We commonly hold the belief that the cause of heartburn or acid reflux is due to excess acid in our stomachs. This is true for only a small percentage of those with stomach trouble, but for the rest of us, we are actually experiencing low stomach acid when we feel a burn in our bellies.
Research has found that the older your body gets, the lower your secretion of stomach acid.
Our stomachs have a naturally-occurring acidic environment in order to break down fat and protein, and for that, there needs to be enough hydrochloric acid, which is also known as gastric acid.
If you are unable to digest and absorb the vitamins and minerals from food, your body will not have sufficient vitamin B12 for cell renewal, and low levels of iron, vitamin D and other nutrients, which is vital for so many of our body’s processes.
And you won’t have the protection you once had against bad types of bacteria, causing their over-growth (dysbyosis).
Symptoms can include excessive gas as the bacteria enters your intestine. (Long term antibiotic use can also cause the same overgrowth.)
Those low levels also cause the diagnosis of “gastritis” – when the stomach becomes inflamed and irritated due to the low stomach acid, it causes food or supplements to sit too long in it, thus irritating the stomach lining.
Quick fixes like antacids are just that – a quick fix. We should be looking into preventive steps.
If you are unsure of whether you have low stomach acid levels, here are some symptoms to look out for:
• Burning feeling in the gut after meals, also known as heartburn
• Bloated feeling after meals
• Frequent belching after meals
• Flatulence after meals
• Frequent stomach upset
• Chronic intestinal infections in the form of bacterial, yeasts, parasites
• Chronic candida infection
• Undigested food in stools
If you recognise any of the symptoms above, there is a self-test using beets that you can do at home to find out if you have low gastric acidity.
The reason for using beets in this self-test is because it acts like a litmus strip, colouring your pee and helping you determine the next course of action.
Here’s how to do the test:
Press 120ml of plain beet juice and drink daily for three days in a row. As beet juice is sweet when concentrated, dilute with water as desired.
If you don’t have a cold press, find a local juice shop that serves beet juice. You can also eat a large beet, cooked or raw, to obtain the betalain (red pigment) needed for the test.
Observe the colour of your urine daily, especially after consuming the beet or beet juice, and make a note of the colour of your urine, which should be red/pink or yellow. Once you have completed three days, you will be able to tell if your stomach acid levels are low or not.
If the colour of your pee is red or pink, it means that you do not have enough hydrochloric acid. If betalain is not being broken down properly and is showing up in your urine, then it is quite likely that the same thing is happening to the rest of your food, and you are not getting the nutrients you need for your body to function efficiently.
If your pee is clear, it means that your stomach acid level is sufficient. Gastric acid has broken down the betalain in the beets, hence it does not show up in your urine.
In addition to not getting enough nutrients, undigested proteins will be sent to the small intestine as food fragments rather than the amino acids that your body needs.
This may cause problems like leaky gut syndrome or intestinal hypermeability, where at tight junctions of the gut, fragments may permeate the walls of the small intestine, allowing them to pass into the bloodstream.
Too much will cause inflammation in the body, and you will fall ill more easily.
Once you have determined what your pH levels are, here are a few things you can try:
1. Water before meals
Drink about two glasses of water half an hour before meals to give your stomach a “water buffer” that kickstarts the production of mucous that lines and protects your stomach from the acids.
Fortifying the mucous lining helps reduce chances of developing heartburn. You can add a teaspoon of lemon juice to “warm up” the production of stomach acids as well.
2. Apple cider vinegar
Adding one tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar in water and drinking it helps reduce gas and stimulates the production of digestive acids.
3. Use a good probiotic supplement and digestive enzyme
You can ask any reputable health food store for recommendations.
4. A small cup of miso soup
Enzymes in the fermented soy (what miso is made from) will aid with digestion. Mix a teaspoon into warm, not boiled, water with some ginger, and drink a small cup before meals.
5. Include soaked linseeds in your morning routine
A teaspoon soaked in a small cup of water overnight is quick and easy drink to down in the morning. This will soothe and rehydrate your digestive system.
6. Eliminate cooling, dampening foods such as fruits (tropical fruits, bananas, oranges, etc) and foods served cold. You can warm your food up slightly first and serve on a warm plate.
7. Add warming spices to your diet, such as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cumin, coriander, chili and fennel seed to help kick start the digestive fire.
8. A tablespoon of coconut oil daily helps to kill bad bacteria and candida in the gut. It’s not fattening, so don’t let that put you off; in fact, it has the opposite effect.
9. Use raw, local, unprocessed honey. It will help to repopulate the gut with good bacteria and deter the bad bacteria. However, this is not a good one to use if you have sugar balance or candida issues.
10. Taking betaine supplements to increase stomach acid. Consult a physician before trying this supplement.
11. Treating one’s hypothyroidism has helped reverse the problem of low stomach acid. It can also be important to treat low cortisol to return stomach acid levels to normal. Consult your anti-ageing specialist for bioidentical hormone replacement.
Try a combination of these things for a few weeks, then conduct the test again and see if you have a clear-coloured urine result.
If you still see red in your urine, it’s time to have a chat with your doctor. And one final critical note: at any time when you see red in your pee even when you have not consumed any beets, that is indicative of a more serious problem – do not wait; consult your doctor immediately.
Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist. For further information, visit www.primanora.com. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.