The most interesting fact I learned about digestive enzymes and that “scary” word Hydrochloric Acid is that as we age, we produce less with each passing year. As you can imagine, this isn’t a good thing. Understanding what to do about it is helpful.
If taking nutritional supplements is not your jam, definitely consider the pro’s of adding Digestive Enzymes and HCl (nowadays also seen on labels as HCL) to your routine.
Because without enough hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes, among other complications, one’s gut becomes gassy as a result of nutrients not being broken down. The primary job of HCL and digestive enzymes is to increase nutrient absorption in the gut.
“The hydrochloric acid in the gastric juice breaks down the food and the digestive enzymes split up the proteins.” (1)
Some symptoms of food not being broken down is, stomach swelling/bloating, flatulence, gut inflammation, loose bowels and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), i.e. functional constipation, which means, sometimes the bowels eliminate well or too loosely and other times one experiences extreme constipation, both can happen in the same day. This is due to microscopic organisms (specifically gut bacteria) that benefit from overfeeding on these undigested nutrients which lead to leaky gut. Studies show that using appropriate digestive enzymes specific to breaking down a) carbohydrates (Amylase Enzymes), b) fats (Lipase Enzymes), c) dairy (Lactase Enzymes) and d) proteins (Protease Enzymes) can treat stomach related issues such as:
- Celiac’s Disease
- Chron’s Disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
When the pancreas doesn’t produce sufficient enzymes, malabsorption and sluggish digestion result.
There are several reasons why the pancreas does not produce enough digestive enzymes. Certain health conditions are factors, like chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis and diabetes; other characteristics are due to aging and lifestyle choices:
- Antibiotic use (repeated use)
- Diet high in sugar and processed foods
- Stress: physical, psychological and emotional
NOTE: Heartburn is often the opposite of what people think. Erroneously associating heartburn with too much stomach acid floating up the esophagus when in reality it may be a lack of stomach acid and the feeling of heartburn is actually a build up of gas. Therefore, taking an antacid can further aggravate one’s symptoms.
“Hypochlorhydria is a condition marked by low levels of stomach acid. Your body may not be able to make enough hydrochloric acid if you have digestive problems, a lack of vitamins, or stomach infection.”(2)
Symptoms of hypochlorhydria is gas, bloating, loss of taste for meat, halitosis, body odour, anemia, hair loss in women and low mineral values. Systemic acidification leads to bursitis, tendonitis and environmental sensitivities. Support proper gastric function by increasing stomach acid content (by reducing pH) to promote optimal food digestion and sterilization of consumed foods. Pepsin and pancreatin are examples of digestive enzymes that help promote hydrolysis of proteins into amino acids.
“Gastric juice is made up of digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid and other substances that are important for absorbing nutrients – about 3 to 4 litres of gastric juice are produced per day. The hydrochloric acid in the gastric juice breaks down the food and the digestive enzymes & pancreatic enzymes split up the proteins. The acidic gastric juice also kills bacteria. The mucus covers the stomach wall with a protective coating. Together with the bicarbonate, this ensures that the stomach wall itself is not damaged by the hydrochloric acid.”(4)
How to test yourself to know what your stomach acid levels are at?
Read this article and decide if you want to 1) pay for The Heidelberg Stomach Acid Test whereby you swallow a capsule with a radio transmitter that records the pH levels of your stomach acid; 2) The Betaine HCL Challenge Test for Low Stomach Acid (I did this one with my Functional Medicine Doctor) and; 3) a less reliable test The Baking Soda Stomach Acid Test
Which HCL and Digestive Enzymes should you take?
I don’t know what’s right for you, but to help you out a bit I’ll share with you what I’m taking. These links are not affiliated: I currently use Metagenics SpectraZyme Metagest 2-3 tablets with each meal (I typically eat 3 meals per day). This Metagest supplement has 650mg of Betaine HCL = Hydrochloric Acid and 45mg of Pepsin = Pepsin is the principal digestive enzyme involved in protein digestion. It breaks down proteins into smaller peptides and amino acids that can be easily absorbed in the small intestine.(4) and Metagenics SpectraZyme Pan 9x ES (ES means Extra Strength) 2 tablets with each meal. This supplement has 360mg of pancreatic enzymes (amylase, protease, lipase). These enzymes break down sugars, fats, and starches.(5)
Can you take too many enzymes?
Very high doses of pancreatic enzymes have been associated with a condition called fibrosing colonopathy which can cause belly pain, distension, vomiting and constipation. It is recommended that you not exceed 6000 lipase units for every kilogram of body weight per meal.(6)
I hope this brief explanation is helpful and by no means is it complete. I encourage you to do further reading, feel free to leave in the comments any essential points I may have overlooked.