The #1 misconception about acid reflux?
We have it because we have too much stomach acid.
This is FALSE!
The actual cause of acid reflux is too little stomach acid!
Let me explain…
In the stomach, chewed food is broken down even further by stomach acid (also known as hydrochloric acid, HCl, as well as digestive enzymes including pepsin).
We do not want to lower stomach acid, this is a big part of how we “chemically” digest and breakdown our food!
The acidic environment of the stomach is critical to this “churning and burning” stage of digestion, where food is physically broken down and mixed with gastric secretions.
However, if your stomach lining is not sufficient and you do not secrete enough stomach acid to create that acidic environment, you end up with – you guessed it – heartburn or acid reflux.
Acid reflux is the result of increased pressure and the subsequent release of gas in your stomach that pushes up on the valve between your stomach and your esophagus – the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
The bolus of food cannot be broken down without sufficient acid, and so it sits in the stomach (you may have felt this “food as lead” feeling before) and gas bubbles can build as a result.
Since the esophagus is not meant to have this gas pushing up and allowing the acidic material from your stomach back up into it, you feel the “burn” of the acid… and thus acid reflux!
What causes low stomach acid?
- The number 1 reason we have low stomach acid: STRESS. Whether it be emotional stress from a job or relationship, or being in a constant state of “fight or flight,” stress greatly inhibits the production of stomach acid. Trying meditation or low, slow walks outside can help this stress response. Additionally, the stress of systemic inflammation may also cause low HCl, which can be attacked by stabilizing blood sugar and working on digestion.
- A H. Pylori infection is another possibility. This infection may be present if you have chronic heartburn despite not having a lot of stress.
- Food intolerances are a final cause of low stomach acid. Many folks think it's the tomato sauce giving them heartburn when they load up on spaghetti, but it's likely the gluten + cow dairy + tomato sauce combo that is suppressing stomach acid and slowing the digestive process.
Tips for Healing and Supplementation:
- Bone broth
- Gelatin: whatever form you enjoy. “Gut healing gummies” are great!
- Aloe Vera Juice
- Deglycerized Licorice (DGL): excellent way to support stomach acid lining. Note: this should be used as a preventative.
- Licorice Root Tea
- GI Revive Powder: add the powder to some water and drink. GI Revive helps leaky gut and contains L-Glutamine.
- L-Glutamine: amino acid which helps to get rid of sugar cravings, as well – hint hint to my 21-Day Sugar Detoxers! 🙂
- Slippery Elm: we recommend you add this to herbal tea or a smoothie.
- Marshmallow Root: we also recommend you add this to herbal tea or a smoothie.
- Zinc Carnosine: helps with H. Pylori and gut healing, but I do encourage you to do some research on it.
Should I take HCl Supplementation?
I recommend healing the gut lining first before taking an HCl supplement. If you have done some healing, and still experience low stomach acid, then check out my HCl Supplement Challenge in Practical Paleo or check out the Balanced Bites Master Class – we have a whole module covering digestion and explain the HCl Challenge in detail!
What should I eat?
First, be aware that acidic foods are not what is causing the acid reflux, but they will be uncomfortable to eat if your stomach lining is compromised. I urge you to go back and add in some healing supplements, in addition to avoiding foods that typically cause distress such as wheat, dairy, sugar, and alcohol. Remove these foods for a while (not forever!) and see how this helps.
Also, be sure to avoid water while eating. Water dilutes stomach acid and perpetuates the problem!
In the meantime, make nutrient-dense choices during your meals. The more vitamins and minerals your body has from food, the more efficiently it can be at making what it needs, like stomach acid!
What if I'm experiencing heartburn?
If you are currently experiencing heartburn, mix the juice of 1/2 a lemon with some water since you typically need MORE acid rather than less. Plus, you can try the GI Revive Powder or the DGL Chewables.
- Blog Post: Why you want more stomach acid, not less.
- Blog Post: Your Stomach Acid is a Good Thing. Really.
- Podcast #266: All About Digestion – Gut Microbiome, Antacids, Probiotics, Constipation & SIBO
- Podcast #259: Severe Eczema & Miserable PMS, Hair Loss, & Acid Reflux