Medical experts call this common ailment hypochlorhydria, but anyone experiencing its symptoms will likely describe it in much simpler terms: a nagging pain in the gut.
Hypochlorhydria is a familiar condition today, one caused by decreased levels of hydrochloric acid (HCl), an essential stomach or gastric acid that, under ideal conditions, performs two very significant functions in the human body. HCl initiates the breakdown of proteins that we ingest and it activates the enzyme pepsin to dissolve proteins and ultimately promote easy and proper digestion of food.
Sounds good so far — what could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot, when you consider our fast-paced world and its endless array of quick and easy packaged foods, snacks and convenient meals on the run. Hypochlorhydria is triggered in a variety of ways, including consumption of fried or processed food, foods containing gluten or dairy products, and alcohol or caffeine-based drinks. People with auto-immune conditions or food sensitivities and intolerances can be particularly vulnerable. Contributing to this condition is the simple and unfortunate fact that as we age, the body's production of HCl tends to slow down, thus making easy digestion less predictable and harder to manage.
The symptoms of hypochlorhydria? They are diverse but certainly hard to miss. They include abdominal pain, heartburn, nausea, gas, bloating, constipation and even vomiting of sour liquid known as "water brash." Other common symptoms include loss of appetite, offensive breath, a sense of fullness and discomfort during or after meals, and difficulty digesting fruits and vegetables. Blood tests can also reveal symptoms such as elevated serum protein or globulin, or decreased phosphorus levels.
This condition should never be ignored or left untreated.
While it might seem easy to simply dismiss these common symptoms as the occasional cost of eating on the run or paying too little attention to your diet, this condition should never be ignored or left untreated.
Reaching for an easy Band-Aid solution is not the answer
Untreated — or treated with typical Band-Aid solutions such as antacid tablets and other over-the-counter remedies — this condition can lead to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), yeast overgrowth, deficiencies involving important nutrients like B12, magnesium and calcium, as well as parasites or anxiety and depression. Hypochlorhydria can also lead to an auto-immune disease, which develops when your immune system begins to attack healthy cells that it mistakenly recognizes as unhealthy. There are as many as 80 types of auto-immune diseases, many displaying similar symptoms and making them extremely difficult to diagnose.
Traditional medicine typically deals with auto-immune conditions by suppressing the immune system with the help of an array of medical experts, including a GI specialist for the stomach, neurologists for balance problems or migraines, endocrinologists for blood sugar imbalances or adrenal issues, rheumatologists for joint pain, and so on. This may be for just one patient!
Today's integrative medicine professionals are taking a different approach. Integrative medicine — which should be considered complementary rather than alternative — looks at how these systems are related, seeking to find the roots of the issue and remove the causes for all chronic conditions. This means taking a more systemic approach that transcends simply trying to manage or control individual symptoms.
It also means recognizing that one organ can and will affect another and create numerous diverse and recurring symptoms. The integrative approach uses medical testing to identify the issue, and addresses this via dietary changes and custom nutrition plans, along with supplementation, medication and even brain-based therapy for neurological compromise.
While that pain in the gut might seem temporary and easy enough to self-medicate with a simple tablet, hypochlorhydria and its implications for worsening health should be treated with great care. Being proactive with efforts to identify and treat the root causes of a condition will in turn evade the potential threat of far more serious health issues.
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