So shocking was a recent column (my criticism of ice cream!) that I received a flood of letters asking me for more explanation before their writers make the leap and abstain from the delicious stuff.
Others wanted to know how to cure themselves of the ravages of ice cream and a stalwart few wanted to know how they could continue to eat it while avoiding its toxic effects. Their desires bring us to the crux of the nutritional matter: acid.
The answer? Dropping acid. I encourage many of my patients to drop acid. Many are reluctant, some wary and a few quite open to this option. Not all of them, but I’d say most of them benefit from this clinical trial. Mrs. F., a distinguished elderly matron was a bit surprised by my suggestion but gamely tried it and came back two weeks later gushing superlatives such as “I feel like a teenager again”. And “You just wait till I tell my grand-daughter (with multiple sclerosis) about this!” Others describe feeling “light” and “clean” and almost without exception, describe a feel of well-being that they had not experienced since youth.
The acid these people drop is not only legal, it is natural too. I’m referring to “hydrochloric acid”. The very stuff that your body, in its infinite wisdom, makes by concentrating over one million fold, the hydrogen ions and chloride ions from the blood. This acid constitutes the first real defense of your biochemical and immunological integrity. Many foods escape your lazy teeth (do you chew 20 times per bite?), avoid helpful salivary enzymes (lingual lipase, salivary amylase and ptylin orchestrate the foreplay of digestion), slip indiscriminately past your tonsils (important pillars of immune function), and plop down on the writhing churning lining of your stomach. The stomach is the archetypal sulfurous pit, the fire and brimstone of our sinful corpus and (unless you suffer esophageal reflux), the place of no return.
Why is digestion so important? Because anything that we take into our being that we don’t process or metabolize or digest, begins to exert its influence on us. Here I am not only talking about food, but all other events at the banquet of life. For example, that horror movie you saw years ago before gaining enough commonsense to avoid scary movies, still bothers you because you never “digested” it. One patient’s abortion, another’s abuse history, a third’s parental issues are all “undigested” entrees which constitute a burden to health.
On the physical plane, food digestion is important because it allows us to extract from food the “stuff” with which we repair and rebuild our physical body. These essential products of digestion are amino acids, fatty acids, sugars, vitamins and minerals. These are the currency of the biochemical marketplace. They are the commonality between a salmon, for example, and me. The salmon has amino acids which are identical to mine. I need to chew and digest the salmon flesh in order to annihilate any semblance of salmon leaving instead the nutrients which built the salmon in the first place. Another way to look a it is that the salmon took these common nutrients and built “in its own image” and we, given the same ingredients would build quite another creature: human beings.
Remember stories about the great explorers who would burn their ships in order to gather up the nails and portage with them to the next shore where they would rebuild a boat? So it is with digestion. We “burn” our food (boat) and extract nutrients (nails) with which we rebuild ourselves (the new boat) upon completion of the portage (digestion). The fire we use is HCL, hydrochloric acid.
Lets talk about the fire’s hearth, our stomach. This sack is best likened to an accordion which expands and contracts according to the dietary demands it receives. The stomach wall is lined by two types of cells which work is elegant unison; the parietal cells secrete the acid and the goblet cells produce a thick mucous layer which protects the stomach wall from the acid it produces. Without this cooperation, every time we secrete stomach acid we would digest ourselves (stomach lining) as well as the target food.
There are five important reasons to maintain good stomach acid.
The first involves absorption of minerals and vitamins. (This is what antacids in general and dairy products in particular, inhibit). The corollary is that one should make sure that the vitamins are in the best absorbed formulation which is usually the most acidic choice. For example, the calcium in a calcium citrate pill is better absorbed than that in calcium carbonate pills.
The second role of acid is to facilitate thorough digestion. Fast food, failure to chew, and diluting HCL with fluids during meals all inhibit thorough digestion and can lead to auto-immune problems in the follow manner. Foods not adequately digested in the stomach can seep out of the GI tract and enter the blood stream. This is called “leaky gut syndrome” and the consequence is
A third key benefit of stomach acid is the maintenance of what is called an acid barrier. Anything living (parasites for example) should be sizzled in the acid of your stomach. If you have symptoms of parasites, most likely they arrived via the mouth and slipped past a hypochlorhydric stomach happy to have found an unguarded host. A less commonly known symptom of parasite infection is arthritis. Parasites elaborate toxins which set up circulating immune complexes in the blood thus creating synovitis or inflammation of joints.
A fourth reason for stomach acid is prevention of systemic yeast infections. Many women take acidophillus in order to control yeast overgrowth. Most yeast infections are caused by inappropriate use of antibiotics. The antibiotic will kill bacteria (good and bad types) who compete with yeast for turf in the GI tract. If you wipe out the bacteria (including the helpful ones like acidophillus!) then the yeast flourish. acidophillus
Common signs of low stomach acidity or hypochlorhydria include: 1) bloating, belching, burning flatulence after meals, 2) indigestion, constipation or, more rarely diarrhea; 3)prolonged sense of fullness after meals; 4) rectal itching; 5) weak, flexible, peeling or cracked fingernails; 6) post-adolescent acne; 7) dilated cheek capillaries; 8) chronic intestinal infections (yeast, parasites, bacteria) 9) undigested food in stool (assuming you are chewing well).
Diseases associated with hypochlorhydria (and consequent malabsorption of essential nutrients) include asthma, celiac disease, eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, pernicious anemia, osteoporosis, and auto-immune illnesses including lupus, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, to name a few. Interestingly enough, many people are told that their “heartburn” is from too much stomach acid and oblige their doctors by taking antacids. Careful. More often than not, when a Heidelberg test is done to actually measure the stomach acid, the amount is shown to be low and the burning sensation is caused by atrophied mucosal stomach lining (too little protection!) not too much acid. These people should not be taking antacids but rather substances to rebuild the stomach lining (L-glutamine, glyczeriza etc). Suppressing their symptom (heartburn) with an antacid simply contributes to malabsorption and compounds their mineral deficiency.
Causes of hypochlorhydria are less well understood but are thought to include normal aging, chronic alcohol use, stress and dietary factors such as chronic dairy, caffeine and chocolate usage.
A good sprinter needs to get a strong start off the blocks. So too, good digestion needs a strong start in the stomach. Biochemically, one could say, “If not now, when? If not here, where?” because if food is not digested in the stomach, it doesn’t get digested and absorbed.
Many symptoms resolve with gastric acid replacement. However, there are risks. Too much acid in the stomach, like anywhere else, will burn. Folks with ulcers need to repair the ulcers before initiating therapy. Also, not surprisingly, it needs to be taken with meals. But aside from a few commonsense cautions, dropping acid is a simple cheap and effective therapy for much of what ails you.
To your Health!
Bradford S. Weeks, M.D. © July 1996