Eating a nutrient-rich, real-food diet can transform your life! But it doesn’t matter how pure your food is if you don’t have enough stomach acid to break it down to be absorbed and used by your body. From my own personal experience and after working with clients over the years, it is clear that having adequate stomach acid is critical for recovery and good health. Today over half of our population is affected by indigestion, and contrary to what many think, much of this can be attributed to low stomach acid. Taking antacids and other other-the-counter medications is only a temporary fix. The good news is that there are simple easy-to-implement natural remedies that target the root cause of indigestion.
THE IMPORTANCE OF HCL (Stomach acid)
Having enough HCL (hydrochloric acid or stomach acid) is critical for good digestion and immune health. Without an adequate amount, food isn’t completely digested and fails to assimilate. Over time, we become vitamin and mineral deficient. When we begin eating, our stomach is stimulated to produce HCL, which then activates the chief cells in the middle portion of our stomach to secrete a protein-digesting enzyme called pepsinogen. Pepsinogen requires the presence of HCL in order to begin digesting protein. So the major role of HCL is to activate pepsinogen (not to digest food), which now becomes known as pepsin.
Stomach acid gradually increases during a meal. When the stomach acid amount is elevated – which normally takes about 20-30 minutes after eating – it neutralizes enzymes from the mouth, helps to kill bacteria, parasites, viruses that enter with the food, carbohydrate digestion is reduced, and protein digestion starts. There are many consequences when HCL production is not adequate. See “Do You Have Enough Stomach Acid?”
Causes of Low HCL
- Eating under stress. Hydrochloric acid secretion may be completely inhibited by our emotions. It is the low-grade, long-term, emotionally-oriented life stress that is more the culprit here. NOTE: Intense stress caused by high stress situations or desire for high achievement is associated more with HCL over (hyper) secretion and peptic ulcer disease (at least initially). As the stress continues, the body is exhausted and HCL production is no longer adequate.
- Eating a nutritionally-deficient diet of processed and fast foods
- Lack of sufficient minerals in the daily diet
- Excess carbohydrate consumption and poor food combining
- Zinc deficiency
- B vitamin deficiency especially thiamine deficiency
- Refined sugar, which depletes minerals. Replace mineral-depleting refined sugar and sweeteners with maple syrup, honey, or stevia
- Chronic illness.
- Drinking ice water with meals
- Age – as you get older, stomach acid production tends to decrease, especially if there is any chronic illness
- Antacid use
- Taking prescription and over the counter drugs that suppress HCL production either directly or indirectly.
Ways to NATURALLY Increase HCL Production
Relax at Mealtimes
Make sure that when you eat, you are relaxed and at peace. Try doing The Relaxation Response twice a day, if possible before breakfast and dinner. This technique helps counter stress and will prepare you for a calm meal.
WAKE UP YOUR DIGESTION WITH ONE or more OF THE FOLLOWING
Celery Juice: First thing in the morning – Drink 16 oz. freshly juiced celery on an empty stomach (important). Celery juice helps to restore your stomach’s production of HCL and strengthens digestion.
- Sauerkraut Juice: Take a Gut Shot first thing in the morning! Sauerkraut Juice provides the enzyme methylmethionine also known as vitamin U which stimulates HCL production and helps to soothe and heal the digestive tract. Also, may be taken 20 minutes before each meal to enhance digestion.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: First thing in the morning – Drink 1/2 t. – 2 T. raw apple cider vinegar (it must be raw) in 1/2 cup warm water to stimulate HCL and bile production. Also, for digestive stimulation and to reduce heartburn, take 20 minutes before each meal.
- Bitters: Digestive bitters stimulate HCL secretion, pancreatic enzyme and bile production. We recommend Urban Moonshine Organic Bitters. Take 15-20 minutes prior to meals with a glass of water.
FRESHLY JUICED CABBAGE
Drink 4 ounces of freshly juiced cabbage juice on an empty stomach to stimulate stomach acid production and soothe inflammation.
Add Fermented Veggies to Your Diet
Eat unpasteurized, unheated, salt-free sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables like kimchi. Fermented vegetables help to raise stomach acid “if” it is too low, and lower stomach acid “if” it is too high. Eating 1/4 to 1/2 cup of sauerkraut with meals is very helpful to the digestive system. Ideally, make your own sauerkraut or purchase a high-quality one like Farmhouse Culture or Rejuvenative Foods. As awareness of these important vegetables has grown, you can find great fermented vegetable options at most health stores and local farmer’s market.
Eat real food
Eliminate processed foods, genetically modified (GMO) foods, fast foods, additives, dyes, excitotoxins, artificial colors and flavorings, which are devoid of nutrition. Eliminate white flour, refined sugars, and artificial sweeteners and avoid overeating (even healthy, nutrient foods).
DON’T FORGET THE SALT
Increase Zinc Intake
Zinc is critical for the production of HCL. You can increase your zinc intake through whole foods. Pumpkin seeds are the most concentrated, non-meat food source of zinc. Most foods that are high in zinc are animal foods such as beef, lamb, crabmeat, turkey, chicken, lobster, clams and salmon. Zinc food sources aside from meats are dairy products such as yogurt, kefir, cheese, nutritional yeast, peanuts, beans, wholegrain cereals, brown rice, whole wheat bread, and potatoes. Vitamin C, E, B6, and minerals such as magnesium can increase zinc absorption in the body. So adding whole food supplements will also help assimilation.
Choose a Whole Food Multivitamin
Take a whole food, superfood multi-vitamin to help restore the vitamins and minerals that are needed for HCL production. B vitamins are especially important. Look for niacin, thiamine, and pyridoxal-5-phosphate (the active form of vitamin B6).
Use Food Combining Techniques for proper digestion
Proper food combining takes pressure off your digestive system. Try not to eat proteins and carbohydrates/starches together. Carbohydrates reduce the production of HCL, and protein requires HCL to be digested. Instead, pair proteins with low-starch vegetables. To aid the body in digesting animal protein, soak meats in acidic mediums such as lemon or lime juice, tomato juice, apple cider vinegar, etc. Marinating meats is a good way to pre-digest or pre-cook them. Always eat good fats when you eat proteins, as protein stimulates stomach acid production, and protein and fats stimulate the gall bladder to dump bile into the small intestines. Good fats also are needed by the liver in order to produce bile. Eat starches/carbohydrates with vegetables, but eat fruit alone – not with meals. When possible, eat dandelion greens to increase HCL production. You should also consider the spices you use in cooking, which can stimulate stomach acid production and appetite.
Did you know digestion starts in the mouth? Chew foods thoroughly to stimulate digestive enzymes in the mouth and to break up foods into the smallest particles possible for better digestion.
Stop eating before bedtime
Try to eat three to four hours before bedtime. If you eat too late, the body struggles to complete the digestive process during the time it is naturally trying to rest. Don’t lie down immediately after eating. If you must, prop yourself up with pillows so that your head and upper torso are raised to aid the digestion. Avoid snacking in between meals in order to allow time for your body to digest foods properly.
SIP Hot Tea with your meal – not Cold Water
For optimum digestion, avoid drinking with meals. Ice water especially inhibits the production of stomach acid and slows down digestion. If you’d like a drink with your meal, try sipping warm ginger or dandelion root tea, which increase the production of HCL. If you don’t like tea, drink warm lemon water (use the juice of 1/2 lemon) at the beginning of your meal.
Use a live-source Hydrochloric Acid Supplement
Another way to boost HCL is to take a live-source hydrochloric acid supplement after your meals. The goal is to restore the body’s ability to produce its own HCL, but until this occurs take Betaine HCL. See “Do You Have Enough Stomach Acid?” NOTE: If you are taking medications, consult with your physician to make sure that Betaine hydrochloride supplements will not cause adverse reactions in tandem with certain medications.