Do you consider yourself to have good digestion? Without it, it's impossible to make any real progress with your nutrition and overall health. Unfortunately, digestion is frequently ignored and overlooked; acting as a barrier that keeps you from reaching your health goals.
What can poor digestion look like?
Here's just a FEW clues your digestion is weak:
- Belching or gas within one hour after eating
- Heartburn or acid reflux
- Feeling bloated within one hour after eating
- Prolonged vegan diet
- Bad breath
- Loss of taste for meat
- Sweat has a strong odor
- Stomach upset by taking vitamins
- Feel like skipping breakfast/feel better when you don’t eat
- Sleepy after meals
- Fingernails chip, peel, break, or don’t grow
- Anemia unresponsive to iron
- Stomach pains or cramps
- Diarrhea chronic or shortly after meals
- Undigested food in stool
- Crave acidic foods (vinegar, citrus)
What causes poor digestion?
Inadequate stomach acid is one of the many ways that malnutrition can start and it’s estimated that 90% of Americans have low stomach acid. This can be caused by a gut infection called H-Pylori, slowed metabolism, food allergies, stress, poor diet, nutrient deficiencies, a low protein diet, too much alcohol, and countless other factors. This reduced acidity in the stomach weakens the first line of defense against pathogens and sets off your digestive cascade with an incorrect pH, which leads to incomplete digestion. Eventually this can cause intestinal problems, acid reflux, and predispose you to food allergies and autoimmune disease—many of which I’m sure you are aware of.
Strong stomach acid= good digestion
Strong stomach acid is a precursor for good nutrition and it is required for the absorption of important vitamins and minerals such as calcium, zinc, iron, and B vitamins that require a highly acidic environment for absorption. It's also required to activate pepsin in the stomach to cleave apart amino acids (building blocks of protein) so they can be fully and properly absorbed.
If your digestion is inadequate, then the integrity of each cell, tissue and organ in your body will suffer, thus opening you up to a host of health problems. If you can't actually break down and absorb your food, it can't be USED to nourish your body; which creates a pretty HUGE problem.
The idea of solving the body's problems with a pill is wonderful in theory (I mean who doesn't want to feel better overnight?), but in reality, we all know it's nothing more than quick fix and cover-up for what is REALLY going on. You see this most in Western Medicine with the use of pharmaceuticals, but unfortunately it happens often in the natural health arena as well. This is not always a bad thing, but it can be...
One of the most popular digestive supplements is hydrochloric acid (HCL). HCL in simple terms works to add acidity to your stomach that helps trigger the pH driven digestive cascade properly. Many find HCL helpful because low stomach acid is very common, especially for those with a history of dieting (low calorie, low carb, vegetarian & vegan diets), or consume a low nutrient diet. But does that really make it a good idea?
I'm personally not a fan of this kind of digestion supplement. When you take Betaine HCL with a meal to increase your own stomach acid, in many ways it just "masks" the deeper problems, which lead you to continue with destructive dietary habits.
Instead of asking yourself "Why am I low in stomach acid to begin with?" you find a way to adapt your digestion with a supplement. I've been witness to those taking Betaine HCL for a long period of time where it really ends up working against them. It allows them to properly digest their food, however, it also allows them to continue their destructive bad dietary habits instead of focusing on long-term improvements.
There's also the risk of using Betaine HCL improperly and causing more digestive harm than good. This can happen when you use it without the guidance of a practitioner.
My favorite ways to increase your digestion instantly
These are my two favorite ways you can increase your digestion at your next meal! Use them as often as needed. Depending on your degree of digestive dysfunction, you might only need to pay attention to these things when you eat a harder to digest meal, like those containing muscle meat. If you have strong digestion already, you may benefit from using them when you are under stress, since stress can decrease your digestive juices up to 50%!
- Drink LESS fluids with meals if possible. If you are already low in stomach acid and you're drinking 12oz plus of fluids with a meal, you are substantially diluting the little stomach acid you have! Since it's estimated that stomach acid production peaks 90 minutes after a meal, it's a good idea to get the fluids your body desires between meals instead of around meal time. While this ONE tip may seem insignificant, it can have a HUGE impact on your digestion. I've seen it countless times with clients!
- Add some natural acidity with apple cider vinegar (like this). This is a very simple and inexpensive way to support your stomach's acidity. Just add about 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar to about ¼ a cup of water or fresh juice to dilute it (to make it tolerable) and consume with a meal. You can use either raw apple cider vinegar (unpasteurized) OR regular. If you have very sensitive digestion and don't tolerate fermented foods very well, I would recommend avoiding the unpasteurized stuff initially. Play around with this and find out what works best for YOU!
Bottom line: Your body should be able to digest food without pills, and might need to be re-taught how to do so with these simple tips and some strategic whole food therapy. While occasionally I'm sure there is good reason to use small amounts of betaine HCL for a short period of time, I think it's best to address the REAL issues behind poor digestion, which is most frequently caused by gut pathogens and/or overgrowth conditions, slowed metabolism due to stress, dieting, not eating enough, or a low nutrient diet.
Be sure to read the next post in the digestive series — Is Your Chronic Gut Issue Really a Liver/Gallbladder Issue?
Is Nutritional Debt Causing Your Poor Digestion?
Take the quiz below to find out!
Do you have poor digestion caused by low stomach acid? What helps you the most?
Weatherby, Dicken. “Liver and Gallbladder.” Signs and Symptoms Analysis from a Functional Perspective. Nutritional Therapy Association, 2004. Print.
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