Low levels of hydrochloric acid, aka stomach or gastric acid, is a serious condition known as hypochlorhydria. When stomach acid levels are low you can eat meat, eggs, seafood and other vitamin B12 foods, but get no benefit from the B12 in them. That’s because without enough stomach acid the B12 remains trapped in protein.
For example, imagine, if you will, that the stomach illustration shows all the lovely B12 from the delicious steak dinner you just ate. And, you’re not having any indigestion because you’ve lowered your stomach acid by taking an antacid. Things couldn’t be better! Except, the B12 is trapped inside the steak protein because vitamin B12, like magnesium, can’t be released from protein without sufficient gastric acid, aka hydrochloric or stomach acid. What a shame to get no B12 health benefits from the steak you ate.
And that’s not all. Hypochlorhydria means you don’t have enough hydrochloric acid to stimulate your pancreas to release enzymes and bile into your small intestine for the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and vitamins A and E. With low stomach acid levels you can have malnutrition despite an excellent diet. That’s why low hydrochloric acid, hypochlorhydria, is so serious.
From antacids to h.pylori
Remember that antacid you took to keep heart burn from spoiling the aftermath of your steak dinner? Well, that antacid may not be the only culprit when it comes to hypochlorhydria.
Lurking in your stomach lining, or, more accurately, burrowed into your stomach lining, h. pylori could be busy shutting off stomach acid production, stealthily causing vitamin B12 malabsorption in the wake of hypochlorhydria.
B12 malabsorption and hypochlorhydria aren’t all the spiral shaped bacterium causes, however. Researchers have amassed evidence that h.pylori causes most peptic ulcers, many of which lead to stomach cancer. At least one study has tied it all together by showing that h. pylori increases cancer risk by causing hypochlorhydria. Toxigenic Helicobacter pylori infection, Clin Cancer Res. 2008.
Corn test for h.pylori
For the cost of a can of whole kernel corn, or an ear of corn in summer, you can pretty definitively tell if you are harboring h.pylori.
Prepare the corn and eat it normally except for a few kernels which you swallow whole. Then, in the course of things, if they come out looking like they went in, you can be pretty sure you have h.pylori.
Restoring stomach acid levels
If you’ve done the corn test for h.pylori and it looks like you have the spiral bacteria burrowed into your stomach lining, your reaction is probably something like, “Yikes! How do I get rid of this?”
First of all, if you’re using antacids, cut them out for a bit, or slow down on their use. If you’re wondering how you could ever do that, you might consider Kombucha. I’ve been making and drinking it. If I have indigestion when I want to go to sleep, I drink a few ounces of Kombucha and the indigestion is gone in about half an hour.
Second, eat yogurt. The good bacteria in yogurt defeat h.pylori. But, the good bacteria are most plentiful in high quality yogurt that’s not masquerading as a desert. You can make high quality yogurt easily, and cheaply.
If you find your digestion is still incomplete, even after eating a lot of yogurt over a few weeks, then the third and final step is shedding h.pylori, which is relatively easy. Basically, vitamin C zaps h.pylori. Consequently, you can use vitamin C to shed problematic bacteria.
Warning Signs of Hypochlorhydria
Bloating, burping, and flatulence can be signs of hypochlorhydria. When you don’t have enough stomach acid your food doesn’t digest properly. Bloating, burping, and flatulence are signs of poor, incomplete digestion.
Allergies can be a sign that undigested food particles are getting into your lower intestine.
GERD, a condition where stomach acid rises into the esophagus, giving the impression there’s too much stomach acid, may actually be a sign of too little stomach acid.
Premature aging may be a sign of insufficient stomach acid. The reason for this is that people with low stomach acid are likely to have poor nutrition because their bodies are unable to get certain essential nutrients from food.
Cramps in your legs or feet, especially during the night are a warning sign that hypochlorhydria is causing poor magnesium absorption.
Hypochlorhydria, Magnesium, and Your Metabolism
Hypochlorhydria’s low stomach acid causes poor magnesium absorption that critically affects metabolism. Dr. Myhill, an expert, says,
I actually now believe that low red cell magnesium is a symptom of mitochondrial failure. It is the job of mitochondria to produce ATP for cell metabolism and about 40% of all mitochondrial output goes into maintaining calcium/magnesium and sodium/potassium ion pumps. I suspect that when mitochondria fail, these pumps malfunction and therefore calcium leaks into cells and magnesium leaks out of cells. This, of course, compounds the underlying mitochondrial failure because calcium is toxic to mitochondria. This is just one of the many vicious cycles we see in patients with fatigue syndromes. Dr. Myhill.
I didn’t want to jump to the conclusion that “red cell magnesium” meant “red blood cell.” After some googling I found Dr. Myhill saying this about a preferred test:
This test measures the amount of the mineral magnesium inside red blood cells. This is the test I do most often, partly because I see many patients with fatigue, partly because it is a very common deficiency and partly because it is a very difficult mineral to correct.
Most doctors do not understand the difference between a serum magnesium and a red cell magnesium. Serum levels must be kept within a tight range, or the heart stops. Therefore serum levels are maintained at the expense of levels inside cells. Most labs just do serum levels and patients are told their magnesium is normal.
Significantly, Dr. Myhill makes the following observation,
“Serum levels are maintained at the expense of intracellular levels. If serum levels of magnesium change this causes heart irregularities and so the body maintains serum levels at all cost. It will drain magnesium from inside cells and indeed from bone in order to achieve this.”
47% of Americans have hypochlorhydria?
An estimated 47% of people in the U.S. have hypochlorhydria, partially due to increased use of antacids marketed as a good source of calcium. If you have hypochlorhydria your vitamin B12 levels are most likely very low.
Natural Remedies for Hypochlorhydria
Licorice, glutamine, gentian, acupuncture, stimulation of nerves to the stomach through chiropractic all help increase gastric acid.
Signs of Low Hydrochloric/Stomach Acid
- stomach bloating
- upset stomach
- nausea from supplements
- rectal itching
- weak, peeling/cracked fingernails
- dilated capillaries in cheeks/nose(in non-alcoholics)
- post adolescent Acne
- iron deficiency
- other mineral deficiencies
- chronic intestinal infection
- undigested food in stool
- ridges/lines on fingernails
- pins and needles
Using hydrochloric acid or methylcobalamin
Hydrochloric acid, HCL, can be taken by capsule and is excellent to counteract low gastric acid.
If you have peptic ulcers, gastritis, or take NSAIDS, then hydrocholoric acid is not recommended.
Methylcobalamin is a safe, effective alternative to HCL. It replaces the B12 that is radically missing when someone has Hypochlorhydria.
In my experience, Betaine HCL with pepsin is fine, and is not irritating.
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