The Link Between Stomach Function and Indigestion

by Amy Coates, RHN, BSc


Indigestion, faulty digestion, and disease start with an underactive stomach. An underactive stomach will mean unhealthy bowels, constipation, and poor absorption of nutrients: all vitamins and minerals. This is why there is a connection between low stomach acid and eczema, psoriasis, vitiligo, diabetes, gallstones, iron deficiency, osteoporosis, and many other ailments. Food sensitivities and allergies are also associated with low stomach acid.

When stomach acid (hydrochloric acid or HCl) is low, foods cannot be properly broken down or assimilated into your body. This is because pepsin, the enzyme responsible for the digestion of protein, is only activated when HCl is present. Normally, when protein and fat are eaten, the parietal cells of the stomach are stimulated to release HCl. But when society dictates what we eat and when, the body pays. Eating the wrong foods (high fat, too much protein, sweets, etc.) when we are not hungry, and eating too much in one sitting can overload the body’s digestive system. The body has a hard time keeping up with the demands we place on it, and over time hydrochloric acid production can dwindle to almost nothing.

Feeling gassy, boated, and full after meals are symptoms that you are not producing enough HCl. If food allergies and sensitivities are present, you are almost certainly not producing enough HCl to digest the foods you are eating. Stress weakens digestion and halts HCl production, so eating when you are stressed can mean your body will be starved of nutrients. Eating the most fabulous, organic raw food diet makes little difference to a digestive system incapable of digesting and assimilating them.

Low stomach acid can also mean you are more susceptible to bacteria, yeasts, and parasites. HCl is meant to kill offending organisms straight after they are ingested. If they get past the stomach and into the intestines, there is trouble ahead. Once these organisms set up base camp, digestion will be impeded and you will feel uncomfortable. If you don’t take steps to remove them, especially since you may not know they are present, they can be there for the rest of your life.


Steps to Improve Stomach Acid Production

First and foremost: CHEW YOUR FOOD. Digestion starts in the mouth. When food is broken down well, your body’s enzymes have an easier time finishing the job. Just think about how long it takes to finish a lollipop without biting. Now think about how much faster it dissolves when you bite it up into little pieces. There is a saying that explains how we should eat beautifully. Drink your food and chew your liquids. What it means is this: Chew your food until it becomes a paste in your mouth. As for liquids, take the time to swish drinks around in your mouth before swallowing them – even water. Mixing liquids with digestive enzymes of the mouth get the digestive ball rolling, preparing the nutrients for absorption later in the intestines.

HCl tablets are available in any health food store, primarily as betaine hydrochloride. Take HCl before and during meals high in fat and protein. Finding the correct dosage will be trial and error. If you start to feel acid burning in your throat, you have found how many pills you need, and take one less tablet the next time. Your need for HCl will differ with the size of your meal, your level of stress when eating, and your level of hunger.

If you don’t have HCl on hand, try drinking the juice of half of lemon or a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar mixed with water thirty minutes before you eat to increase HCl production.

The best way to improve digestion and HCl production is to eat only when hungry, and stop when you are full. Overeating is like putting so much wood on a fire that it suffocates the flame. Avoid drinking water when you eat as it will dilute stomach acid and increase digestion time. Drink water an hour before eating, and resume drinking no sooner than 2 hours later, or when you feel your stomach has emptied. Drink water at room temperature as ice cold water will shock your stomach and bring digestive secretions to a halt.

Consume plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables that still have their enzymes intact. When you eat primarily cooked foods, your body has to provide all of the enzymes to digest them. Fresh, living foods by contrast are full of enzymes and practically digest themselves. They take much of the digestive load off your digestive organs and leave you feeling much lighter and energetic after meals.

Eat smaller meals, decrease your consumption of red meat and meat in general, and avoid dairy products, fast foods, junk food, and alcohol. Thus, following more of a vegan diet will be helpful. If you are really having problems with your digestion, put into practice the art of food combining. Eat proteins and carbohydrates separately. Greens and vegetables can be eaten with either proteins or carbohydrates. So you can have potatoes with vegetables, and meat with salad, but not meat with potatoes. Proteins and carbohydrates require two very different digestive environments, so eat them separately!

By eating a whole foods diet, reducing stress, and eating moderately, an underactive stomach can be brought back to life over time. In addition, add exercise to your daily schedule to help you to create and recognize true hunger. Following a daily exercise program is also fantastic for stimulating the digestive and elimination channels.




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