In the first part of this blog, we detailed how elevated stress and poor sleep routines can lead to increased heartburn. In Part 2 of this blog, we want to take a moment to reflect on how weak concentrations of stomach acid, along with environmental and food allergies/sensitivities, can cause this aggravating symptom.
Weak concentration of your stomach acid:
Your stomach produces an acid, which is a combination of hydrochloric acid (HCl), potassium chloride (KCl), and sodium chloride (NaCl). The main roles of this gastric acid (a.k.a. gastric juice or stomach acid) are to activate the enzymes that start the breakdown of proteins, help with the release of vitamin B12 from our food, and disinfect our food. This purification role is VERY important as we definitely do not want to take in any unwanted viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites that can make us sick. The more stomach acid we produce, the cleaner your food will become, and the more likely your body will feel comfortable with passing the food from your stomach into your small intestine.
There is a door between your stomach and small intestine that is called the pyloric sphincter. The opening and closing of this door is controlled by several factors, one being the pH levels of your stomach. The lower the pH, the more acidic the environment, and the faster this door opens. If your stomach acid is not acidic enough, the pyloric sphincter will not open well, and the food in your stomach will start to slowly “cook” in the weakly concentrated stomach acid. This “cooking” of food in our stomachs causes increased pressure in the stomach that can lead to belching, and eventually heartburn.
How can I fix this starting today?
- Increase the number of vegetables you eat during a meal. It is recommended that half of your meal be in the form of vegetables. Your gastric acid production is correlated to the distention of your stomach after eating. The greater the stretch, the more stomach acid is produced. Keep this in mind: 200 calories worth of salad will stretch your stomach A LOT MORE than 200 calories worth of bacon.
- Reduce the amount of fluids you consume while eating as diluting your stomach acid with fluids lowers the overall acidity of the stomach. If you do need to drink something during a meal, sip room temperature fluids or warm teas as these help digestion more than cold fluids.
- As we age our production of stomach acid decreases. Talk with you AIM physician about digestive enzymes that contain HCl.
Environmental and food allergies or sensitivities:
In response to the smell or even thought of food, our bodies release histamine, which promotes the production of stomach acid. Histamine is also released in our bodies in response to environmental and food allergens/sensitivities (we take antihistamines like Benadryl® to reduce these symptoms). When our body is releasing histamine in response to us being recently exposed to environmental or food triggers (e.g. pollen, cat dander, mold, dairy, gluten, corn, etc.), we often see the increased production of stomach acid even when we’re not about to eat, leading to heartburn.
How can I fix this starting today?
- Talk with your AIM physician about getting your food sensitivities (IgG and IgA reactions) tested today.
- Schedule an appointment to have an Advanced Allergy Therapeutic (AAT) treatment.
- Reduce your exposure to histamine:
- Try D-Hist (available in the AIM Lifestyle Store), a supplement that strengthens the cell walls of mast cells, the cells that contain histamine, so that they do not rupture as easily.
- Consider a digestive enzyme supplement (i.e. Intolerance Complex or DAO – also available in the AIM Lifestyle Store) to help breakdown the amino acid histamine in your foods.
- Reduce your intake with a low-histamine diet. Schedule a Nutritional Counseling appointment to review these options.
- You might need a medication: discuss your potential, histamine intolerance with your AIM physician. They may direct you to some over-the-counter medications and/or some prescriptive agents.