If you have been prescribed antacids to lower your stomach acid for heart burn or acid reflux, the actual problem may be that your stomach acid is already too low. Also called hypochlorhydria, low stomach acid is a common problem in autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s low thyroid.
Adequate levels of stomach acid, or hydrochloric acid (HCl), are necessary for:
Pathogen protection. Bacteria and other microorganisms naturally enter our bodies with food. Adequate stomach acid neutralizes the ones we don’t want in our bodies. HCl also protects against fungal and bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. This is key for preventing inflammatory compounds entering the bloodstream where they can lead to Hashimoto’s low thyroid.
Adequate pepsin. Pepsin helps break down proteins for absorption in the small intestine. When proteins are improperly digested, they can enter the bloodstream and trigger food sensitivities and systemic inflammation.
Protein digestion. HCl helps break down proteins similar to how the meat in ceviche is broken down by the acidity of vinegar or lemon juice.
Intrinsic factor. HCl activates intrinsic factor, a glycoprotein made in the gut that is necessary for vitamin B12 absorption.
Bile and enzyme production. For adequate levels of bile from the liver and gall bladder, and digestive enzymes from the pancreas, we need enough HCl in the stomach. This also supports digestion of fats, carbs, and vitamins A and E.
Esophageal sphincter function. The esophageal sphincter sits between the esophagus and stomach, and protects the esophagus tissue from stomach acid.
Pyloric sphincter function. Proper levels of HCl in the stomach helps open this portal between the stomach and the small intestine.
Vitamins and minerals. Folic acid, ascorbic acid, beta carotene and iron are made more absorbable by HCl. Low stomach acid results in inadequate absorption of calcium, copper, chromium, cobalt, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, vanadium, and zinc.
As the root of your immune system, your gut must function well. All these functions can help you manage your thyroid condition and prevent associated inflammation and autoimmune flare ups.
Hypochlorhydria: under diagnosed, over-represented
While most of us have never heard of hypochlorhydria, roughly 90 percent of the population suffers from it.
Why is it so important? When your stomach acid is too low food proteins are not digested thoroughly, resulting in food in the stomach rotting and putrefying. This causes the small intestine to reject it, moving it back up into the tissues of the esophagus. While the food may not be too acidic for the small intestine, it is far too acidic for the tender esophagus.
Another risk of low stomach acid is bacterial overgrowth in the intestines, gut inflammation, food sensitivities, and more risk for inflammatory and autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s low thyroid.
Key hypochlorhydria signs and symptoms include:
- Indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux
- Burping, bloating, gas after meals
- Upset stomach
- Gut infections
- SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth)
- Nausea after taking vitamins and supplements
- Undigested food in stool
- Desire to eat when not hungry
- Low vitamin B-12, calcium, and magnesium
- Iron anemia
To support your stomach acid levels, consider taking supplemental HCl to support your own production and help you better digest food proteins. Take just enough so it doesn’t cause burning, and if a little bit causes any discomfort, get checked for ulcers and H. Pylori infection.
Ask my office for more advice on ways to support your digestion and relieve your heartburn and acid reflux symptoms, all of which will help you manage your Hashimoto’s low thyroid.
How to learn if you have Hashimoto’s low thyroid
Many patients are not diagnosed with hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s until after several years and going through several doctors. It is a demoralizing journey richly illustrated in my book The Truth About Low Thyroid: Stories of Hope and Healing for Those Suffering With Hashimoto’s Low Thyroid Disease, through real-life stories from patients in my practice. Managing Hashimoto’s goes far beyond using thyroid medication as you must work to stop the immune system from attacking the thyroid. For more information on identifying and managing Hashimoto’s low thyroid, contact my office.
About Dr. Josh Redd, Chiropractic Physician — Utah, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho, and New Mexico functional medicine
Dr. Joshua J. Redd, DC, MS, DABFM, DAAIM, author of The Truth About Low Thyroid: Stories of Hope and Healing for Those Suffering With Hashimoto’s Low Thyroid Disease, is a chiropractic physician and the founder of RedRiver Health and Wellness Center with practices in Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. He sees patients from around the world who suffer from challenging thyroid disorders, Hashimoto’s disease, and other autoimmune conditions. In addition to his chiropractic degree, Dr. Redd has a BS in Health and Wellness, a BS in Anatomy, and a MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. He speaks across the nation, teaching physicians about functional blood chemistry, low thyroid, Hashimoto’s, and autoimmunity. You can join his Facebook page here.