HCl Is Essential For Digestion And Here’s Why

When we talk about good digestion – and by that, I mean:

🔆Little-to-no gas and bloating

🔆Energy after you eat

🔆1-3 Bowel Movements a day, fully-formed but easy to pass

– we have to talk about hydrochloric acid (HCl).

HCl is absolutely essential for proper digestion.

It, along with pepsin, are the first things to really break down your food. They are released in the stomach in order to turn your food into something called “chyme.” That chyme needs to be at a certain ph.

Protein can’t be broken down well without HCl.

Which means you aren’t getting all the amino acids that are necessary for every part of your health, from skin to hormones to energy.

You need HCl in order to have optimal absorption of Vitamin B12.

B12 is very important when it comes to red blood cells, thyroid health, nervous system, and brain health.

The ph of your chyme doesn’t get low enough without enough HCl

When this happens your pyloric sphincter is not triggered to open, which is what allows the food to move from your stomach to your small intestine. If the sphincter doesn’t open, the food sits in your stomach, fermenting, eventually pushing the gastric juices back up into your esophagus.

Voila, you have heartburn or acid reflux (and maybe eventually, GERD or ulcers).

HCl is also your first defense against invading bacteria and other pathogens.

This is why HCL is such an important part of healing your gut!


Do You Have Enough HCl?

Despite the fact that we culturally tend to believe that many people produce too much stomach acid, many people actually have too little stomach acid.

According to Dr. Jonathon Wright, 90% of Americans have low stomach acid. That’s a lot of people, and leads to a whole host of digestive problems, as HCl is the first major thing to break down food (besides enzymes in your mouth).

How can this be so darn prevalent?

Well, it’s easy if you think of our day-to-day lives.

Stress diminishes HCl production. Stress diverts blood away from the gut and to the brain & muscles so that they are ready to fight it, flight it, or freeze it. You don’t need to digest food when a bear is chasing you (or to your body, when that report is due to an unrelenting boss). So your stomach naturally produces less HCl (and digestive enzymes).

Think about how trauma impacts stress levels too. Many of us are running around with high cortisol because of not only the stress of daily life, but old trauma that gets triggered for some of us, on the daily. Again, brain focuses on telling your adrenals to pump out that cortisol to keep you alive, and digestion is downgraded.

HCl production naturally diminishes as you age. Again, back to Dr. Wright, as he notes in his book, Why Stomach Acid is Good for You, by the time you reach age 40, your output of HCl has decreased by nearly 75% as compared to your pre-teen years.

Here’s something I learned from the @healthygutgirl_podcast: an 18-year-old boy produces a pint glass of HCl a day. But the time he’s 80, he’ll produce a shot glass worth.

H. Pylori is an underlying factor for low acid production. H. Pylori very much dislikes HCl, and suppresses the parietal cells in the stomach from releasing it. If you’ve tried everything else to upregulate your digestion and nothing’s worked, look into a stool test for H. Pylori.

Other factors that impact HCl include: Eating too many high carb foods, nutrient deficiencies like Vitamins B1, B6, and Zinc, excess alcohol consumption, and food sensitivities.


Acid Reflux, Heartburn & GERD

But what if you deal with acid reflux? Or heartburn? Or full-blown GERD? You can’t just throw more acid on the situation, or you’re going make things worse.

What you have to focus on first is healing the mucosal lining in the stomach (and esophagus) that has been broken down over time.

So how do you do this?

First of all, it takes time. So be patient and stay-the-course.

Second, you will most likely need multiple agents. So be prepared to use several for as long as it takes to feel the reflux or heartburn diminish.

Here’s what can help:

✅ Supportive herbs. Slippery elm, marshmallow root, meadowsweet, DGL licorice, chamomile, eyebright, aloe vera, and chlorophyll are just a few of the good options to use. Find a formula that contains several of these herbs, and make sure you are using them enough throughout the day (it’s a really good idea to work with a practitioner on dosing). Gastrazyme from Biotics Research is a great option and can be purchased with a 10% discount through my Fullscript dispensary.

✅ Plant-based digestive enzymes. While you are working on healing that upper GI, taking digestive enzymes is helpful to the rest of your digestive system as enzyme output is usually lower in those not producing enough HCl. Pure Encapsulations makes a great formula called Digestive Enzymes Ultra, also available on Fullscript.

✅ Natural “antacids.” These are really more herbs from the list above, but come in formulas that are good to take when you have “breakthrough” acid. A great option is Designs for Health DGL Synergy Chewable.

If your acid reflux continues after using these products for 6 weeks or more, it’s worth talking to your doctor about an h. pylori test, as this is often the root cause of excess acid.

Once you’ve taken care of reflux (and if you have h. pylori, after it’s been eliminated via a safer route than antibiotics, that can do more harm than good), then you can begin to supplement with HCl to improve your overall digestion and gut health.

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