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In “Why Stomach Acid is Good for You” by Dr Jonathan Wright, readers are forced to confront this question and learn that big pharmacy and misinformed medicine have successfully made us believe a lie. The book successfully highlights the serious implications of low stomach acid and the cascade of health issues that stem from nutrient deficiencies and digestive trouble. Why Stomach Acid is Good for You is written with a high degree of scepticism about the impact of the pharmaceutical industry on shaping our beliefs about the cause of conditions such as gastric reflux, heartburn and GERD. As well as informing the reader about the science behind the importance of stomach acid and the health implications of not enough, the reader develops a sound understanding of the politics and money at play in preventing the book’s message from becoming mainstream.
The chapters are laced with examples from Wright’s clinical practice that help to illustrate problems presented by patients present can be traced back to low stomach acid. These range from forgetfulness, loss of eyesight and dry-skin. These real-life examples are helpful for guiding practitioners on how to raise these issues and examples of MI techniques are apparent which help consolidate NTA learning. The most important topics explored by the book are summarised in the following paragraphs.
The myth of acid indigestion:
Wright explains that in conventional medicine the heartburn and acid reflux are believed to be a symptom of too much stomach acid. However, he busts this myth early on in the book when we learn that heartburn is a symptom of acid in the oesophagus, which can be caused by food not being properly digested in the stomach (due to low acid) and then being pushed back up. In well functioning digestion the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) normally opens up only to allow bolus to pass into the stomach. Belching and vomiting is the only other time the LES should open to let food up the other way. If the LES is working properly it keeps acid properly in the stomach and we have no signs of reflux. However, if the LES is not functioning properly (for a myriad of reasons covered below) then the acid of the stomach can reach the oesophageal lining. Because these cells are not built for a low/acidic pH the acid can damage the cells and cause irritation.
Stomach acid production usually decreases with age, which is why we see higher rates of heartburn in older people. However, as Wright conveys the big pharmaceutical industry has an interest in us not understanding the truth about stomach acid into order to promote the $7billion USD industry that is antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). These medications are alkalising substances such as calcium, sodium and even aluminium that combine with our stomach acid to increase the pH to prevent symptoms of heartburn. However, by continually alkalising an environment that needs to be acidic, we are masking symptoms and worsening the problem.
Major issues arising from low stomach acid
Wright covers in details two major issues that arise from low stomach acid – nutrient malabsorption and bacterial overgrowth. Particular nutrients that require adequate stomach acid include iron, calcium, folic acid and vitamin B12. Iron from non-heme (non animal) sources is contained in a fibrous carrier, which can only be dissolved when pH is below 4. This is the same for calcium. B vitamins must be disassociated from their protein binders by HCl and pepsin. However, with all of these important nutrients if absorption is impeded then we see deep-seated nutrient deficiencies manifest. Wright cites numerous studies that show improved absorption of these nutrients when HCl is supplemented; however, he notes with dismay that there is not much money available to research non-pharmaceutical interventions.
When the stomach is not acidic enough certain pathogens can thrive in the body. If stomach pH rises above 5 we are vulnerable to bacterial infections such as salmonella, cholera, thyphoid and more. The acid barrier is designed to prevent bacteria (healthy to a degree in the colon) from rising from the duodenum into the stomach. Bacteria in the stomach can easily “steal” our nutrition making us sick. A particularly common bug associated with low stomach acid, Helicobacter pylori (H-pylori) is thought to be the leading cause of atrophic gastritis and gastric ulcers and is linked to stomach cancer. H-pylori can further reduce stomach acid production, which makes all related issues much worse. There are competing theories about whether environment or pathogen are more prone to causing an outbreak of this, but Wright is very much convinced that most issues stem from low acid.
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In Chapter 4 however, the author does mention the impact of plant versus animal sources of nutrients and points out that this also has a profound impact on the availability and digestibility of nutrients. It specifically discusses phytic acid, which can bind to important minerals such as zinc, iron and magnesium and inhibit absorption. These views align with NTA teachings that animal food sources provide more complete sources of nutrients and that highly fibrous foods can reduce absorption.
Treating it the natural way
The final chapter (before the appendix) is a comprehensive step-by-step guide to dealing with low stomach acid naturally and is useful for patients and practitioners alike. We learn of a myriad of ways to stimulate stomach acid production, before finally turning to HCl supplements which Wright notes should be done in conjunction with a practitioner.