Breaking Down the Importance of Hydrochloric Acid



News flash: Hydrochloric Acid is good for you (in the right amounts).  Old fashioned American eating habits were in sync with this fact – but our current habits are not.


Picture a couple out for a night on the town in the 1920s:


*They peruse the drink menu and order cocktails prepared with bitters;

*They’ll nibble garnishes of celery and olives and perhaps they’ll eat spinach with their meal;

*They sit down for dinner and the waiter brings glasses of water – the rims adorned with lemon wedges;


Perhaps you do not associate these foods with good digestion or  HCl, but in many cultures and over many generations, people who know food and drink, know that HCl is necessary for proper digestion.  And, they know that certain foods, such as lemon, apple cider vinegar and bitters, can help stimulate your body’s natural production of HCl.


Now, you might not know if you are low in HCl production, so what might give you a clue?

*You experience heartburn or gas;

*You sometimes see food particles in your stool (sorry, not as much fun as talking about cocktails);

*You are bloated, constipated or have indigestion.


In proper digestion, when food (mixed with saliva) enters your stomach, HCl and other gastric juice is secreted and breaks down proteins into peptides.  Peptides are smaller strings of amino acids, vital nutrients which the body can use.  If proteins are not broken down, the immune system might perceive those proteins to be foreign invaders and launch an autoimmune response – the result can be inflammation, food sensitivities or disease. The presence of entire proteins instead of broken down amino acids may lead to food allergies, to anaphylaxis shock, to other symptoms typical of an allergy, such as sneezing, breathing difficulties, skin rashes, headaches, nausea, or even, in severe cases, death. And these problems result from just a very small amount of food proteins which don’t belong there.


HCl also is the first line of attack against any pathogenic microorganism or bacteria, parasite, yeast or viruses. When HCl is secreted, it is almost pure acid and necessary to create a balanced pH in the stomach.  At that point, the enzyme pepsin digests these microorganisms and they become food for the existing gut microbes.  When the pH is out of balance, these organisms can thrive and create havoc – a common problem is Helicobacter Pylori (H. pylori), which can increase the risk of gastric cancer.


Approximately 90% of Americans produce too little HCl.  This is due to our culture and our food.  When we eat too quickly, we do not stimulate enough HCl production. Also, the standard American diet no longer incorporates HCl stimulators like bitters and vinegar– which used to be staples in our cuisine. 


So how do we boost our HCl production to appropriate elevels?  Eating apple cider vinegar or bitters helps a lot.  Lemon and Manuka honey are also very effective.  Celery, spinach, chard and kale all have dietary fibers and stimulate HCl.  If these foods do not help your HCl production, there are food supplements that can help, notably digestive enzymes and Betaine HCl – but do not begin here and make sure to consult a provider before diving in.  In the case of HCl stimulation, if you can do it naturally and without supplementation, you are less likely to need these aids long term. 

The Road to Healing

Welcome to Themindfulgut where I will share what I have learned on my lifelong journey from chronic pain and illness to good digestive health and overall wellbeing. The science is clear: better digestive health will help with metabolism, nutrient absorption (which is the root cause of so many ailments) and a better mental state. It is possible to feel better and live a healthier and happier life, simply by understanding the importance of what we eat, learning what our body needs and then eating and living mindfully.

At the age of 14, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease or IBD). Ulcerative colitis is an auto-immune disease that affects the lining of the large intestine (colon) causing severe abdominal pain and gastrointestinal bleeding, among other things.  There is no known cause of Ulcerative Colitis and there is no cure, other than to remove the colon. I resigned to live a life where I casually took nine capsules of medicine daily, always felt mildly uncomfortable and often was in pain.  I lived with the disease by managing it, which worked for many years.  Until it didn’t.

When I was in my late twenties, I saw top specialists for a variety of physical ailments, but no one was connecting the dots.  I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), psoriasis, spondylitis - all autoimmune disorders - but no doctor saw that these issues were related. The doctors treated symptoms individually, but there was always something going on - and as time marched on, more symptoms arose. When I spoke to my doctors about ways I could change things for myself by way of diet and nutrition, I was told there was nothing I could do to help myself other than take my drugs and try to reduce stress.

So I did what I could to reduce stress.   Yoga and psychotherapy helped.  I ate a diet of mostly organic foods.  Although I was ill into my thirties and was sick during both of my pregnancies, none of my doctors seemed alarmed.  Indeed, I was told that I was high risk for getting colon cancer and lymphoma, but it was understood that since I was being monitored by the top doctors in New York City, whatever disease I might get would be caught early enough to treat.  This was unsettling, but I felt there was nothing I could do except trust these highly regarded experts.

It was not until my infant son began to have health problems, that I learned I could heal myself.  In order to understand and resolve his health and developmental issues, we went to a very progressive developmental pediatrician.  We completely changed my son’s diet, eliminating dairy, gluten and soy.  In solidarity with him, I took dairy out of my diet.

Amazingly, within five days, some of my son’s physical and neurological symptoms diminished. And within weeks, my colitis and many of my other ailments began to disappear. Six weeks after taking dairy out of my diet, and putting myself on omega 3 and probiotic dietary supplements, my gastroenterologist of ten years performed a colonoscopy and said,  “I don’t recognize you. Keep doing whatever you’re doing”. One year and another colonoscopy later, my doctor said, “If I didn’t know you, I’d never know you have ulcerative colitis.” After that visit, I took myself off of the drugs entirely.  One year later, my doctor said there is no sign of the disease and that he saw no evidence that I ever had ulcerative colitis.

This was diet. I now live disease-free and drug-free.  I have educated myself through reading, research and learning from various alternative and open-minded medical practitioners.  I am now a Nutritional Therapy Consultant, where I help people understand that they, too, can take control of their health and see dramatic shifts in their physical, neurological and mental health. It is not too late to reverse the effects that your diet or your genetics or your microbiome has inflicted on you. You don’t need to accept poor function or chalk things up to the effects of aging. Our bodies have an innate intelligence that can guide us to healing. The key is to find, in your specific case, how best to get on that healing track. Hopefully these articles, recipes, mindfulness exercises and alternative therapy recommendations will help you find a way to help yourself.

On Meditation, Loneliness and Inflammation

Talk amongst yourselves . . .

A recent study confirmed the long held belief in yoga and in healing circles that meditation decreases illness, inflammation and depression.  One thing however that this new study suggests is that people who meditate are also less lonely- further decreasing inflammation and depression, leaving practitioners of meditation in overall better health.

Loneliness is one of those human emotions that all people experience but few discuss.  Talking about it can make us seem needy or depressed, and could possibly make us more lonely by alienating us from other people.  That said, we all have moments when we feel alone, unheard or situated in a place where we cannot relate to anyone else.

For many years I struggled with colitis in silence- I never shared any real details of the disease with anyone for I feared others wouldn’t understand my plight or would find it boring.  Sometimes, I just didn’t want to bring myself down by talking about it.  Now, I realize that my avoidance may have been one of the things that kept me sick for so long.

Many people are finally speaking out about Colitis and Crohns Disease and those suffering are finding community through the internet and other channels.  Hopefully this will eradicate the notion that people suffering from Colitis or Crohns have to go it alone.  Because now we know, this could be one of the important factors preventing us from healing ourselves.