©Copyright 2005 Holly A. Carling, O.M.D., L.Ac., Ph.D.
213 W. Appleway, Suite 10, Coeur d'Alene, ID 83814 208-765-1994

The digestive system is the root of health. The common philosophy amongst most “natural health” practitioners is that you are only as healthy as your digestive system is. This is because without proper nutrients no cell, organ, gland or system can do its job properly. It takes strong digestion to break down the essential fats, minerals, proteins and other substances critical for a healthy functioning body. Most people have limited knowledge about digestion and many are unknowingly ruining their digestion on a daily basis. This can lead to serious health consequences. To understand this, we need to know what is healthy, and what is not.

Healthy Digestive Physiology
We have in our body a “neuro-lingual communication”. What this means is that when food touches the tongue it sends a message directly to the brain that food is coming. The brain perceives every mineral, fat, carbohydrate, protein, etc. that touches the tongue. In response, it sends the appropriate enzyme for what it senses. In the stomach, it releases an acid enzyme called “hydrochloric acid” (“HCL”). HCL, although it is an acid, it does not burn the stomach, nor damage healthy stomach mucosa. Its function is to kill any and all bacteria, virus, parasite, yeast, mold or fungus that is ingested. It is also responsible for digesting minerals. Minerals in their larger form are rocks. It takes something very caustic to digest minerals, so the pH of HCL is zero to 1.0 (bringing the overall stomach pH to 1.0-1.2 – ideal stomach chemistry). This acidity is equal to battery acid. But it is GOOD. It also triggers the release of other enzymes in the stomach and further down the digestive tract.

When all these stomach enzymes and enzymatically digested food (together called “chyme”) leaves the stomach and enters the upper end of the small intestine (called the “duodenum”) the acid environment triggers receptor sites on the walls of the duodenum and causes a hormone to be released. This hormone causes the gallbladder and pancreas to release their enzymes into the duodenum. These enzymes are very alkaline (opposite of acid). These enzymes mostly digest fats and protein, but also carbohydrates (carbohydrates are also digested in the mouth and stomach). When the acid stomach enzymes combine with the alkaline duodenal enzymes, they neutralize. Then they go down the rest of the digestive system (intestines) neutral. This is healthy digestion.

Digestion Gone Askew:
Due to the reasons described below in further detail, digestion ceases to function properly. If you are like the average American and chew only 10% of your food, the brain only perceives 10% was coming. Then it only releases enough enzymes to digest 10% of what’s coming. What happens to the other 90%? The body ferments (or rots) it instead. When food ferments, it releases organic acids which burn and damage the delicate stomach lining. This causes heart burn. It also releases gases which bubble up causing “gas” (either belching or flatulence) and bloating. If it persists long enough it weakens the valve between the stomach and esophagus and eventually you get “GERD” (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease) or commonly referred to as “reflux”. Heart burn and reflux are the result of a DEFICIENCY of the proper acids in the stomach – a deficiency of hydrochloric acid. It is not a generalized acid excess – it is the result of too few of the good acids resulting in too many of the bad acids.

Drugs such as Tums™, Rolaids™, PeptoBismol™, etc. work by absorbing the bad fermentation acids along with the good, already-in-short-supply acid enzymes. Drugs such as Prevacid™, Zantac™, Prilosec™, Protonix™, Acifex™, Nexium™, etc. actually stop the body from secreting these precious enzymes, perpetuating the malfunctioning digestive system even further.

When food ferments instead of enzymatically digesting, the pH of the chyme, instead of dropping to 1.0 to 1.2, a normal stomach pH, only drops to 4.5-5.0. Thus, when the chyme enters the duodenum it is not acidic enough to trigger the receptor sites. The enzymes from the pancreas and gallbladder do not get released, and the chyme never neutralizes. The chyme which is now not acidic enough to trigger the receptor sites, yet too acidic for the delicate lining of the intestines, flows through the rest of the digestive tract causing new problems. This manifests as irritable bowel, Crohn’s Disease, diverticulitis and other malfunctioning diseases. In addition, because the enzymes from the pancreas and gallbladder weren’t released, fat and protein digestion is incomplete. Without these essential nutrients, health deteriorates and you will gain weight.

Why Digestion Goes Askew:
When digestion goes askew, we must first ask “WHY?” There are several reasons why. Stress is one of the first. Stress is interpreted by the body as a “Fight or Flight Instinct”. In a fight or flight instinct, anything not responsible for either fighting or running gets shut down. Digestion is one of those functions that get shut down. That’s okay once in awhile, however, if it continues day in and day out, the digestive system stops working effectively.

Secondly, we tend to eat too fast. In the beginning, we discussed the neuro-lingual communication and how eating chunks of food inhibits the release of enough enzymes to digest all that is consumed. This ferments the food instead. This means minerals are broken down small enough to get into the blood stream, but not small enough to get into the cells, the tissues and the bones where it counts. This leads to disorders such as arthritis, cataracts, osteoporosis, gallbladder or kidney stones, bone spurs and many other mineral related diseases. It also effects brain chemistry because brain chemistry is mineral-dependent. This leads to depression and a decreased ability to cope with stress.

Third, we are eating too many overly processed “dead” foods. Raw fruits and vegetables contain live enzymes that assist in digestion. If we don’t consume those in each meal, the stomach has to work extra hard to digest. Foods that are boxed, canned and otherwise packaged are considered “dead foods”. The easiest way to know what is dead and which are life-giving, is the shelf life. The faster they spoil the better they are for you.

We also drink cold liquids or eat too many cold foods which weaken digestion. This effects digestion in two ways: The stomach needs to be at a certain temperature to digest. Eating cold foods means the stomach has to warm up even more to reach that temperature. Digestion is already one of the most energy-consuming functions in the body. When it has to work harder, not only is it weakened, but less energy is available for daily activities. Drinking cold liquids not only makes the stomach colder, but it also dilutes the enzymes making them even less efficient. If drinking fluids is necessary, warm herbal tea would be a better option. But the bottom line reason why people drink with meals is to wash the chunks down! So slow down, chew your food to a liquid and you won’t need more liquids with your meal.

Many people also over-eat which over-stretches the stomach. The stomach also works by mechanical action. The stomach muscles squeeze and twist to break down food mechanically so that the enzymes mix with the food better. Over-eating over-stretches the stomach, and like an overstretched rubberband, it becomes less effective.

Now that you understand both healthy and unhealthy digestion and its impact on your health, you’ll understand why improving your digestion will be an important factor in your healing process. This applies whether you come in for digestive issues to start with, whether you have any complex health challenge or even if you have simply a sports-type injury. You need the raw materials to heal every tissue, organ and system in the body. As a result, your digestion must work properly, AND you have to ensure you include the raw materials – the proper fats, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, water, and vitamins your body needs to heal with!

Adapted from Health Alert November 2000 Vol. 17, Issue 11

The problem of low stomach acid is so common it should be considered an epidemic. Yet since so much money can be made treating symptoms of low stomach acid with antacids, the problem persists and is getting much worse. For some, the problem is simply a manifestation of getting old. As we age, years of dietary abuse weaken the digestive tract. It becomes less effective and produces less acids and enzymes. Ironically, as the stomach produces less acids, the pancreas produces less digestive enzymes. This contributes to a one-two punch that affects not only the elderly, but people of all ages, including children.

The truth is that you cannot eat “nothing but junk” day in and day out and expect your stomach to treat you well. And you cannot eat like this, end up feeling lousy, and then pop antacids without paying the consequences down the line. This de-acidification of the stomach eventually leads to mal-absorption syndrome, incomplete or undigested foods in the gut, and lack of nutrients in the system. And these conditions lead to the eventual degradation of all the glands and organs. Which in turn results, in disease and the downward spiral of poorer and poorer health.

Signs of Low Stomach Acid
The most common signs of hypochlorhdria (low stomach acid) are bloating, belching, burning after meals, feeling too full, finding food still in your stomach hours after eating, poor and thin fingernails, poor hair quality, falling hair, broken capillaries, and more. If you insist on using antacids to treat low stomach acid, you can end up with poor mineral absorption, vitamin deficiencies (especially B12), parasites, candidiasis, poor muscle tone from inability to digest protein, and a host of other possibilities as the condition worsens. Some of these can include asthma, adrenal failure and exhaustion, hives, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid problems.

Testing for low stomach acid can be invasive and expensive. Procedures include a full exam by an internist with an instrument inserted into your stomach to measure pH(acidity), hair analysis, stool samples for undigested food, or radiotelemetry with Heidelberg capsules. But in the end, the easiest and cheapest way to test for low stomach acid is the The Zypan Test.

The Zypan Test
If your indigestion is caused by low stomach acid, providing hydrochloric acid, enzymes, and the raw materials to create acids will bring prompt relief. This is where Zypan from Standard Process Labs comes in. It contains betaine hydrochloride, pepsin, and pancreatic enzymes. Start with one tablet per meal and see if you feel better or worse. If you feel the same or slightly better, go to two or three per meal and judge the response.

It is a rare instance that a burning stomach is caused by an ulcer. If the burning or tingling occurs with Zypan, this is the sign that you may have an ulcer or a severe case of gastritis (usually caused by the ramifications of long-term antacid use). With low stomach acid, food stays in the stomach too long and slowly ferments. Food cannot move out of the stomach until the food mass is sufficiently acidic. The sphincter will not allow the food to pass until this occurs. With low stomach acid or antacid use, this can take hours. During this time the food ferments, producing acidic gases, acids, and more. These irritants are what cause most burning, ulcers, and gastritis.

What to Do for Ulcers
Take one to three months to treat and eliminate the inflammation or ulcer. Consider combining you foods more carefully. Eliminate all Pro-flammatory foods. If you need information on this call and make an appointment with Dr. Kimberly Rollheiser- Revilla and get guidance on resolving this issue. Take three or four Gastrex capsules 15 minutes before each meal and at bedtime. Take three Okra Pepsin E3 capsules with each meal. If you have a bad ulcer, drink eight ounces of freshly juiced cabbage juice daily (can be combined with a little apple juice for taste). After one to three months, most ulcers and gastritis will be resolved.

What to Do for Low Stomach Acid
At the end of healing your ulcer or gastritis, you are sill left with the job of treating the cause of the problem (a novel concept in the field of medicine). So you are back to the zypan test. You can also test with apple cider vinegar (two tablespoons in a glass of water). Once you find out that low stomach acid was the cause of your problem all along, treating and resolving the condition is easy. Simply use Zypan while you clean up your diet, get plenty of raw foods (which contain lots of enzymes), use a good form of salt (which is necessary for the production of stomach acids and enzymes), and combine foods more sensibly.

If you discovered along the way that the elimination of wheat (Gluten), milk, or other food items, provided great relief, you may need to eliminate these for a year or longer. And when it comes to salt, I recommend Celtic Sea Salt from the Grain and Salt Society. It costs more, but is worth it. Check your health food stores, or order it directly from them a 1-800-867-7258.

What to Do for Reflux and Hiatal Hernia
If your burning results in reflux, esophagitis, or even Barrett’s esophagus, you must still test and treat for low stomach acid. In addition you must also test and treat for hiatal hernia (which can be nothing more than a weakness in the diaphragm). Since this affects up to 50% of all people over age 60, it is critical. We have information on testing and treating for this common condition.

In most cases, simply correcting the low stomach acid will automatically correct the reflux and even sometimes the hernia. After all, it is the acids of fermentation that reflux back up into the esophagus. When that condition is eliminated, the entire syndrome is halted. When the hernia or diaphragm needs physical treatment, the reflux or burning will not resolve. In these cases nothing but treating the cause will solve the problem. The treatment of hiatal hernia is simple and effective, and can be done with the help of a specially trained chiropractor- Dr. Kimberly Rollheiser-Revilla.

What to Do for Lower Gut Problems
If you find out that constipation, diarrhea, or bloating (especially in the lower abdomen) is still a problem, the cause may be in the lower intestines, liver, or gallbladder. These are problems we have discussed in detail in past issues. However, even with lower digestive tract diseases (gallbladder, constipation, diarrhea, colitis, irritable bowel, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, mal-absorption syndrome, and more) always test and treat for low stomach acid first. This one problem is often the start of lifelong digestive problems that can extend throughout the length of the digestive tract. All medical treatments ignore the cause and treat the symptoms, making you more sick in the long run. Do not fall for this scam. Instead, treat the cause!