By Sarah Cotten, FNLP.
The functional medicine approach has uncovered causal factors regarding heartburn and uses an approach to remedy it different from conventional practices. The functional medicine practitioner wants to treat the root cause of the problem. Drugs, such as Prilosec can just mask the symptoms instead of treating the cause of the problem, and many have severe adverse effects.
Heartburn, however, isn’t caused by too much stomach acid, that is to say, too much HCl, as conventional practitioners have been taught; heartburn is caused by not enough stomach acid. Acid-blocking drugs not only have adverse side effects, but they do not treat the cause of the problem, they just exacerbate it.
It may seem a little counter-intuitive that HCl is necessary, but it will make more sense with a little understanding of digestive physiology. There are several reasons HCl is important. The stomach acid we call HCl, or hydrochloric acid, is your body’s first line of defense against pathogenic bacteria and microbes. An optimum level of healthy stomach acid will kill pathogens and keep them from turning into an infection.
Humans are meant to have significant levels of stomach acid because we evolved as omnivorous eaters, and
we need stomach acid to break down such proteins as found in meats, nuts, seeds, and fish. Aside from water,
protein is the most abundant molecule found in the body and is in all of our cells. It’s stomach acid that begins the process of breaking proteins down into amino acids, which are then used for cellular health, energy, the
immune system, production of hormones, and other fundamental aspects of the body.
Without enough protein, we cannot thrive. Without enough stomach acid, we cannot utilize protein, even if we are eating lots of it. Many of us are challenged with heartburn, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. This is a condition where stomach acid flows back into the esophageal tube that delivers food from your mouth to your stomach. Let’s look at how those GERD symptoms get started.
Because the gut is a first line foundation for physical wellness, achieving a healthy level of stomach acid is a
very important step in supporting the health of your brain and body. If you suspect that you have low stomach
acid, here are some tips for naturally increasing HCl production:
1. Drink fresh celery juice on an empty stomach first thing in the morning. It helps restore HCl because it is high in bioactive sodium, and rich in enzymes and coenzymes that also help to raise stomach acid levels.
Celery juice is truly a superfood and digestive tonic. It is antibacterial and can also lower inflammation in the
digestive tract. It aids in detoxification and alkalizes, soothes, and repairs the mucosal lining of the gut. Alkalinizing the mucosal lining of the gut helps the body to produce adequate HCl, which then makes the environment of the stomach appropriately more acidic.
2. For some people, probiotic-rich fermented vegetables, such as raw sauerkraut or kimchi, can help. You
might take a few bites before meals to stimulate acid production in your stomach. If fermented foods work for you, you can also enjoy the fermented beverage kombucha, or drink water with a splash of raw apple cider vinegar, which is a detoxifying, fermented food. Caution: The bacterial infection helicobacter pylori can be a root cause in acid reflux. It is also the cause of most ulcers that are found in the esophagus, stomach, and upper intestines.4
Fermented foods may be irritating and should not be eaten if ulcers are suspected. Also, fermented foods should be avoided in some cases of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). If you experience digestive discomfort when you eat fermented foods, avoid them and find a qualified functional medicine practitioner who can guide you through testing for H Pylori, SIBO, and other infections such as parasites, which may in fact be complicating matters.
3. Maintain good posture! Slouching causes the diaphragm to compress the stomach and can cause or worsen
reflux symptoms. *
4. Squeeze a slice of lemon into your water and sip it to stimulate HCl production and detoxify the liver.5 . Use a botanical supplement of digestive bitters.
6. Supplement with HCl (hydrochloric acid) tablets. This can be an effective way to increase stomach acidity,
but it should only be done under the guidance of a qualified functional nutrition professional or holistic
healthcare provider, as it is contraindicated for some people.
7. Consider a therapy called visceral manipulation, a type of bodywork that gently adjusts the internal organs
and relieves restrictions on them. When the stomach is not in its ideal location, this is referred to as a hiatal
hernia, which can be a cause of acid reflux. Visceral manipulation can restore the stomach to its proper position and resolve GERD symptoms.
You might want to explore some of these tips and see what works best for you.