Digestive Health, Stomach Acid & Enzyme Formulas

Date: 03/12/2007    Written by: Jon Barron

Stomach Acid

Something must be going on with stomach acid. We've received over 50 emails in the last 30 days on stomach acid. Yes, we get 10,000 emails a month, but getting 50 on one topic is highly unusual. The questions on stomach acid were of all kinds mind you, but surprisingly, not one on what I would consider the most important issue: low stomach acid.

Anyway, in this newsletter, we'll cover all aspects:

  • Stomach acid and digestion
  • Too much stomach acid
  • Too little stomach acid
  • Stomach acid and proteolytic enzymes
  • Stomach acid and probiotics

Stomach acid and digestion

Before we can even talk about stomach acid, we need to spend a little time talking about how it fits in the digestive process. Most people believe that when you eat a meal it drops into a pool of stomach acid, where it's broken down, then goes into the small intestine to have nutrients taken out, and then into the colon to be passed out of the body -- if you're lucky. Not quite.

What nature intended is that you eat enzyme rich foods and chew your food properly. If you did that, the food would enter the stomach laced with digestive enzymes. These enzymes would then "predigest" your food for about an hour -- actually breaking down as much as 75% of your meal.

Only after this period of "pre-digestion" are hydrochloric acid and pepsin introduced. The acid inactivates all of the food-based enzymes, but begins its own function of breaking down what is left of the meal in combination with the acid energized enzyme pepsin. Eventually, this nutrient-rich food concentrate moves on into the small intestine. Once this concentrate enters the small intestine, the acid is neutralized and the pancreas reintroduces digestive enzymes to the process. As digestion is completed, nutrients are passed through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream.

That's what nature intended. Unfortunately, most of us don't live our lives as nature intended!

Processing and cooking destroy enzymes in food. (Any sustained heat of approximately 1180 - 1290 F destroys virtually all enzymes.) This means that, for most of us, the food entering our stomach is severely enzyme deficient. The food then sits there for an hour, like a heavy lump, with very little pre-digestion taking place. This forces the body to produce large amounts of stomach acid in an attempt to overcompensate. In addition to failing in this attempt (much of the meal still enters the small intestine largely undigested), there are two major consequences.

  1. Too much stomach acid.
  2. Too little stomach acid.

Too much stomach acid

This is obvious. In an attempt to overcompensate for lack of enzymes in the food, the stomach produces an inordinate amount of stomach acid to compensate, leading to acid indigestion. Taking antacids or purple pills doesn't actually solve the problem; it merely eliminates one of the symptoms. Ultimately, though, it passes even more quantities of poorly digested food into the intestinal tract where it leads to gas, bloating, bad digestion, chronic digestive disorders, in addition to blowing out your pancreas, which tries to compensate by producing huge amounts of digestive enzymes for use in the small intestine. All of this is exacerbated by foods and beverages such as alcohol (especially beer), high sugar foods, and caffeinated foods (coffee and tea, etc.) that can actually double acid production.

The simple solution for most people with excess stomach acid is to supplement with digestive enzymes which can digest up to 70% of the meal in the pre-acid phase, thus eliminating the need for large amounts of stomach acid and also taking tremendous stress off the digestive system and the pancreas.

One other factor which may be contributing to the problem is a hiatal hernia, in which part of the stomach can protrude through the diaphragm into the chest cavity allowing food and stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. Combine a hiatal hernia with excess stomach acid and you have the potential for great distress. The standard treatment for severe hiatal hernias is laparoscopic surgery -- with mixed results. Fortunately, there are chiropractic alternatives that can be quite effective.

In either case, dietary changes and supplemental digestive enzymes are likely to produce significant results, without creating problems further down the digestive tract.

Drinking 2-4 ounces of organic, stabilized, aloe vera juice every day can also help soothe irritated tissue in the esophagus and help balance out digestive juices in the stomach.

Too little stomach acid

Follow the logic here for just a moment.

If you spend years forcing your body to massively overproduce stomach acid to compensate for the lack of enzymes in your diet, what do you think the long-term consequences might be in terms of your ability to produce stomach acid?

Bingo!

Eventually, your body's capacity to produce stomach acid begins to fade, with a concomitant loss in your body's ability to sufficiently process food in the stomach. The health consequences can be profound. Low production of stomach acid is quite common and becomes more prevalent with age. By age forty, 40% of the population is affected, and by age sixty, 50%. A person over age 40 who visits a doctor's office has about a 90% probability of having low stomach acid. Consequences can include:

  • Poor digestion. Not only is there insufficient stomach acid to break down food, there is insufficient acidity to optimize the digestive enzyme pepsin, which requires a pH of around 2.0. This results in partial digestion of food, leading to gas, bloating, belching, diarrhea/constipation, autoimmune disorders, skin diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, and a host of intestinal disorders such as Crohn's and IBS.
  • It is estimated that 80% of people with food allergies suffer from some degree of low acid production in the stomach.
  • Many vitamins and minerals require proper stomach acid in order to be properly absorbed, including: calcium, iron, vitamin B12, and folic acid. Vitamin B12 in particular requires sufficient stomach acid for proper utilization. Without that acid, severe B12 deficiency can result. (Note: ionic delivery systems can bypass this problem.)
  • With low acidity and the presence of undigested food, harmful bacteria are more likely to colonize the stomach and interfere with digestion. Normal levels of stomach acid help to keep the digestive system free of harmful bacteria and parasites.

It's worth noting that symptoms of low acidity include:

  • Bloating, belching, and flatulence immediately after meals.
  • Indigestion, diarrhea, or constipation.
  • Heartburn.

Is it just me, or doesn't this list sound very similar to the symptoms associated with too much stomach acid? In fact, up to 95% of people who think they are suffering from too much stomach acid are actually suffering from the exact opposite condition. The use of antacids and purple pills then become exactly the wrong treatment to use since they exacerbate the underlying condition while temporarily masking the symptoms.

Options

  • Supplementing with digestive enzymes to reduce the need for stomach acid -- giving the body a chance to rest and recover its ability to produce sufficient stomach acid.
  • Mix one teaspoon of apple cider vinegar with water and a little honey and drink this with each meal. You may gradually increase the vinegar up to 3-4 tablespoons in water if needed.
  • Supplementing with betaine hydrochloride (HCL) tablets can also help, but anything beyond minimal doses as found in most health food store supplements should only be administered under the supervision of a health practitioner to avoid damage to the stomach lining.

Stomach acid and proteolytic enzymes

As I mentioned at the top of the newsletter, we received a number of questions on stomach acid in the last 30 days. Most of them had nothing to do with high or low stomach acid, but rather with the effect of stomach acid on supplements. In fact, the bulk of the questions we received were concerned with how stomach acid affects proteolytic enzymes, and they all pretty much ran along the following lines.

Since enzymes are made from proteins and proteolytic enzyme formulas are taken orally:

  • How do they survive the digestion of proteins that takes place in the stomach? Wouldn't they be broken down by stomach acid into amino acids?
  • If they do make it through the stomach, since they are so large, wouldn't they be unable to pass through the intestinal wall?

Surviving the stomach

Not all proteins (enzymes are proteins) are broken down by stomach acid. Rather than get technical, let me just point out pepsin. Pepsin is an enzyme secreted by the stomach to aid in digesting the proteins in your food. Not only is it NOT broken down by stomach acid, its optimum pH environment is about 2.0 (very, very acidic). Bottom line:

  • Although some enzymes such as serapeptase are destroyed by stomach acid, most are not -- just temporarily rendered inactive. (Note: that's one of the reasons I do not use serapeptase in my own proteolytic enzyme formulation.)
  • Different enzymes function differently in different pH environments, which is why I formulated my proteolytic enzyme formula, pHi-Zymes, to function in a wide range of pH's.

Passing through the intestinal wall - absorption

Enzyme absorption absolutely occurs and manifests through two main avenues:

  • Pinocytosis
  • Peristalsis

Pinocytosis. Enzyme molecules are bound to, and encapsulated, by other substances such as water. Since they are encapsulated, the intestinal wall cannot recognize them as enzymes and thinks they are "water," thus readily passing them through the intestinal wall. Once the enzymes are in the bloodstream they attach to lymphocytes and travel easily throughout the vascular and lymphatic systems.

Peristalsis not only forces food (and enzymes) down through the intestinal tract, it also forces transit through the intestinal wall.

Stomach acid and probiotics

The questions related to probiotics are essentially the same as those for proteolytic enzymes: aren't they broken down and destroyed by stomach acid -- thus requiring special, acid-proof capsules? And the answer, for most probiotics, is absolutely not. (I think this is primarily a marketing pitch for companies selling probiotics in enteric coated capsules, but the logic is flawed.)

The reason we're supposed to take probiotic supplements is to replace the probiotics that we used to get in a wide range of unprocessed fermented foods such as homemade yogurt, sauerkraut, buttermilk, pickled foods, kimchi, real soy sauce, raw vinegar, tempeh, etc. -- foods that are no longer a significant part of our diet. But think about this for a moment. These foods are not enteric coated. How could these foods provide probiotic value if the beneficial bacteria were destroyed by stomach acid? The simple truth is that beneficial bacteria, for the most part, easily survive stomach acid. Also, if you take your probiotic supplements with water on an empty stomach (as we've already discussed), they encounter almost no stomach acid anyway.

Conclusion

The bottom line here is that most people are very confused about the role stomach acid plays in health. Most people:

  • Think they have too much, when in fact they have too little.
  • Treat the symptom and suppress stomach acid production, ultimately leading to long-term health problems.
  • Ultimately lose the capacity to produce sufficient stomach acid as a result of dietary abuse and continual use of medications to suppress the body's ability to produce it.

Don't get into that trap.

  • Use digestive enzymes with all your meals.
  • Drink aloe vera juice.
  • Use probiotic supplements with confidence.
  • Use proteolytic enzyme supplements with confidence.
  • And, if needed, use apple cider vinegar or betaine hydrochloride supplements to make up for stomach acid insufficiency.

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Comments

  •  
    Submitted by Tonya on
    July 7, 2011 - 10:39am

    Thanks for the info Jon. I took digestive enzymes for a long time, but stopped for a while.
    I have a question for you and anyone else who may know.
    I have had my mouth and tongue burning for over 2 years now, along with a knotting and hurting stomach. They finally concluded the stomach/chest pain was hitial hernia, and I had surgery in January. I am still healing-they say takes a long time. My mouth is some better, but still have those days, and also my teeth hurt and feel like someone is cramming them together. Does anyone have this problem? I have only been told by one Dr. that it 'could' be acid. Nobody else knows. My dentist said I have enamel loss. I know my Mom thought she had high acid-she could not even wear jewelry without it turning her green, and I do that sometimes too. Any replies would be appreciated!!! Thank you

  •  
    Submitted by Alex on
    February 19, 2011 - 8:17pm

    what about LPR?

  •  
    Submitted by maureen on
    March 19, 2011 - 2:54pm

    would like to know how to treat LPR and weak LES

  •  
    Submitted by glen on
    July 10, 2012 - 4:37pm

    what is LPR and LES? I have digestion problems so I need an explanation of these terms please....

  •  
    Submitted by Maria Hawrysczuk on
    February 22, 2011 - 8:32am

    I have gastritis after my bout with h. pylori. Now I have a constant burning in my stomach and some heartburn. What I want to know is do I have too much or too little acid and how can I get tested? Is there a diet I can keep? Would appreciate your input.

  •  
    Submitted by Guest on
    January 3, 2012 - 9:16am

    i have same problem us above

  •  
    Submitted by BaselineFoundation on
    January 3, 2012 - 12:19pm

    Hi Maria,

    You can either use our search function to find related articles or look under "Health Topics." Jon has an entire series on the digestive system and all the issues associated with it. You can also find this at the health topic "Digestive Disorders" here: http://www.jonbarron.org/natural-health/remedies-digestive-disorders

  •  
    Submitted by Lady Jame on
    March 15, 2011 - 9:32am

    I am only 26 years old and suffer from pretty much constant belching. I feel like I need to clear my throat of excess air so I burp then 2 seconds later I feel that I need to do it again, its a viscous cycle. I thought low acid but I don't get heartburn unless I happen to burp up some of my food after eating (happens once in a while). I also suffer from constipation. Is this high or low acid?

  •  
    Submitted by Dennis Vause on
    May 10, 2014 - 5:31am

    Hi, I get exactly that constant belching that can be quite violent. I use digestive enzymes with betaine hcl and get immediate relief. After using the enzymes for a few weeks it appears to correct whatever was causing the excess gas. I stop or ease up on the enzymes until symptoms re-appear. Also eat little and often and don't wear tight clothing round waist. Hope this helps.

  •  
    Submitted by alison evans on
    April 11, 2011 - 3:49pm

    Im writing about my daughter she has just had a endoscopy and was told she has mild gastritis she also had a biopsy done for that bacteria that surposed to cause these stomauch problems she has eg inflamed stomauch constantly feeling sick and being sick after most things she eats plus her stomach bloats up after eating and shes in pain every day plus the nausia can you tell me if this is caused by to much acid or not enough, also she on tablets for anxiety and tablets she iakes before she eats once a day. she is 21years old and has had this problem for years although it has steadly got worst as she has got older when she was a chid she felt sick and was always constipated, sometimes now she can be constipated one day and then have the diarrea a few days later. the nurse at the hospital said it could be hereditry and it was a matter of food elimination. she knows some of the foods that make her sick but there is very little foods she can tollarate excepy toast really pasta and sauce make her sick spicy foods as well pork give her diarria and dairy as well make her sick. yours sincery alison evans

  •  
    Submitted by Debra on
    August 8, 2011 - 11:45am

    Your daughter probably has a food allergy. I was having horrible problems until I figured out I have an intolerance to wheat, dairy, and eggs. The best book to read is "Healthier Without Wheat" by Dr. Stephen Wangen

    Another book that has been very helpful is "Body Ecology" by Donna Gates. There are many many youtube videos about body ecology as well -- Best to you and your daughters.

    Debra

  •  
    Submitted by Alex on
    July 24, 2011 - 8:35pm

    To Tonya: Your teeth hurting maybe that you are grinding your teeth in the night when you sleep. I have that and my dentist said they could put a custom mouth protector (over the teeth) to stop that.

  •  
    Submitted by Bio Guy on
    August 13, 2011 - 4:49pm

    I am still very skeptical about the oral introduction of enzymes as being beneficial. While digestion does start in the mouth, this is primarily limited to carbohydrates and lipids. Any enzyme supplement I would consider would need some indication of the enzymes pH/acid stability profile. While the enzyme may remain "intact" it may be denatured to a point where it will never recover its catalytic activity. The pancreas is the primary organ for enzyme production and only introduces it's juices until after the stomach chyme (juise0 is neutralized.

    Needless to say I am highly skeptical of any claims that an enzyme supplement offers any benefit, other than a placebo effect.

  •  
    Submitted by BaselineFoundation on
    August 15, 2011 - 2:41pm

    Actually, you might want to read the following newsletter, to get a better understanding of how the digestive process actually works. http://www.jonbarron.org/enzymes/digestive-health-newsletter-stomach-part-3

  •  
    Submitted by Guest on
    December 26, 2011 - 2:22pm

    Actually I was very skeptical and a bit leery about taking digestive enzymes but my gut hurt so much and so bad that I was willing to try anything as long as it wasn't drugs,,I tried digestive enzymes and it mad a big difference..I KNOW they work..at least for my problem..they didn't take the problem away totally but it sure helped

  •  
    Submitted by Laura on
    September 20, 2011 - 9:34am

    This information is so crucial!!! I have suffered so many digestive problems over the years since my early twenties, and even as far back as childhood. I can now look back and see some of the reasons for my suffering! I think that this information needs to be made common knowledge to every household in the general public and quickly. Because I wish I had known these things earlier in my life, I would like to see people become informed at least by their teen years so that they can make healthy choices in their lives. Good health affects every area of our life!

  •  
    Submitted by Ely on
    November 15, 2011 - 1:51pm

    Thank-you for all fascinating newsletter articles about the stomach. Please do you have some advice for stopping PPI (lansoprazole). You articles make compete sense- but I read them too late. I have been on 30mg for a few weeks. I decided to stop for one day only - and the acid production increased to a violent level, forcing me to resume taking the tablets. What is the best way to wean yourself off these PPIs successfully and get the stomach back to normal sync ? Many thanks

  •  
    Submitted by Vic Kral on
    December 27, 2011 - 9:08am

    I have the same question, and I was wondering if any of your products will address / solve this issue?

  •  
    Submitted by BaselineFoundation on
    December 28, 2011 - 2:20pm

    Hi Vic,

    Please see our response down below dated December 12, 2011.  Thanks!

  •  
    Submitted by Guest on
    December 10, 2011 - 5:45pm

    I have researched this subject for hours on the internet and still not sure if I'm any closer to the answer. I've suffered from indigestion for years but after a heart attack and a serious attempt at dieting, something changed. When I ate anything it was like a belt around my waist tightening and a swelling sensation. I now eat very little and it still happens. I also now avoid fruit as the problems seem to begin with the dieting. I tried enzymes and they gave me indigestion. Tried garlic capsules....indigestion. I seem to have most of the symptoms for low stomach acid although I don't have pain...thankfully. Any ideas would be gratefully received as this is really getting me down. Eating is no longer a pleasure as I know within minutes that the discomfort will begin. Thankyou

  •  
    Submitted by BaselineFoundation on
    December 12, 2011 - 12:08pm

    For obvious legal reasons, we cannot diagnose or prescribe – merely provide information. With that in mind, as Jon has pointed out on several occasions, when starting on digestive enzymes, you may have to start at very small doses and build up slowing to allow your body time to adapt. You also may want to check and see if by any chance you have a hiatal hernia.

  •  
    Submitted by john on
    February 21, 2012 - 10:51am

    If undenatured protein resists digestion by protease enzymes then how much protease should be used to overcome this resistance?
    I am hypochloridic.

  •  
    Submitted by BaselineFoundation on
    February 22, 2012 - 10:55pm

    Any good digestive enzyme formula will have enough supplemental protease in a recommended dose to help digest the protein in a meal. If you have an exceptionally large meal, then you may want to up your dosage for that meal. If you’re suffering from hypchloridia, though, you might want to read this newsletter. http://www.jonbarron.org/enzymes/proteolytic-formulas-digestive-health-stomach-acid

  •  
    Submitted by Audrey on
    March 31, 2012 - 8:24am

    Hi there!

    I'm thrilled to have just discovered this fantastic website.... however after reading through most of you newsletters relating to digestion I notice that Gastritis is not mentioned at all.... I have mild chronic atrophic gastritis which I am managing to keep under control using a range of herbs, however it has been a long road and lots of hurdles (1 year to date!). The doctors don't have a clue about this either.

    It would be so fantastic for all of us gastritis sufferers if you could do an article on this topic as we have very little reference material, and it really is just trial and error... and way more complicated than an ulcer!

    Most of us with gastritis suffer from stomach acid issues and I read with interest that digestive enzymes could possibly provide some relief... I will have to try them.

    Any other advice would be most appreciated. Thank you.

  •  
    Submitted by Audrey on
    April 1, 2012 - 8:46am

    Further to my previous email regarding gastritis - as you know there are a few types of gastritis which are either chronic or acute. Obviously our main concerns are to try and heal the stomach lining which would enable us to lead normal lives again (as opposed to only eating cooked root veg, lean protein and bananas 3 times a day!). So the question on all of our lips is: can the stomach lining actually be healed successfully, or are we going to have to simply manage this disease for the rest of our lives? Many doctors say it is impossible and some alternative health practitioners say that yes the stomach lining heals easily (with the correct mix of herbs of course). It's all such a grey and fuzzy area when it comes to the ins and outs of gastritis... I hope you are able to shed more light on this topic for us. Thanks for your time.

  •  
    Submitted by BaselineFoundation on
    April 2, 2012 - 12:11pm

    Although Jon does not use the word gastritis specifically, it is merely another word for inflammation of the stomach lining and its associated symptoms. For specific details on how that works, you might want to take a look at Jon’s series of newsletters on the anatomy and physiology of the stomach.

    http://www.jonbarron.org/enzymes/digestive-health-newsletter-stomach-part-1

    http://www.jonbarron.org/enzymes/digestive-health-newsletter-stomach-part-2

    http://www.jonbarron.org/enzymes/digestive-health-newsletter-stomach-part-3

    http://www.jonbarron.org/enzymes/proteolytic-formulas-digestive-health-stomach-acid

  •  
    Submitted by Audrey on
    April 5, 2012 - 8:31am

    Thank you for the reply - yes I've read through the very informative newsletters - that's what prompted my email since no specifics were mentioned like: can the stomach lining actually heal as gastritis is different to an ulcer.

  •  
    Submitted by Guest on
    July 21, 2012 - 7:25pm

    This is a fantastic article! I've been suffering with belching after eating and stomach discomfort for a few months now. I still don't know my issue exactly. I've been to a GI specialist a few months ago, who performed an endoscopy and found minor acid reflux. He prescribed me with a month of omeprazole (what a shock). I took it for three weeks, and couldn't tolerate the pain anymore. I began researching my issue and read about low stomach acid, overgrowth of bacteria, and other issues that I thought I may have. I started taking a probiotic supplement, digestive enzyme (Now Super Enzyme), and HCL with pepsin. I believe I've had some success with these, but I still find that I burp minutes after eating most meals. I decided to see a wholistic doctor two weeks ago, as I've heard they find the root cause of the proper and treat the issue rather than the system. While I've only been one time ($225 for first session since insurance doesn't cover) , she told me to continue to take a digestive enzyme with every meal, as well as some lemon juice in the morning with honey and perform heel drops (apparently these may help with positioning the stomach or something?), and continue to take HCL as needed. I stopped at whole foods tonight with my wife and picked up some organic aloe vera juice and I will try taking that. I was just wondering if anyone could provide me with some thoughts or tips on how to treat my issue. I would really appreciate the help! I've turned into a hypochondriac over this digestive problem, and I just want to know what it is or what I can do to get better. Thank you again!

  •  
    Submitted by Dawn on
    May 23, 2012 - 8:07am

    Can you take Bragg's apple cider vinegar and probiotics? I normally take my probiotics in the morning on an empty stomach and a half an hour later I drink 2 tablespoons of ACV in an 8 oz glass of water. I just want to make sure that the ACV is not cancelling the probiotics. About an hour or so later, I take a digestive enzyme tablet before eating breakfast.

  •  
    Submitted by BaselineFoundation on
    May 23, 2012 - 2:50pm

    Hi Dawn,

    Surprisingly, raw, natural apple-cider-vinegar such as Bragg’s actually a good source of beneficial probiotics in its own right. It is made by crushing fresh, organically grown apples and allowing them to mature in wooden barrels. This boosts the natural fermentation qualities of the crushed apples, which differs from the refined and distilled vinegars found in supermarkets. When the vinegar is mature, it contains a dark, cloudy, web-like bacterial foam called mother, which becomes visible when the rich brownish liquid is held to the light. The mother is essentially a beneficial bacterial foam.

    So no, taking Bragg’s will not kill beneficial bacteria. That said, you may not want to actually take your probiotics at the same time as the Bragg’s. If possible, the best time to take probiotics is before bed on an empty stomach. That allows them to quickly pass into the intestinal tract without encountering significant stomach acid and start establishing themselves in your gut before you consume anything else in the morning.

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