Digestive Aid, Gastritis, Heartburn Support - Hydrochloric Acid (HCL)

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Gastric Acid Balance -- Heartburn & Gastritis Not Always Caused by Too Much Acid
by Jim English -- Reprinted by permission from Vitamin Research

The human requirement for vitamins, minerals and other nutrients remains relatively constant throughout adult life.  Unfortunately our ability to properly digest food and absorb vital nutrients declines with advancing age.  Surprisingly, one of the most common age-related causes of impaired digestive function is the reduction of hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach.  Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is an important gastric secretion that enables the body to break down proteins, activate important enzymes and hormones, and protect against bacterial overgrowth in the gut.  Achlorhydria (the complete absence of stomach acid) and hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid) are common digestive problems.  Symptoms of low stomach acid include heartburn, indigestion and bloating, among others.  Additionally, a number of chronic health conditions are correlated with impaired acid secretion, including allergies, asthma and gallstones.

HCL and Digestion
Digestion is a complex body function that starts when food enters the mouth and continues as material is processed and passed on to the stomach, small intestine and large intestine.  In the stomach, digestion begins with the release of a number of gastric secretions, including HCL, pepsinogen and a protective mucus coating.

Secretion of hydrochloric acid and pepsin is a prerequisite for healthy digestion.  Normally, the stomach contains enough free hydrochloric acid (HCL) to maintain a constant stomach acidity of between pH 1 and 2.  The amount of HCL produced increases rapidly following the ingestion of food.  HCL has an important role in the digestion and absorption of a number of nutrients, including:

Protein - HCL initiates the digestion of protein in the stomach by converting pepsinogen into the proteolytic enzyme, pepsin.  Once formed, pepsin acts to break proteins into smaller peptides that can be absorbed by the small intestine.  Without adequate gastric secretions, incompletely digested macromolecules can be absorbed into the systemic circulation.Carbohydrates and Fats - HCL supports the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, fats, and vitamins A and E by stimulating the release of pancreatic enzymes and bile into the small intestine.

Vitamins and Minerals - HCL also aids in the absorption and assimilation of vitamins and minerals such as folic acid, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene and iron, by increasing their bioavailability and effecting their release from food.  Jonathan Wright, MD, Medical Director of the Tahoma Clinic, has observed that a number of minerals and micro-trace elements are poorly absorbed in cases of insufficient stomach acid, including calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, chromium, selenium, manganese, vanadium, molybdenum and cobalt.(1)

Protection from Pathogens - In addition to breaking down and absorbing vital nutrients, HCL also plays an important role in maintaining a sterile environment in the stomach.  HCL does this by protecting against orally-ingested pathogens and acting as a barrier to prevent bacterial or fungal overgrowth of the small intestine.  Researchers have shown that a common pathogen, E coli (Escherichia coli) is inactivated when stomach acidity is high, with a pH ranging between 1.5 and 4.0.(2)  Conversely, low stomach acidity is associated with the rapid invasion of microorganisms from the colon, leading to gastric and intestinal bacterial colonization and overgrowth.(3)  And, in tests where researchers induced a temporary state of low acid (pH greater than 4.0) all subjects experienced bacterial overgrowth in the proximal small intestine.(4)  Conversely, E coli is not found in the gastric contents of patients with achlorhydria (no acid) following treatment with HCL.(5)

An additional finding from a Japanese team showed a strong correlation between low stomach acidity and increased infection by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori),(6) one of the most common chronic bacterial infections of humans and recognized as a major cause of gastritis, gastric ulcer disease, gastric carcinoma and B-cell gastric lymphoma.(7)

Low Stomach Acid and Age
Numerous studies have shown that hydrochloric acid secretion declines with advancing age.  In one study US researchers found that over 30 percent of men and women over the age of 60 suffer from atrophic gastritis, a condition marked by little or no acid secretion.(8)  A second study found that up to 40% of postmenopausal women have no basal gastric acid secretions.(9)

In a second study involving 3,484 subjects, researchers found that among both males and females, 27% suffered from achlorhydria, with the greatest incidence (39.8%) occurring in females aged 80 to 89 years.(10)

Researchers in Japan have also measured a similar age-related drop in gastric acidity in elderly Japanese subjects.  In 1984 researchers found that 60 percent of Japanese men and women over 50 years age suffered from achlorhydria.  New research based on data collected from 1989 to 1999 continued to substantiate a substantial age-related decrease in stomach acid production, though the total percentage of achlorhydric subjects dropped from 60 percent to 40 percent.(7)

Conditions of Low Stomach Acid
Symptoms of low stomach acid frequently occur several hours after eating and can include a desire to eat when not hungry, a sense of fullness after meals, flatulence, constipation and diarrhea. Symptoms that may persist regardless of eating food can include feeling soreness and burning of the mouth.(10)

Heartburn
Heartburn, a burning sensation in the chest caused by the regurgitation of bile through the stomach into the lower esophagus, is a frequent symptom of low gastric acid.  In many cases, antacids or alkalizers are taken.  While this may provide temporary relief, there may be long term problems leading to achlorhydria (no acid) which can be the result of abusing antacids or alkalizers.  In this case, a person may want to consider supplemental HCL as a possibility.  Certainly it would be preferable that our stomach production of hydrochloric acid and pepsin be restored on its own, but a reliable way to do this has not been found.(11)  Hydrochloric acid has been shown to support the conditions achlorhydria and hypochlorhydria.

Healthy acid secretion and digestion include these substances:

Betaine Hydrochloride
Betaine hydrochloride (HCL) is a nutritional supplement that has been safely used for over 100 years to support normal gastric acidity and healthy gut function.  Betaine HCL should not be confused with another popular nutritional supplement, anhydrous Betaine, a methyl-donor nutrient.

Pepsin
Pepsin has a long history of use and is considered very safe when administered to assist digestion, typically in conjunction with hydrochloric acid.

Gastritis / Heartburn - Conclusion / References | Mastic Gum - Ulcer (H.Pylori) Support

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