Sexy Stomach (Acid): Improving your digestion (and feeling better)

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

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Oy vey.



A couple nights ago, I ate dinner pretty late.



10 p.m. to be exact.



I didn’t mean to eat that late, but by the time I got home from the airport after traveling home for the holidays, it was what it was.



I wasn’t going to deprive myself or skip dinner, and I was pretty hungry, so I whipped up some ground turkey in the skillet, alongside potatoes and some sautéed kale and fed the machine.



I was in bed by 12 a.m.—pretty tired.



After a good night’s sleep, I woke up refreshed—eager to get the day (and week) started), but feeling…a bit off.



Actually still kind of full from the night before, and a little uncomfortable—Indigestion. Or rather, slowed digestion.



Which begged me to blog today on the topic of: Digestion—particularly in light of a new year, and perhaps new goals around improved health and nutrition habits.







Good nutrition and health starts in the gut. In order to fully reap the benefits of the wholesome noshes you feed your bod, your digestive processes have to be functioning properly.



How is your digestion?



While my digestion the other night was simply impacted by my body’s routine being ‘thrown off,’ approximately 60% of individuals (roughly 65-million people) experience heartburn (or GERD) on an occasional basis, and 20% (about $25-million) of those experience it on a daily basis—making digestive problems a relevant topic.



In fact, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), a more serious form of acid reflux, is the most common digestive disorder in the U.S.



Typical symptoms of GERD may include: burning in your chest, difficulty swallowing, dry cough, hoarseness/sore throat, sensation of a lump in your throat, or regurgination of food or liquid in your throat.



So, how do you get rid of these symptoms?



If you’re like most Americans, you resort to the ‘indigestion’ aisle in Target or your local pharmacy.





Drugs for acid reflux and GERD are money-makers for the pharmaceutical companies. Acid-reducing medicines like Aciphex and Nexium (aka PPIs, or proton pump inhibitors) are among the most heavily prescribed drugs in the U.S. Americans spend copious amounts of money on these drugs, both the prescription versions as well as the over-the-counter variety. In 2010, more than $6 billion was spent on Nexium alone, second only to Lipitor, for which Americans spent $7.2 billion (cholesterol lowering drug).



However, there’s a better way.



It all starts with addressing the root cause, and getting to the bottom of what causes GERD in the first place.



And the reality may surprise you.



Contrary to popular belief, heartburn and GERD are caused by too little (not too much) stomach acid.



Unfortunately, when the majority of us take our own digestive process into our own hands—and medicate with the plethora of antacids out there (Tums to Nexium), we are actually killing off our stomach acid even more—and provoking the problem more so.



If you ask any one (including many doctors) what causes poor GERD or heartburn, they will say ‘too much stomach acid.’



Buuuuuzzzzzzzzzzzz. Not quite.





Instead, it is the inadequate amount of stomach acid in one’s stomach—and ability to cope with the little amount he or she does have, that sends adverse signals and reactions upwards or inwards (indigestion).


Fellow holistic blogger Chris Kresser explains it this way:



“I’m not denying that the symptoms of heartburn and GERD are caused by stomach acid refluxing into the esophagus. Nor am I arguing that reducing or eliminating stomach acid with drugs doesn’t relieve those symptoms.



What’s crucial to understand is that any amount of acid in the esophagus is going to cause problems. That’s because its delicate lining isn’t protected against acid like the stomach lining is. You don’t have to have excess acid in your stomach to have heartburn.



Also, symptom relief doesn’t imply that the underlying cause of the problem is being addressed. Too often western medicine focuses on suppressing symptoms without paying attention to what is causing the symptom in the first place. The misguidedness of this approach is clearly demonstrated by the use of acid inhibiting drugs to treat heartburn and GERD – problems which are caused by not enough stomach acid!”



Alright, alright already—so how do you ‘cure’ the root cause if that’s what I am saying you need to do?



Glad you asked.



It all starts with improving your digestion and giving the stomach acid in your stomach a little booster to remind it what it is supposed to do (especially after all these years of less than optimal digestion).



Here are a few keys to get you started:







Protect your gut. A probiotic day keeps the bacteria in your stomach away. I recommend taking1-3x daily, and like the liquid brand by Inner-Eco (coconut water based) or Garden of Life products (capsule form), like this one.






A cup of soup a day also keeps the doctor away. A daily serving of bone broth is ever so healing for your gut, your immunity and your digestion. Sip up! Also, note: bone broth is different from the boxed chicken stock you get at grocery store—it comes straight from a chicken (meat, bones, and all). Check out this awesome recipe here. If you don’t want to make your own, Picnik food truck in Austin sells containers for about $8 for a pint.






Just say no .Cut back on gut-inflammatory foods [(onions, tomato sauce, citrus fruits, chilli powder, paprika, peanuts, dairy, gluten, sugar and alcohol (use moderation people)]. In addition to promoting an inflammatory response in your body, foods such as these may trigger a physically uncomfortable increased intra-abdominal pressure, which in turn, contributes to reflux and indigestion. In particular, carbohydrate malabsorption is a large culprit of this—stemming back to low stomach acid, inability to break it down.





Booster. Give your stomach acid a booster with HCL supplementation. Never heard of it? In essence Hydrochloric Acid (HCL) is an off-the-shelf supplement sold in most health and natural grocery stores and vitamin shops, intended to take with any protein-based meal to promote better, speedier digestion. It is perfectly safe, and works give your stomach a little bit extra stomach acid promotion to get things flowing as they should.


Invest in a good HCL supplement that contains “Betain and pepsin.”


Here are a couple ones I have tried:





NOW Foods



How much do you use?


The ‘just right’ amount is dependent on every individual.


To find the correct dose for you per main meal, it is suggested you take 1 HCL tablet at a time with water until you feel a slight ‘burning’ sensation (it’s not painful, but you will know) in your stomach. Then, from there, your ‘ideal’ dose of the supplement is one less than the amount that caused the slight burning sensation. This could be anywhere from 1 to 5 or 6 tablets initially. Don’t worry, you won’t be on HCL forever—or that amount. The point is to begin teaching your body how to produce more stomach acid on its own.







Practice mindfulness. In our rat-race culture, we tend to eat fast and on-the-go. Slow down. Take your time to chew your food thoroughly (digestion starts in the mouth).






Immediate Relief. While curing GERD, heartburn and other digestive disturbances takes some time, there are a couple go-to remedies you can do if you find your tummy feeling less than terrific. Drink ginger tea, eat candied ginger or take a 500 mg capsule of ginger root extract, and don’t lie down (as tempting as ‘sleeping it off’ may sound—allow at least 1-2 hours before you lay down to prevent from slowing digestion; and, if anything prop your head up at an incline if it really is bedtime).






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