Better Stomach Health

There is a saying in Chinese Medicine that if the stomach is healthy, the prognosis is good. 

So many of us have digestive problems: gas, bloating, fatigue after eating, never really feeling hungry, acid reflux, nausea.  These are all signs of poor digestive function.  Especially when nausea or acid reflux strikes, the common practice is to reach for the Pepcid, Omeprazole or other proton pump inhibitor (PPI).  Those medications are helpful in a moment of crisis when acid is burning your throat and it wakes you from sleep — believe me, I get it, I’ve been there — but they were never meant to be taken for more than 2 weeks.

PPI drugs are meant to suppress acid production in the stomach, but most acid reflux is actually due to too little stomach acid, not too much.  Here’s why.

Weak stomach acid fails to trigger the signal from the lower valve of the stomach (the pyloric sphincter), to close the valve at the top of the stomach (the cardiac sphincter) when food is digesting, and acid (weak as it may be, it’s still acid) escapes up the esophagus.  

When stomach acid is weak, not only does it fail to break down our food into the nutrients we need to support our bodies, but we can become allergic to what we eat.  Our bodies are not meant to absorb undigested proteins.  If the stomach can’t break down proteins into amino acids due to weak acid, then the undigested protein gets passed along to the small intestine, which sees the protein as an intruder (similar to a virus) and our immune defenses kick in to attack the invader.  Our bodies create antibodies to attack the undigested food proteins, so each time we eat that same food, the body now has a defense system of antibodies at the ready to defend us against the “invader” (undigested food protein) and that’s how we become allergic to the food we eat.  

Again, without adequate stomach acid, proteins are not broken down into amino acids like tyrosine and tryptophan. Without tyrosine, we can’t make adrenalin, and without adrenaline, we can’t tolerate stress.  Tyrosine and tryptophan also support the creation of neurochemicals like serotonin and dopamine which we know regulate our mood. 

So far, we’ve talked about weak stomach acid and the problems it creates, but symptoms like fatigue after eating, never really feeling hungry, and bloating are classic indicators in Chinese Medicine of weak Spleen and Stomach meridians.  These meridians supply energy to the frontal lobe of the brain (thinking, judgement, planning), the macula of the eye, the thyroid, adrenal glands, stomach, spleen, and pancreas, the breasts, and the genitals.  A lack of energy or a blockage along these meridians greatly impacts the whole body because the brain and virtually all endocrine function is supplied by these meridians. 

It’s easy to see why digestive health is such a foundational part of our overall physical and mental health and our ability to stay healthy.

The next time acid reflux shows up, instead of a PPI, consider DGL (Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice).  It’s an anti-inflammatory herb that helps repair the lining of the digestive tract.  For the longer-term fix to this problem, you can take Betaine HCl before each meal to help the stomach have enough acid to signal closure of the upper sphincter and to properly digest your food.  A note of caution for anyone who has ulcers or H. Pylori, you’ll need to clear the bacteria and heal the stomach lining before adding Betaine HCl to your regimen.  A good herbalist (Western or Chinese Medicine) can help you with this.

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