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Episode 161: Busting the Heartburn Myth (Pssst it ISN'T too much acid!)

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I remember last summer I was visiting my parents in Florida and on day one I had the worst heartburn I've ever experienced in my life. 

It started out with the typical symptoms: that burning feeling in my chest, that hot, sour, acidic taste in the back of my throat.

Trying to go to bed that night was impossible. The pain radiated all the way to my back, I couldn't get comfortable, and all week, it seemed like every time I ate I was on the verge of the same discomfort. 

Back then I thought what you probably think now... heartburn = too much acid in the stomach.

But as it turns out, for over 90% of people acid reflux is a sign of too low stomach acid, not too high.

So taking medications like antacids and proton pump inhibitors might be one of the worst things we can do.

It may block the symptoms, but chances are high it will actually exacerbate the root cause by depleting stomach acid that's already insufficient.

And it will likely cause more serious problems down the line because our stomach is our first line of defense against pathogens. 

So if our stomach acid isn't high enough, we don't have the ability to kill them off and can end up with overgrowth of bacteria, fungus, and parasites throughout the rest of the digestive tract.

Not to mention, when our stomach acid is too low, it puts excess stress on the rest of the digestive tract to break down our food, our food isn't broken down as well which can lead to bacterial overgrowth, gas, and bloating, and it can lead to vitamin deficiencies like B12 and iron. 

Now I know this all probably sounds completely counterintuitive.

How could all that burning and discomfort possibly be coming from low stomach acid??

Allow me to explain. 

When your stomach acid is low and those pathogenic microbes proliferate, they produce gas, leading to an increase in intra-abdominal pressure.

As this pressure increases, the lower esophageal sphincter (the little doorway between your esophagus and stomach) opens the wrong way, allowing the stomach acid to touch the esophagus which causes those heartburn symptoms. 

"But Kat, when I reduce acidic foods like coffee, chocolate, alcohol, sugar, and processed foods, I feel better!"

That's not because of acidity levels, it's because those foods weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing those gastric juices to flow back up the esophagus. 

What contributes to low stomach acid?

  • As we age we tend to produce less and less stomach acid.
  • Chronic stress.
  • Deficiency in zinc and b vitamins.
  • Medications like PPIs and antacids. (Though you should always consult your doctor before making any changes to your medications.)
  • H Pylori infection
  • Surgeries like gastric bypass surgery.

What are symptoms of low stomach acid?

  • bacterial/fungal overgrowth
  • bad breath
  • belching/gas an hour after eating
  • bloating in the mid-lower abdomen
  • diarrhea (chronic or shortly after eating a meal)
  • belly distention
  • fatigue
  • food sensitivities
  • excessive feeling of fullness
  • headaches
  • heartburn
  • increased instances of parasitic infections
  • sweat with a strong odor
  • stomach upset after vitamins
  • strong desire to skip breakfast or other meals
  • indigestion
  • malabsorption problems
  • nausea
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • sleepiness after meals
  • rectal itching
  • stomach pain and distress
  • unexplained hunger
  • vomiting
  • weakened hair/nails/skin
  • yeast infections
  • anemia

When left untreated these can turn into full blown health conditions like...

  • allergies
  • asthma
  • autoimmune disease
  • chronic candida
  • chronic fatigue
  • chronic hepatitis
  • chronic hives
  • dry skin
  • eczema
  • gall bladder disease
  • GI infections like parasites
  • hypoglycemia
  • osteoporosis
  • reduced night vision and macular degeneration
  • thyroid disorders

How do you know you have low stomach acid?

  1. Heidelberg stomach acid test (gold standard medical test). This is the most costly but will give you exact results for around $350+. It works by using a small capsule with a radio transmitter that records the ph of your stomach as you drink a solution of sodium bicarbonate.
  2. Baking soda test. Your stomach must be empty of food, so do it first thing in morning. Drink an 8-10 oz glass of water + 1 tsp of baking soda. Think about food to activate cephalic phase of digestion and encourage stomach acid secretion. Wait 10-15 minutes. If acid is present (which it should be) the acid will react with baking soda and produce carbon dioxide which will result in burping. If little-to-no burping happens, you have low stomach acid. Keep in mind, this test is not 100% I recommend you work with a health coach to help you connect this test with current symptoms, diet, and other habits.

How do you support healthy stomach acid?

  • Work on supporting your gut health from all angles (including diet, stress, and sleep).
  • In the morning or before meals drink warm lemon water.
  • In the morning or before meals drink 1-2 tbsp fermented raw apple cider vinegar in water.
  • Enzymes like pepsin and pancreatic enzymes.

Important reminder: if you think you may have low stomach acid or are experiencing the signs and symptoms we talked about in today's episode, I do not recommend going forward on your own. 

Work with your trusted health care provider in conjunction with a nutrition counselor like myself to determine next steps and walk you through any necessary protocols or habit changes. 

If you'd like that support, click here to book a free consultation with me today! 


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