Dear Pharmacist: You've said that if you have twitches, leg cramps, spasms or heart arrhythmias that you could be deficient in acid. What does this mean? I am taking an acid pill myself for reflux. -L.B., Las Vegas
You're not taking an "acid" pill, you're taking an acid-blocking pill for reflux. Those drugs are suppressing acid so you don't get reflux. But this is important to know. If you run low on stomach acid, you will experience those symptoms above due to your inability to extract minerals from your foods. You see, stomach acid is necessary to get minerals and nutrients out of your food, and into your cells.
Acid-blocking drugs inhibit that process, causing undigested food globules to pass through your stomach and then, microscopic proteins leak into your blood stream. It could launch an autoimmune attack, so having sufficient stomach acid is important to your entire digestive tract. I'm not against acid-blocking drugs. (Thank goodness we have them for when those spicy Buffalo wings revisit us at 1 a.m.)
Controlling a genuine problem is fine with me, but indiscriminate consumption of acid blockers (sold without prescription in the United States) is not a good idea. Understand, stomach acid is not bad, it's only bad if produced in excess. Did you know that you will experience symptoms of heartburn if you make too much acid, but also if you are deficient? Weird but true. Healthy amounts of stomach acid keep the tiny trap door shut between your stomach and esophagus. This sphincter is pH sensitive and in a healthy person, it stays shut because of the natural production of acid in the stomach. When you reduce stomach acid, you then have insufficient amounts, and your stomach pH increases and this causes the trap door to swing open, causing heartburn. That's why some people who take a digestive acid supplement (like betaine) sometimes feel better. Small amounts of healthy digestive acids keep the trap door shut, and the acid where it should be (down in your stomach) as opposed to your throat.
The signs of low acid (termed hypochlorhydria) include heartburn. Surprised? It's true. Other signs include irritable bowel, belching, cramps, food sensitivities, rheumatoid, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, gallbladder disease, osteoporosis, pancreatitis, yeast infections and rosacea. You will certainly have chronic fatigue because acid is needed to give you minerals which then participate in the production of both thyroid and adrenal hormones. No doubt, a little betaine can breathe life into some tired people (but get your doctor's approval even though this is over-the-counter). I don't know what's right for you.
Digestive acids are sold at health food stores by names such as "betaine hydrochloride," "betaine with pepsin" or "trimethylglycine." Begin supplementation by titrating your dosage upward based on symptom relief. Take acid supplements during your meal, or right after and space them apart by five minutes if you take more than one pill. Ask a knowledgeable practitioner if acid supplements are right for you and have your zonulin and gastrin levels tested.