We don’t really think much of our digestive system on a daily basis unless, of course, we’re having digestive problems. In that case, each meal becomes a source of pain and discomfort. A walk down the medicine isle in the supermarket will reveal no shortage of medicines to control acid reflux or indigestion. But is too much acid really the issue?

Too much acid in the stomach, or hyperchlorhydria, is the target of such remedies as Tums, Rolaids, Tagamet, or Nexium. These drugs are designed to decrease or eliminate the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Relief from bloating, pain, or acid regurgitation can be temporary or long lasting.

Studies have shown that true hyperchlorhydria is actually relatively rare. One of the main causes of so called ‘acid reflux’ is actually too little hydrochloric acid, or hypochlorhydria. When there is insufficient acid in the stomach, the food does not digest properly and ferments, causing bloating, pain, and a feeling of burning in the esophagus. Although antacid remedies may offer temporary relief, the long term effect can be detrimental to a person’s overall health.

Long term hypochlorhydria can lead to several health problems including: inability to absorb nutrients, increased risk of stomach cancer, iron and B12 deficiencies, thyroid disease, decreased immunity to viruses and bacteria, food and environmental allergies, and an increased risk of Candida or bacterial overgrowth. Hypochlorhydria can be self induced by the overuse of antacids, or can be the effect of too much stress. Mental and physical stress can decrease or inhibit the stomach’s ability to create its own hydrochloric acid.

Supplementing with a good hydrochloric digestive support formula that includes betaine, glutamic acid, pancreatin, and vitamin B6 is necessary to rebuild the balance of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. It is also important to check zinc levels, as zinc is necessary for the production of hydrochloric acid. A zinc taste test is easy to do, and will determine immediately if levels are low. If burning or pain occurs after supplementing with hydrochloric acid, it will be necessary to heal the stomach lining before introducing the acid supplements. This is easily done by supplementing with chlorophyll, vitamins U and A. It is always important to consult with a licensed holistic medical practitioner for proper testing and nutritional supplementation.

The digestive system is the foundation of our overall health. Even when we supplement and eat healthy foods, if the digestive system is not working properly to absorb the nutrients, our bodies may suffer at a cellular level. Healing the digestive tract is easy to do and usually only takes a few months or less. If you suffer from any kind of digestive issue, consider a natural approach. You can go to dinner and leave the antacids at home!

Kathy Veon, AP, DOM is an Acupuncture Physician and Doctor of Oriental Medicine. She practices acupuncture and functional medicine at Central Florida Preventive Medicine in Lake Mary, Florida.