Roughly 1/3 of the adult population in the U.S. suffer with acid reflux. That's a lot of unhappy people!
If you are one of them, you have probably already been prescribed a proton pump inhibitor (PPI). Prilosec and Nexium are two PPI brands you might recognize. A PPI is used to reduce the amount of hydrochloric acid (HCL), sometimes called stomach acid.
The acid reflux, heartburn and/or indigestion you experience could mean your HCL is too high. But, it's more likely that your HCL is too low.
Confusing, right? I know!
Let's take a step back real quick.
What does HCL even do in the body?
It helps break down, digest, and absorb nutrients.
It serves as a first line of defense against incoming pathogens.
Creates a sterile environment for the gut.
Changes the pH balance in the digestive tract.
Impacts microbiome diversity.
What are some of the causes of low HCL?
If you are over the age of 65, that could be a major contributing factor as HCL gradually decreases over our lifespan. Other reasons include things like chronic inflammation in the gut, gluten sensitivity and thyroid issues. One of the more common reasons is a Helicobacter Pylori (H. Pylori) infection.
While it is less common altogether, too much HCL can be the result of taking in too many highly processed foods, stress, overeating, alcohol consumption and some medications such as antibiotics, NSAIDs and pain killers.
How do you know if your HCL is high or low? There are some tests on the market that can be ordered by your doctor or GI Specialist, or you can talk to your doctor about having an endoscopy which would allow them to actually get a visual of the stomach and identify inflammation or ulcerations.
If you want to avoid the tests, you can do a simple HCL challenge at home.
Take two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar alone or with water and see if your symptoms either get better or worse. Apple cider vinegar by nature is acidic so don't mistake the warming in the throat as it goes down as problematic. Wait a few minutes to see if the warming turns into discomfort. The discomfort may even last up to 10 minutes. If you need to, you can take a Rolaid or Tums to quell the issue.
If your find that your acid reflux symptoms go away, it’s a strong indication that you probably are not producing sufficient hydrochloric acid and it would be wise to supplement with HCL. However, if it increases your acid reflux symptoms, you could actually have stomach inflammation or even ulcers caused by an H. Pylori bacterial infection.
Because nearly 50% Americans are infected with H. Pylori, it is wise, if you have digestive issues, to run a comprehensive stool test and have it interpreted by someone trained to do so. We can help out if you are interested.
Just to throw another wrench in things, your indigestion may be due to gallbladder sludge. Check out our post of gallbladder sludge to learn more.
Regardless of high or low HCL or gallbladder sludge, it is imperative to get to the bottom of your acid reflux, indigestion or heartburn once and for all.