This month we’re exploring the properties of a much talked about piece of our digestive process known as HCl. HCl stands for Hydrochloric acid (the “L” is written as a lower case) which is commonly referred to as “stomach acid”. It helps digest food by breaking up fats and proteins. The low pH of the stomach's hydrochloric acid also destroys ingested bacteria and other micro-organisms which are trying to invade the body and lower your immune system. If you have low stomach acid, these infecting invaders may not be destroyed by your stomach's acid bath. They can then cause many types of infections. Now you can see why low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) is associated with so many common health problems. If these infections are not cleared, over time they can cause many symptoms, paving the way for full-blown diseases. Furthermore adequate levels of HCl are necessary for adequate absorption of protein, calcium, vitamin B12 and iron.
This is an essential step in the digestive process facilitating the breakdown of fats, proteins, and minerals preparing them for our digestive enzymes in the small intestine to continue the digestive process so that we can assimilate (absorb and metabolize) these proteins and use them for fuel, repairing tissue, and maintaining healthy bodily functions. According to Jonathon Wright MD after testing the PH (acid levels) of thousands of patients approximately 90% of Americans produce too little HCl.
Looking at how it works in the digestive process: Lets say your doctor or nutritional counselor says you’re deficient in some nutrient…(fill in the blank). So you go to the supplement/herb shop or your local organic grocer and drop a fair amount of money on some product that’s supposed to bring you back into balance. Assuming that the product you purchased is of sufficient quality and has the nutrients you need, you should be on your way to health. Next you get home and start taking your food or supplement.
The first stage of the digestive process, chewing and or swallowing and mixing with saliva begins breaking down the nutrients into smaller pieces preparing them for the stomach and the next stage of digestion. Next as the nutrients enter the stomach the signal goes off for the parietal cells in the stomach lining to start producing HCl but because for various reasons your body can’t produce enough to break down the nutrients in your food or supplement, these large pieces of undigested nutrients move on to the small intestine skipping an essential piece of the digestive process.
The small intestine is largely responsible for the third stage of digestion. Digestion in the small intestine requires an alkaline environment as opposed to the acid environment in the stomach. If the foods entering into the small intestine aren’t sufficiently acidic the small intestine won’t be triggered to alkalize. The small intestine is where carbohydrate digestion, and absorption of most nutrients takes place; but because the nutrients you just ate weren’t broken down enough in the stomach before entering the small intestine these valuable foods will pass on through undigested and leave the system with all the other bodily wastes, making all you efforts a major loss.
Another fact that few people are aware of (including many health professionals) is that low stomach acid can cause indigestion. Believe it or not, too little stomach acid is the most common cause of an acid stomach, not excess acid. Some people take antacids to relieve the uncomfortable acid feeling in their stomachs but the vast majority of those with an "acid stomach" suffer from not enough acid. They simply can't digest what they've eaten. For some, an antacid may temporarily relieve a queasy stomach, but in the long run, regular use of antacids makes the problem worse. Taking antacids is a sure way to destroy your body’s ability to produce HCl.
So why don’t I have enough HCl?... Some of the many reasons may be taking antacids, insufficient intake of natural salt (non heat treated which binds the sodium and chloride in salt making it useless to us and impossible for our bodies to break down) during adolescent years. High carb diets- particularly when combined with inadequate intake of dietary protein. Also certain nutrient deficiencies such as B1, zinc, and C also needed for HCl production. And overeating at mealtimes and or a highly processed food diet.
Even though lemon juice and apple cider vinegar greatly help improve symptoms and help balance ph they do not help much with nutrient digestion and assimilation; which HCl replacement does. If your interested in finding out for sure if you’re deficient in HCl you can schedule a nutritional counseling session with us and learn about not only where you are deficient but also what you can do about it. Take a look at our nutrition page to learn more about our sessions. Stay well:)
Shawn Kinsella LMT, CA, PYT
Minga Lily PYT
Sources for this article:
Premier Research Labs product sheet
Primal Mind Primal Body by Nora Gedgaudas CNS, CNT
Why Stomach Acid Is Good For You by Jonathan Wright M.D. and Lane Lenard Ph.D.