This module is a natural extension of the module, Maximizing Absorption by Chewing. If you recall, I spoke about the vast benefits of chewing your food well. I specifically said that “you don’t need expensive digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid or digestive bitters”, if you chew your food well. Well this module is for those folks where chewing isn’t enough. I call this module Enhancing Your Digestive Enzymes because most people think that if they aren’t digesting well, they just need to pop some digestive enzymes. But there’s more to digesting your food than swallowing enzyme tablets. So, I’ll give you advice on the best digestive enzymes to buy, but also speak about gastric acid (hydrochloric acid) and bile. First, let me do a bit of an info dump on digestion to get you all greased up and in the mood!
The Three Main Factors in Good Digestion
Proper food selection:
Avoid non-nutritive junk foods and choose foods that provide the building blocks your body needs.
Chew each mouthful of food thirty to forty times. This stimulates the salivary amylase enzymes in your mouth where up to one-third of carbohydrate digestion can be done.
No water with a meal:
Water dilutes your stomach acid. Ice water is the worst because it causes fats and oils in the food to cling together, which impedes their absorption. Drink water ten minutes before or two to three hours after eating. At restaurants ask for water with no ice, or ask for a cup of hot water. This water is for swallowing our enzymes not for diluting your gastric juices.
I think it’s fascinating to see the many ways our bodies have developed the art of digesting our food. Equally fascinating is what can happen if our digestive mechanisms are not working properly.
The two main activities in the mouth are the release of amylase enzymes to digest carbohydrates, and teeth to mechanically break down food. If there is insufficient amylase, undigested carbohydrates will provide food for intestinal flora in the gut. Carbohydrates, when digested by yeast, produce acetaldehyde and alcohol which, in extreme cases, may cause someone to appear drunk and actually register elevated blood alcohol levels. The simple action of chewing stimulates stomach acid production. So, the more chewing, the more stomach acid to help digestion.
In the stomach there are several activities that play their part in digestion. Gastric acid and pepsin digest protein, and a churning, mechanical action breaks apart the food. The things that can go wrong with stomach digestion are the fodder for a billion dollar antacid industry. If you are under stress or are generally tense, or lacking in magnesium, your stomach muscles, like any other body muscles, can go into spasm. Stomach spasms can cut off blood circulation in the stomach and inhibit the production of stomach acid. This reduction in stomach acid can lead to improper or incomplete breakdown of stomach contents, especially protein. If incompletely digested food finds its way into the intestines, the intestinal flora (bacteria and yeast) will feed on this food and create gas and bloating.
In the small intestine, lactase breaks down milk sugar and disaccharidases break down fructose, sucrose and maltose.
Stomach flu or traveler’s diarrhea can strip off the delicate areas in the small intestine that supports these enzymes. When sugars are not broken down and not properly absorbed into the blood stream, they too become fodder for intestinal organisms. Bile from the liver and gallbladder emulsifies fats. If there is insufficient bile, fats are undigested and are not absorbed.
Gastric Acid in the Stomach
I’ve already spoken enough about chewing, both so I’ll skip straight to your stomach. When I think about the stomach, I think about hydrochloric acid (HCL) as the main constituent that’s chemically torching food (especially protein) into absorbable molecules. But that’s not entirely the case. Actually, pepsin in the stomach is the real protein digesting powerhouse. But it requires an acid pH in order to work! The HCL in gastric acid is not going to burn a hole in the dining room table. It’s diluted with lots of watery sodium chloride (salt) and potassium chloride.
Let’s focus on what the acidic pH of HCL means with some comparisons.
- Hydrochloric acid has a pH of 0.1
- Gastric acid has a pH of 1–2
- Lemon juice has a pH of 2.3
- Lime juice has a pH of 1.8–2.0
- Vinegar has a pH of 2.4–3.4
In short, the acid in your stomach works much like stirring your meal in a bucket of lime juice. As I said above, the acid pH of gastric juice allows pepsinogen to be converted into pepsin which then breaks down protein.
HCL is also extremely important as the first line of defense against the inevitable bacteria and parasites that slip into our food supply. So instead of irradiating the very life out of our food, in order to kill everything in sight, get your stomach acids working properly to do the job they were designed for.
I’ve written in my books that meat can take up to seven hours to digest in the stomach and intestines, but I haven’t been able to find corroborating evidence for that statement. It may be that it takes several hours. However, the point is that people often eat their next meal before their first has completely exited the stomach; leading to bad breath, heartburn and bloating.
Do You Have Enough HCL
To test for sufficient hydrochloric acid you can swallow a tiny pH meter and have your stomach contents analyzed. No, this is not something you can do at home. However, you can purchase betaine hydrochloric acid tablets and do your own experiment.
Take half a tablet with the last bites of your main meal. If you very shortly afterward get a slight burning feeling in your stomach, that means you have enough hydrochloric acid and don’t need to take an HCL supplement. A teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in water will quickly relieve the burning. If you don’t get any burning or indigestion, on the next day take 2 tablets at the end of the meal. Increase by one tablet per day until you experience a little burning or indigestion. But never go beyond 10 tablets.
The Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar
Whole books have been written about the health benefits of apple cider vinegar (ACV). Here’s
the short list.
- AVC is a digestive aid.
- AVC is high in potassium, which is one of the main minerals in the stomach contents.
- AVC has an acidic pH, which allows it to breakdown pepsinogen and release pepsin.
Directions: Purchase an organic apple cider vinegar that has not been filtered. Make sure the “mother” is at the bottom of the bottle. Begin with one teaspoon of ACV in 2 ounces of water and take it before every meal. Work up to one tablespoon. You can take it with or without honey. The amount of honey is 1⁄2 teaspoon.
Just thinking about bitter foods can increase the saliva production in your mouth. Think what eating them will do. The list of bitter foods includes arugula, broccoli rabe, citrus peel, coffee, dandelion greens, kale, lettuce, radicchio, radish leaf, spinach, and vinegar. Unfortunately these are not common foods in our diet. Kids think of them as yucky foods. For adults, coffee is the only bitter substance that’s taken with any regularity. But our ancestors ate bitter foods that naturally balanced their digestive system.
Herbal Bitters are digestive aids that use this bitter property as an effective treatment for indigestion. Here’s a list of what bitters can do for you.
- Help simulate the body’s own gastric juices.
- Support a healthy appetite.
- Create a gentle laxative effect.
- Promote healthy gallbladder function.
- Relieve flatulence and bloating.
- Help soothe and prevent intestinal cramps.
- Promote mucous secretions.
Floradix Herbal Bitters contain the following bitter herbs along with a few stomach soothers:
Anything that disrupts the small intestine may also disrupt the production and release of its digestive enzymes. If you have a leaky gut, inflammation, yeast, or something else which hampers the small intestine, then you are likely to also have trouble digesting the foods these enzymes work on.
How do you enhance the small intestine enzyme function?
That requires a program to overcome leaky gut and inflammation and yeast. The ingredients of that program include the reduction of yeast in the intestines with a yeast-free diet, a good probiotic and natural antifungals.
Herbal bitters can also help to heal the gut as they enhance all the digestive processes in the stomach and intestines. They are also especially useful in stimulating liver function. When the liver is healthy it will produce sufficient amounts of bile to properly digest fats and oils.
Probiotics are very important to bring back the balance of good bacteria into the gut.
The digestive aid that I most commonly recommend is apple cider vinegar. Then I go to the bitter herbal formulas. Both of these natural remedies help heal the body instead of just taking a supplement. It’s the function of the stomach, liver and intestines you want to enhance. When I recommend a digestive supplement, I like it to have HCL, pancreatic enzymes, and bile to cover all the bases.
If you are a strict vegan, you should know that pancreatic enzymes are usually derived from animal products. papain from papaya, and bromelain from pineapple are two natural plant enzymes. When I was invited to speak on a cruise seminar, I survived the constant mealtimes and access to incredible food by eating papaya and pineapple as my dessert, thereby making sure I got enough enzymes to digest my food.
Make It Happen
- Choose healthy foods, eat small meals, and chew well to take the pressure off your
- Be aware of the foods and drinks that irritate your intestines and avoid them. The most
common irritants include coffee, alcohol, hot peppers, and hot spices.
- Start drinking 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar (ACV) in 2
ounces of water before or during your meals.
- If ACV doesn’t seem to be helping, add a herbal bitters formula. Dilute in 2 ounces of
water and sip before, during, or after meals.
- If steps 3 and 4 don’t help, find a digestive enzyme. Begin with one that includes HCL,
pancreatic enzymes, and bile. Start by taking 1-2 capsules with your largest meal.
- Probiotics also aid digestion. Choose a product that guarantees a 2–10 billion count of
live organisms to the date of expiration not just at the date of manufacture.
Questions and Answers
What is the difference between plant enzymes and animal enzymes?
Manufacturers of vegetarian enzymes derived from plants try to make the case that plant enzymes are more stable over a wider pH and temperature range. Apparently they work just as effectively in the acidic stomach as the alkaline small intestine. I really don’t know if there is a big difference. I go back to my standard comment that you have to try a product to really know if it’s helping! Make notes on how you feel after you eat, and make notes on how you feel after adding digestive aids.
You’re talking about increasing stomach acid but I already suffer from heartburn. Many studies where subjects swallowed tiny pH meters showed that people who think they have heartburn actually have alkaline burn! There is so little acid production in many people that they begin to bubble and ferment their meal and it refluxes into the esophagus. Also, some people are actually regurgitating alkaline stomach contents from their small intestine into their stomach.
So, heartburn may not be what you think!