In this post we’re going to break down the stomach, stomach acid, and, of course, it’s relationship to the thyroid and Hashimoto’s.
What does the stomach do?
It’s role is really to take food that has been chewed (hopefully well) and mixed with saliva and to break it down.
Break it down! Like James Brown!
Break it down, stomach! Do the mashed potato. Ok, what breaks all this food down?
Hydrochloric acid. This is vitally important for breaking down vitamins, minerals (like iron) and vital nutrients so that they can be absorbed by your small intestine.
A lot of people, misled by advertising, think that stomach acid is bad. 2 of the top 10 most prescribed drugs in the US are Nexium and Prevacid.
These are designed to block the production of stomach acid and are called proton pump inhibitors.
These proton pump inhibitors work by completely blocking the production of stomach acid. They do this by inhibiting (shutting down) a system in the stomach known as the proton pump.
Because we don’t need that.
No, actually, it’s hugely important.
Having enough stomach acid prevents food poisoning, parasites and other critters from taking over your digestive tract.
Enough hydrochloric acid also stimulates gall bladder and pancreas function to complete digestion and keep everybody in the digestive tract happy, happy, happy.
Proton pump inhibitors also affect thyroid hormone absorption and a study from Endocrinology Practice, the official journal of the Endocrine Society of America found their impact is so significant that patients taking these drugs and thyroid hormone may need to adjust their dosage.
What I’m saying is you actually do need hydrochloric acid or HCL and it’s production depends on the hormone gastrin.
And guess what else has an impact on gastrin? Thyroid hormone.
So hypothyroidism causes less gastrin to be produced, which leads to lower amounts of hydrochloric acid which, in turn leads to heartburn, bloating, gas and..wait for it…….!
Why, yes I did.
But didn’t you also say too little hydrochloric acid?
Why, yes I did.
Let me explain…mechanisms, people. It’s how things work.
It turns out, having enough stomach acid actually prevents heartburn by helping to thoroughly digest your food.
The burning sensation that people feel from heartburn is actually from the poorly digested food rotting in your gut and shooting up into your esophagus, where there is no protection from the acid.
Even a small amount of acid will cause problems there.
In an editorial published in the journal Gastroenterology first published online in 2009, the author remarked:
Treating gastroesophageal reflux disease with profound acid inhibition (which the popular drugs are) will never be ideal because acid secretion is not the primary underlying defect.
You see, there is the truth rearing it’s ugly little head. Another study referenced below suggests the actual cause of GERD is pressure on the abdomen (often made worse by weight gain and obesity) not too much acid.
For decades the medical establishment has been directing its attention at how to reduce stomach acid secretion in people suffering from heartburn and GERD, even though it’s well-known that these conditions are not caused by excess stomach acid.
Advertising, people. Great for making money, not so good for healing.
Another thing that HCL is important for is the absorption of vital nutrients like B12, iron, and calcium and for breaking down and absorbing protein.
Too little HCL can also lead to inflammation, lesions and infections in the intestines.
All of that leads to poor absorption of thyroid hormone, leading to…this one is a gimmee….(yup, you guessed it) normal lab tests but hypothyroid symptoms.
With too little stomach acid, also called hypochlorhydria, 2 important factors lead to GERD and acid reflux.
The first is bacterial overgrowth. Stomach acid acts like the police of the digestive tract. It keeps the riff raff out. When you don’t have enough you can get overgrowth of bacterial species that cause problems like copious amounts of gas. (Whew!)
The second problem that too little stomach acid causes is that it can lead to poor digestion, especially of carbohydrates. And these 2 problems feed each other because these problem bacteria really like to feed on carbohydrates.
So you wind with yet another vicious cycle.
This is also why people with acid reflux often feel better after going off of gluten (and other carbs). You stop feeding the problem.
I am very fortunate to have a robust community of Hashimoto’s folks at our Facebook support group.
I asked them how many of them experienced symptoms of acid reflux or GERD. And of the 75 respondents, virtually all of them had symptoms related to issues involving stomach acid.
Here’s a chart that illustrates their symptoms.
And a second chart that looks at what helped.
While this is hardly a scientific study, it is emblematic of how common these problems are among this population. Notice how many people improved by going off of gluten and wheat and/or going Paleo. All approaches that limited the number of carbs. Also notice how many are on proton pump inhibitors.
Too little stomach acid also leads to anemia because you can’t absorb B12, and you can’t properly absorb iron.
Couple this with heavy bleeding during your cycle which can also be caused by too little thyroid hormone (more on that in an upcoming post) and you have a recipe for iron deficiency anemia.
The stomach is important for breaking down and digesting foods and for allowing the body to absorb important vitamins, minerals and protein.
Too little stomach acid can lead to a host of problems: like heartburn (counter-intuitive but true), anemia, iron and protein deficiency.
All of this creates a vicious cycle of less conversion and utilization of thyroid hormone and lower stomach acid. Not good.
So glad you asked.
Let’s use logic, even though it can be counter intuitive. If you have too little stomach acid and this is the cause of the problem then….yup, that’s right, do something to increase the stomach acid when you eat.
Some simple natural solutions include:
* Going gluten free or Paleo (to cut out the carbs)
* Apple cider vinegar (to increase stomach acid)
*Lemon or Lime juice in some water (to increase stomach acid)
*Fresh Ginger or ginger tea (to increase stomach acid secretion)
*HCL supplements (to boost HCL levels)
How much really depends on how bad you’ve got it and on whether or not there are other things going on. And all the things that increase stomach acid should be done with your meal, not on an empty stomach.
There are some other things that can make resolving this more difficult. One of the most common is the bacteria Heliobactor Pylori also known as H. Pylori.
This little critter can take over when there is not enough stomach acid in your stomach. So be sure to test for it to rule it out if you have these symptoms.
This stuff is often marketed as the answer. “Cancer can’t grow in an alkaline environment.”
Here’s the thing. Different parts of your body have different acid and alkaline requirements. Your stomach needs to be acidic.
When you drink lots of alkaline water, especially if it’s with your meal, you may wind up causing everything I have just described.
Don’t believe the hype, acid ain’t all bad.
Once again we see how there is an explanation for what’s gong on and the conventional medical approach or the multi-marketed hype, while profitable, is actually counterproductive to healing.
I envision a day, sometime in the future when medicine actually becomes about healing and resolving people’s issues.
Wait! It’s here… at Hashimoto’s Healing where we provide hope, help and healing for Hashimoto’s and the varied ways that it wreaks havoc on our bodies. For example check out my program The 5 Elements of Thyroid Health.
Please, please, please! Give your body a chance to heal by learning the truth. Question the drug companies and the marketers who are talkin’ loud and sayin’ nothin’.
(I will give a free 30 minute consultation to anyone who can identify the numerous allusions to James Brown songs and/or dances that I have in this post.)
http://www.natap.org/2009/HIV/070409_02.htm :Article on how proton pump inhibitors actually cause the problem they are supposed to fix
http://www.gastrojournal.org/article/S0016-5085(07)01843-4/preview : The real cause of GERD
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9079271 : Study showing how antibiotics can improve gastric reflux
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16871438 : An interesting study showing that a low carb diet improves acid reflux
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17669709 : Study showing how proton pump inhibitors affect thyroid hormone absorption
The Thyroid, A Fundamental and Clinical Text, Ninth Edition. Lewis E. Braverman and Robert D. Utiger 2005