state of low stomach acid, and then perpetuates this condition by suppressing acid production). I recommend 1 tsp of honey twice a day. Before bed is a good time, since this also helps maintain a healthy blood sugar balance to prevent cortisol spikes during the night.
Supplement with probiotic apple cider vinegar: Raw ACV is full of probiotic enzymes to help balance bacterial growth in the gut. Its acidity also signals the lower esophageal sphincter to stay sealed, providing fast relief from heartburn. Drinking a teaspoon of ACV in a small glass of water about 30 minutes before each meal should work wonders.
Use natural salts: Don’t hesitate to use good salts like pink Himalayan salt or Celtic grey salt on your food. This provides the raw material for the production of stomach acid.
Remove irritating foods: Personally I found that when I removed gluten from my diet, I had immediate and lasting digestive relief. Experiment with common problem-foods such as gluten, dairy, legumes, nightshades, eggs, corn and soy. Removing your personal offending factor will heal the gut lining and help your digestive sphincters and peristalsis to function normally again.
Needless to say, I’ve stopped using any counterproductive acid-blocking medications, and my belly feels a lot more comfortable these days. I hope you have the same success with these solutions for healthy stomach acid!
– Liivi Hess
Liivi is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and is training to become a doula. She inspires women to find peace and personal power by taking control of health and fertility naturally. Liivi‘s passion is ancestral nutrition and primal lifestyle design. She and her partner Will live between Toronto, Canada and Queenstown, New Zealand.