What do GERD or Reflux Have to do With Not Making Enough Stomach Acid?

In my last post I talked about how people with thyroid problems have trouble extracting nutrients from their food.  Do you ever feel full when you wake up in the morning? Do you have GERD or reflux?  

Often times GERD and reflux are blamed for your body making too much stomach acid. The truth is that it is probably happening because you aren’t making enough. Same goes if you still feel full in the morning. It may be because you have not fully digested your dinner from the night before. 

There is no denying that stomach acid is the culprit in GERD and reflux (even heartburn) because even the smallest amount of stomach acid in the wrong place will cause damage.  You may even find relief from products that neutralize or stop production of stomach acid altogether. The problem probably isn’t stomach acid but the valve at the opening of the stomach (and at the end of the esophagus). The job of this valve is to allow food to enter the stomach and to open when you need to burp or vomit. That is it.  Often the problem with GERD and reflux can be that this valve is not working properly. 

If you are taking a drug to suppress or neutralize your stomach acid, you are then creating a cascade effect of issues all through your digestive system. Acid reducers are really just a band aid to the problem and don’t get at the root cause. Acid is in the stomach because it is supposed to be there. Your stomach is set up to be a great acid making machine. 

There are many reasons for your body to not make enough stomach acid. It is quite common in people with thyroid problems especially hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s.  When you are deficient in stomach acid (Hydrochloric Acid or HCl) you simply don’t have the proper chemicals to break down your proteins in to amino acids or to break down your vitamins and minerals so they can be used throughout the body. 

If you don't have enough stomach acid to digest a meal you have eaten then your next meal will force that partially digested meal in to the upper part of your small intestines where the acidity of it is supposed to trigger pancreatic enzymes to be released to further the digestive process. This doesn’t happen because you didn’t have enough stomach acid which means you have undigested particles of food going through your intestines with the possibility of those particles being released in to the blood stream where your immune system will produce antibodies and launch an attack. This is when autoimmunity occurs. 

When you don’t have enough stomach acid, not only are you not extracting the nutrients from your food which include amino acids from proteins, minerals and vitamins like B12 and folate but you are causing inflammation in the gut. B12 is important for nerve activity and how well your brain functions.  

Having the right amount of stomach acid is one of the first lines of defense your body has against pathogens, bacteria and fungus. If those things, along with your food are not digested or broken down properly you can end up with and overgrowth of bacteria which causes inflammation. Those undigested proteins also cause inflammation in the gut increasing your body’s stress response. 

Not having enough stomach acid to digest what goes in can lead to a whole host of problems including but not limited to allergies, depression, skin issues, gallstones, certain autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis and aging more quickly.  It is possible if you have reflux that it is due to a food intolerance such as non celiac gluten sensitivity or even dairy- it is bio individual. You will have to do some experimenting to figure out what foods could be causing it. 

How do you know if you are making enough stomach acid?

If you have any of the conditions mentioned you most probably don’t make enough. One way to know is to take some Betaine HCl with a meal containing protein. You take a few bites of your meal, chew really well and then take a Betaine HCl. Take another bite or two of food and then take another Betaine HCl. You continue to do that until you feel a burning sensation. Once you feel the burning you know you have taken one too many so your dose would be less one. For example. If you feel the burn at 4 Betaine HCl then your dose for a meal would be three. 

If you need more than six Betaine I would take caution. You may want to keep your dose to no more than three or four and work on the following: 

  1. Sit down to eat your meal. 
  2. Take time to be grateful for your meal and anything else you wish.
  3. Chew each bite thoroughly (20-30 times). 
  4. Put your fork down between bites
  5. Drink water with lemon or a pinch of salt with your meal and don’t drink more than 4 ounces with your meal.
  6. Take digestive bitters about 15-20 minutes before your meal. Urban Moonshine is a good brand. 

Most of all, enjoy your food. It is there to provide you nourishment!

In Health, 

Stephanie