Could Low Stomach Acid Be The Underlying Cause of Your IBS?
Several Months ago I wrote a post on how parasites are more often then not a contributing factor of many peoples IBS and other symptoms of ill health. After experimenting on myself with specific herbal formulas, and using nutritional support to cleanse the parasites from my system much of my gas and stomach pains began to subside. My energy increased, and I was able to put on weight for the first time in years. I noticed as well that I could go longer between meals, my blood sugar evening out and I didn't get irritable or emotional as I would with energy dips and spikes. For years if I went just a few hours without eating something small I would begin getting sweaty, anxious, and irritated. On the flip side I could never eat much at one time without symptoms of bloat, discomfort and sometimes pain in my stomach. However, clearing the parasites wasn't the end of the GI story.
Although I felt loads better, I was still occasionally having bouts of digestive upset, gas, nausea, bloating and fatigue. I also was still having reactions to many foods if I ate them too often.
So what was the next layer? What's the underlining cause of my bodies upset? And why if we are all exposed to the same parasites and allergens, are we effected to varying degrees?
In November I joined Functional Nutritionist Tom Malterre's Progressive Practitioner's Program. Tom is the author of The Elimination Diet, and an educator with The Institute of Functional Medicine. He is a brilliant man, and was the first person to get me so excited about all things gut and microbiome. Tom's practice is in Oregon where he treats patients first with Nutritional Therapy's, herbal support and lifestyle changes. I have modeled the way I support my own clients after Tom and many other integrative practitioners.
I took his course not only to see how I could better serve my clients, but to some what selfishly get to the bottom of my own symptoms. For years I have been eating a plantbased, unprosessed food diet, full of probiotic rich foods, so why was I becoming more reactive to foods. It seemed that at one point in time there were literally 5-10 foods I could eat without having a reaction.
During one of our digestion lectures with Tom, he began to discuss the importance of stomach acid. I had read previously that antacids often exasbated acid reflux, and that the cause of GERD was often due to hypochlohidria (low-stomach acid) rather then too high of levels. Once he began naming all the disregulation that insufficient acid can cause my jaw dropped.
Here are some of the signs that you may have low stomach acid:
Lowered ability to digest proteinswhile fats and carbohydrates are primarily digested in the small intestines with the help of digestive enzymes from the brush boarder cells and pancreas. Proteins are digested and broken down into simple amino acids in the stomach. In the precence of protein the stomach secretes pepsinogen the precursor to pepsin the enzyme required for proper protein digestion. Pepsin is only activated when HCL (stomach acid) is high enough. Our bodies can only utilize small and single chains of amino acids. These amino acids are used to rebuild our tissues including muscles, create new cells, power metabolism, and dozens of other functions. So what happens when protein isn't broken down into amino acids?large protein fragments enter the small intestines where they are not recognized by immune cells. This can cause the immune system to attack these proteins causing systemic inflammation and food intolerance.the large proteins are not properly assimilated or absorbed and therefore the body can not use them to rebuild muscle, cartilage or use them in cellular functioning.symptoms may be fatigue, muscle weakness, inflamed joints, new food sensitivities stomach feeling heavy/ bloated especially after meals including meat, low muscle tone, emaciation, hair lossB12 Deficiency/ pernicious anemia from lowered intrinsic factor. intrinsic factor (IF) is a glycoprotein produced by the parietal cells of the stomach. It is necessary for the absorption of vitamin B12 later on in the ileum of the small intestine. Proper acidity around a pH of 5 is necessary for adequate amounts of intrinsic factor to be secreted If the stomach acid is too low this can cause pernicious anemia and vitamin B12 deficiency and absorption Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pains, numbness in hands and feet, poor balance, depression, anxiety and even confusion/disorientation.Mineral Deficiencies including Calcium, Magnesium, Phosphorous, Zinc, Iron and Seleniumsufficient stomach acid is needed to bind to and convert many minerals into their active form as well as to breakdown and digest the foods that contain these minerals.mineral deficiency is already a huge issue due to the food we eat. Foods like leafy greens and other vegetables do not contain the amount of minerals they once did because our soils have become so depleted. This is one reason why buying local and organic foods is so importantmineral deficiency has a wide range of symptoms from migraines fatigue, and insomnia to anxyiety, OCD tendencies and depression. SIBO, Parasites, Candida Overgrowth, and C. Diffanother reason sufficient stomach acid is so important is that it is one of the first defense systems against foreign invaders from the outside world. Our entire digestive system is a tube and is actually considered outside our body. Once food, liquids and other things that enter through our mouth pass the intestinal wall then they are considered to be inside the body. As you may know bacteria, yeasts, fungi and even microscopic parasites can live on our food, in our water, or on anything we touch. It is unavoidable that some of them will end up inside of us which is usually fine as long as we have sufficient stomach acid. Bacteria and many parasites cannot survive the harsh environment of our stomachs, killing them before they can harm us. If HCL is to low these hitchhikers can survive the stomach and take up residency in the intestines and even pass through the gut wall.
I know. It can be overwhelming, but it's another testimonial from nature that everything is connected and something as simple as low stomach acid can cause a huge cascade of biological symptoms.
Low stomach acid can be caused for a variety of reasons but the most prominent reason being taking prescription proton pump inhibitors. Ironically these medicine such as prilosac, and nexium are prescribed to treat acid reflux (over acidity) and they make the problem worse by shutting down parietal cells which are required to secrete gastric juices. Other reasons can be chronic stress, H. Pylori infection, the use of antibiotics, poor diet high in processed foods and sugar, food sensitivities that irritate the stomach, eating too quickly or on the go and aging.
Here's how it has effected me. When I was 19 years old my doctor had put me on Prilosec, the top-selling proton pump inhibitor, because I was experiencing nausea, acid reflux and sometimes even vomiting after eating. Of course my symptoms didn't improve. I was also diagnosed with Gastroparesis, meaning food would sit in my stomach for too long, leading to severe cramps, gas, bloating, and constipation. Pleasant right. It was around this time that I also began reaction to more foods, sensativities to things like gluten, cashews, soy, grains and eggs. In my childhood the only food I was allergic to was dairy and even that wasn't as severe as it is now.
I stopped taking Prilosec after three months of my symptoms getting worse, and this is actually where my interest in holistic nutrition and alternative medicine began. It has taken me years of self-experimentaton. Of trying everything from a raw vegan diet, to macrobiotic, to paleo, to acupuncture/TCM, meditation, and homeopothy. Somethings made it worse, and somethings helped but nothing got to the underlying cause.
Rewind to this past summer, I had just returned from over half a year of interning abroad in Guatemala and Nicaragua. I was happier then ever having just had the time of my life,and meeting the most inspiring people, but I was suffering physically. My IBS had flared up, I had lost a significant amount of weight and found myself needing to take a nap even before the lunch hour. This is when I did a parasite cleanse where I was passing worms for nearly six months!
Three months ago during my lecture with Tom I had my ah ha moment. Low stomach acid explained all my symptoms and I began to address the issue. I'm happy to say that today my body is stronger, I sleep through the night, my digestion is better then it has been in years, I have more energy and focus, and my headaches are gone.
So what about you? Do you suffer from a laundry list of symptoms? Do you have new food allergies every week?
If you think that you could benefit from optimizing your stomach acid let me know by emailing me and I will send you my Free PDF on The Top Five Ways to Optimize Your Digestive Fire.