The Holiday’s will soon be upon us and with that foods and beverages that we may not normally eat, rich, fatty, sugary and tempting. Our poor digestion can sometimes be in an uproar and heartburn hurts!
As we age our digestion can often times lose its ability to handle the foods we ate ten or twenty years ago. Do you remember how you could “eat anything” in your twenties and digest it? There is a good reason for that.
Hydrochloric acid production begins to decline around age 30. By the age of 70 about one-third of the population suffers with a serious decline in stomach acid. Symptoms can be aggravated by overeating, alcohol consumption, and habitual use of antacids. Most older people think that digestive problems originate with too much acid in the stomach. Unfortunately they have learned what they know about the digestive process from television commercials and their doctors quick prescription for an “antacid”.
The important role of hydrochloric acid in killing harmful bacteria is very important and often overlooked. Food is often contaminated with potentially harmful and dangerous bacteria and fungi. The hydrochloric acid in the stomach kills these organisms, protecting the rest of the digestive tract from harm. In addition, the hydrochloric acid in the stomach prevents bacteria in the small intestine and colon from traveling up the digestive tract, which leads to SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth). Overgrowth of bacteria in the stomach can take place if hydrochloric acid is lacking or is neutralized by antacids.
Dr. Jonathan Wright notes a problem here: “The incidence of indigestion, ‘simple’ heartburn, and GERD increases with age, while stomach acid levels generally decline with age. If too much acid were causing these problems, teenagers should have frequent heartburn, while Grandma and Grandpa should have much less. Of course, as everyone knows, exactly the opposite is generally true.”
What is the Cause?
If elevated stomach acid is not responsible for heartburn, what is the cause?
1. To little stomach acid which results in food “fermenting” in the stomach causing acid reflux.
2. Failure of the valve or sphincter at the lower end of the esophagus to close resulting in acid mixed with undigested food coming up into the esophagus.
The cause of both of these can be over-eating for a period of years but also diminished hydrochloric acid as we age. The goal is to reduce the size of the meals (stop eating when 2/3 full) and increase hydrochloric acid in the stomach.
I won’t go into the trouble with antacids in this newsletter but ask yourself this….does it make sense to take an “antacid” when we need acid to digest our foods??
Four Tips to Beat Heartburn
1. As I mentioned above, do not over fill the stomach. In the Blue Zones book where they studied the longest living cultures in the world, Okinawan’s have a saying “Hara Hachi Bu”, eat until 80% full!
2. Eat Green! Eating raw, fresh fruits and vegetables that have naturally occurring enzymes in them. This will help create an environment that supports good digestion. You may also try doing a “food challenge” where you take out of the diet common food intolerances such as gluten and dairy for 7 days.
3. Do not drink ice cold beverages (especially carbonated) 30 minutes before/after or during meals. Ice cold beverages shut down the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Instead, drink room temperature or warm beverages such as tea (especially Ginger tea) which increase hydrochloric acid production.
4. Try Apple Cider Vinegar. ACV 30 minutes prior to a meal may help increase stomach acid if that is the problem. Always dilute with water and drink through a straw to avoid damaging teeth. 1 teaspoon to 4 oz. of water (add a little raw honey if necessary). You can also buy “bitters” at a natural foods store and follow directions on the label.
It’s important to also address stress in your life. Stress can create an acid environment in the body. Many people have found when they reduce or eliminate stressful relationships or work environment their heartburn disappears.
As we head into the holiday’s be mindful of how much you are eating. And what beverages you are combining with your foods. Also how much sugar you are consuming (another heartburn special!) and how stressed out you are.
This is a BIG topic and SO important to digest your food well because it is the first stage of nutrition. I will do a future newsletter and dive deeper!
To your good digestion,