Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest that occurs directly beneath the breastbone. After eating, in the evening, or while laying down or bending over, the discomfort is usually greater. Heartburn is a regular occurrence that is not reason for concern.
Stomach problems and various kinds of digestive issues are one of the most common reasons patients will visit me. Hypochlorhydria is the lack of adequate or a sufficient production of stomach acid (hydrochloric acid). Some people, particularly our older population, may actually have a condition known as achlorhydria, in which a person produces very little stomach acid. Well know naturopath Dorothy Hall, once Australia’s foremost practitioner of natural medicine, told me that 50% of 50 years old persons have hypochlorhydria, 60% of 60 year old persons, and by the time you get to 90 years of age, you will have a 90% chance your stomach is quite under active, and you could even be “achlorhydric” (not really producing stomach acid) at all.
I am aware that many medical doctors would find this “hard to swallow” or even a ridiculous claim, but there is no doubt that a percentage of our population suffers from hypochlorhydria and are virtually ignored. How can you diagnose an under-active stomach as a medical practitioner? You don’t, and functional problems such as hypochlorhydria, irritable bowel syndrome, adrenal fatigue and even hypothyroidism can be quite difficult to diagnose. And, if your doctor can’t find the cause of your problem – then it probably doesn’t exist according to medicine.
It is a known fact that doctors are quick to prescribe “acid blockers” to patients who complain of heartburn, but the unfortunate thing is that many who have in fact an under-acidity of the stomach may well have signs and/or symptoms of heartburn, which the doctor may well interpret as over-acidity. The sad reality is in addition that hypochlorhydria can and often is induced by antacids, H2 blockers and protein pump inhibitors. This can potentially substantially increases one’s risk of osteoporosis because the body simply does not have the ability to pull in sufficient minerals through the diet to build strong and healthy bone tissue. Many chronic and degenerative conditions will be therefore associated with these drugs.
You may think: “Well, I don’t really have a problem here.” If you happen to eat a diet from foods you have bought from a supermarket, then you will most certainly benefit from pepping up your stomach. Especially if you like tea, coffee, alcohol, red meats and any foods containing sugars, starches or have had any form of processing.
Are you over 40 years of age? In many cases, if you suffer from heartburn you may very well benefit from digestive enzymes, end of story…
By improving your stomach you will be improving your overall health and its not hard to understand why this would occur. Think of your stomach as the centre of your universe – the Chinese medicine practitioners do. With an optimal functioning stomach you will find that your body has the ability to fully break foods down and can digest and absorb the nutrients with relative ease. As soon as this process in hindered in any way, deficiencies occur. Take a look at the signs and symptoms below, and if you can relate to them then I would highly recommend that you try a course of Digestive Enzyme Tablets for about three months, you may be quite surprised at the improvement to your overall health!
Our stomachs are supposed to be acidic, so it important that it produce high concentrations of hydrochloric acid (HCl). When the stomach produces HCl it also produces bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) which protects the lining of the stomach from being damaged or eaten up by HCl. When the stomach doesn’t produce enough HCl, it also will not produce enough bicarbonate of soda so the stomach can become ulcerated.
Unfortunately, when hydrochloric acid is low it causes malabsorption resulting in malnutrition, various digestive problems such as constipation, bloating, gas, diarrhoea and more and eventually a myriad of health problems. HCl mainly digests protein, breaking it down into small molecules in your stomach and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine), the smaller molecules formed are further digested and then absorbed in the intestinal tract.
When you have heartburn, you have a burning pain behind your sternum (breastbone) caused by your stomach. Do you have any of the symptoms above? Did the heartburn appear after any meal? There is a high degree of probability that your heartburn was caused by indigestion. But, there is always that possibility that what you are experiencing can be more sinister, and an underlying sign of heart disease.
You’ve just finished a substantial dinner with friends, had some dessert and drinks, etc, and are experiencing a burning feeling in your chest not long after. Is it heartburn? Is it a heart attack? Probably heartburn, but there’s always a possibility your chest discomfort is caused by a blockage in your heart’s blood supply (angina) or a heart attack.
How closely do the symptoms of heartburn and a heart attack resemble each other? Heartburn, angina, and a heart attack may all feel the same. Even a doctor may have trouble distinguishing between your actual medical history and a physical exam. That’s why, if you go to the hospital with any sign of chest discomfort, you’ll be given the appropriate right away to rule out that you may be experiencing a heart attack.
What should you do if you’re experiencing chest discomfort and aren’t sure what’s causing it? Whether you’re experiencing chronic chest discomfort and aren’t sure if it’s due to heartburn, dial your local emergency number or ambulance or seek immediate medical assistance.
If you experienced an episode of inexplicable chest discomfort that went gone within a few hours and you did not seek medical help, call your doctor or medical centre. Heartburn and a heart attack may both create symptoms that go away after a time, but you need to know what is at the bottom of your heartburn, so if in doubt always seek a professional opinion and get tested appropriately.
Do you fingernails look like these in the picture on the left? These fingernails belong to a 64yr of lady who came to see me in the clinic complaining of many chronic complaints, including severe fatigue, numbness and tingling of extremities, sore tongue, constipation and many more complaints. She had been to over a dozen doctors, naturopaths and various other health-care professionals. A digestive enzyme and a Super B Complex vitamin solved most of her problems within a few weeks. I forgot to tell you, she also had a major Zinc and Vitamin B12 deficiency. This was due to the fact that her uptake of B12 was severely compromised. Zinc is required to make stomach acid.
The presence of hypochlorhydria is an extremely important finding as stomach acid is responsible for two key functions.
1. The sterilisation of food against potentially harmful micro-organisms reduces our risk of being colonised by every micro-organisms we ingest daily. Stomach acid plays an important role in the digestion of protein molecules and the absorption of minerals and vitamins.
2. Stomach acid also signals the release of digestive enzymes and bicarbonate from the pancreas required for digestion. It is common for this to occur: Insufficient stomach acid also causes absorption of partially digested food molecules, leading to food allergies and sensitivities.
Food components that should be digested and absorbed in the upper intestines, when not processed properly, pass through into the lower intestines providing fuel for harmful micro-organisms, therefore increasing their numbers. Low stomach acid causes gastrointestinal overgrowth of pathogens, malabsorption of minerals, vitamins and amino acids, and food sensitivities. Low stomach acid levels can be genetic or acquired. Candida albicans can thrive in a stomach with is not acid enough to neutralise and kill it. And we discovered in the late 1980’s with Dr. Barry Marshalls’ research into a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori that the stomach certainly can harbor different bugs which can even thrive in this acid rich zone.
According to Dr. Jonathon Wright, one of the world’s most qualified natural medicine doctors, and the first doctor of Western medicine to see the connection with hypochlorhydria and ill health, there are many different medical condition listed which are associated with much higher rates of hypochlorhydria:
Asthma, Celiac disease, Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), Diabetes mellitus. Eczema, HIV/AIDS, Lupus, Macular degeneration, Pernicious anaemia, Psoriasis, Reflux, Rheumatoid arthritis, Acne rosacea, Stomach ulcers/helicobacter pylori, Urticaria (hives) and Vitiligo.
Dr. Wright saw the connection many years ago with low stomach acid being associated with a higher incidence of gastrointestinal problems like helicobacter pylori bacteria which cause stomach ulcers, acid reflux (heartburn), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s Disease, diarrhoea, constipation, etc. Our stomachs need adequate acid so we can get the benefit of a good diet and the nutrients it contains, and in order for digestion to proceed like it should throughout the intestines.
There are four main ways you can treat an under-active stomach in terms of natural medicine, but probably the quickest and most effective way is to take Digestive Enzymes Tablets. You would do well to have lemon juice and apple cider vinegar in your diet regularly in addition. If you are a fan of herbal medicines, take gentian. It is a powerfully bitter herb and can quickly restore hypochlorhydria.
How much digestive enzyme supplementation do I need? The best way to determine how much digestive enzyme supplementation you require is to do the “tummy tolerance method”. Capsules or tablets are taken in increasing doses with meals until symptoms of excess acid are evident, at which time you would cut back on how many capsules or tablets taken.
NOTE: When taking several tablets they will help you more if you take them throughout the meal (beginning, middle and end). For individuals that are daring and want more rapid results, you could increase the dose by two tablets each meal instead of one. If any irritation occurs (heartburn, stomach ache, heaviness, nausea), you can take baking soda in water to neutralise the excess acidity (1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in 250 mls of warm water), but sip it only long enough to alleviate the symptoms. At your next meal you would take 1-2 tablets less than the number that caused symptoms. Sometimes small meals (or those with little protein) do not require as many tablets as required for a larger meal. Remember that symptoms of high stomach acid are exactly the same as low stomach acid, i.e. heartburn, stomach aches, a sense of heaviness behind the sternum and low grade nausea.
Hydrocholoric acid should never be used with any anti-inflammatory medications, including aspirin, Inodicin, Motrin, or Butazolidin, because of the risk of internal bleeding, according to Dr. Jonathan Wright. If you experience any negative effects from betaine hydrochloride supplementation stop taking it and contact us.