If you want to have a happy healthy body and brain, you need a functioning digestive system. Period. Having enough stomach acid to do the job is essential to digestion and health. You may think you have too much stomach acid, and that is why you were prescribed medication for acid reflux.
Later in this post, I will give you some suggestions and resources for supporting your health while taking these medications, but first let’s see why we need stomach acid in the first place.
5 Reasons you Need Stomach Acid
Reason #1: Protein Digestion
Protein digestion begins in the stomach. Protein molecules are big complex molecules folded into complex shapes. Think of a small ball of yarn. Now think of trying to cut the yarn in the center of the ball into little pieces. You can’t get to that yarn unless you unwind the ball first. This is what stomach acid does to big complex proteins, which are long strings of amino acid building blocks folded into globules or sheets. The stomach acid unfolds the protein, so that enzymes in the intestine can then cut the big long protein strings into their amino acid building blocks, which are small enough to get absorbed. Several feel good chemical messengers in the brain, such as serotonin, are made directly from amino acids, so protein digestion is essential to brain health.
Reason #2: Vitamin B12 Absorption
Vitamin B12 is one of the most important vitamins when it comes to depression and mental health. First B12, is needed for the myelin sheath, which surrounds all nerve fibers and is necessary for the conduction of nerve impulses. When the myelin sheath is impaired there are symptoms like loss of sensation, gait issues, dementia, and multiple sclerosis like symptoms. But low B12 also plays a role in anxiety, depression, fatigue, tearfulness and suicidal thoughts, and even severe psychosis like catatonia. Vitamin B12 is responsible for recycling a toxic compound called homocysteine, which is measured on standard blood tests. High homocysteine levels are associated with depression. Another mechanism by which B12 is thought to influence mental health is via the methylation cycle, which ultimately turns genes on and off. To read my blog about methylation, click here.
Stomach acid is needed to activate a vitamin B12 escort called intrinsic factor, which is essential for B12 absorption.
If you have low stomach acid it is best to supplement with either a sublingual (under the tongue) B12 supplement, or an oral spray B12 supplement, which are absorbed directly into the bloodstream.
Reason #3: Disturbs the gut flora
Studies have shown that it only takes one week on acid reflux medications to disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut. The highly acidic stomach environment kills pathogenic bacteria and organisms, and without this barrier, the wrong bacteria get through and then multiply in the intestine. Multiple studies have shown that a healthy gut microbiome where certain strains of bacteria flourish is essential to good health and good mental health.
Reason #4: Poor Zinc absorption
Zinc is a highly underappreciated mineral given how important it is to hundreds of bodily processes. It is absolutely essential to brain health, as many of the enzymes responsible for making neurotransmitters like serotonin absolutely require zinc to work properly. The problem is that even under the best of conditions, zinc is hard to absorb, and low stomach acid makes it nearly impossible to get enough into your body.
The best form of a zinc supplement if you have stomach issues is zinc carnosine. You may do even better starting with one or two bottles of a liquid zinc supplement.
Reason #5: Activation of Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes mostly exist in a pre-active form. Stomach acid activates an enzyme in the stomach, which then starts a cascade of reactions which activate other enzymes. If you have insufficient stomach acid, you may wish to supplement with digestive enzymes, and also to eat enzyme rich foods.
What to do if you are Taking Acid Blockers
Most people are able to address symptoms of acid reflux through dietary changes with the addition of herbs if needed, and thus wean themselves off of these medications.
Until then, in order to get enough of the nutrients you need and help balance the gut microbiome, I suggest supplementing with:
- B12 in a sublingual or oral spray form
- Zinc carnosine or a liquid zinc supplement
- Probiotic supplement as well as eating fermented foods daily to build healthy gut bacteria
- A predigested amino acid mix, especially if you have depression, anxiety or sleep issues such as Total Amino Solutions
- Take digestive enzymes with protein rich meals