Your Complete Guide to Causes of Constipation and Finding Relief – Part 1: Low Stomach Acid (Hydrochloric Acid)

Your Complete Guide to Causes of Constipation and Finding Relief – Part 1: Low Stomach Acid (Hydrochloric Acid)

Your Complete Guide to Causes of Constipation and Finding Relief – Part 1: Low Stomach Acid (Hydrochloric Acid)

Constipation can be uncomfortable or downright painful if left untreated. You may experience few bowel movements, the sensation that everything isn’t coming out, small and hard stools, a swollen belly, pain or throwing up.

But you’re not alone – an estimated 42 million Americans suffer from constipation, making it the most common gastrointestinal problem in the United States.

When you experience constipation, it may seem like a good idea to reach for fast relief like a stool softener or other common constipation remedies such as prune juice – but these are usually just a quick fix that doesn’t solve the underlying cause.

If you want long-term constipation relief it’s a good idea to get to the root of what’s causing your chronic constipation.

There are a number of causes of constipation, which we are going to address in throughout this six-part article series. First, we are going to take a closer look at low hydrochloric acid levels in the stomach – an often-overlooked cause of constipation.

Part 1: Low Hydrochloric Acid

Your stomach acid is made up of three parts: hydrochloric acid (HCl), potassium chloride (KCl), and sodium chloride (NaCl). Hydrochloric acid is the primary acid in your stomach and it plays important roles in keeping the digestive tract running smoothly. Often, stomach acid and hydrochloric acid are used interchangeably.

When your body isn’t producing enough hydrochloric acid, it can cause serious and chronic constipation. Also called achlorhydria or hypochlorhydria, low stomach acid can disrupt several important bodily processes.

The Importance of Stomach Acid

Why is stomach acid so important? Stomach acid frequently gets a bad rap because an overabundance can cause heartburn or ulcers, but it’s just as problematic to have low stomach acid. Your stomach acid is involved in many critical roles, including:

  • Completely digesting food
  • Supporting the immune system
  • Encouraging the pancreas and intestines to produce necessary enzymes and bile
  • Ensuring good absorption of vitamins and minerals
  • Activating pepsinogen – a protein-digesting enzyme
  • Helping to kill unwanted bacteria, viruses, and parasites

When your stomach isn’t making enough hydrochloric acid, you can experience an array of unpleasant and sometimes painful symptoms, such as:

If your stomach has low hydrochloric acid levels, you might experience constipation but also nutritional deficiencies, even if you’re eating a healthy diet. This can make identifying your health issues difficult. In fact, low hydrochloric acid is a condition that is often misdiagnosed or overlooked.

Causes of Low Hydrochloric Acid

Low levels of hydrochloric acid can make you constipated and uncomfortable but it can also be responsible for a cascade of health consequences, which is why it’s important to address constipation with techniques that treat the root cause and not just the symptom.

Understanding some of the causes of low hydrochloric acid can give you clues to help you determine if low HCl is causing your constipation. Some causes of low stomach acid include:

  • Medications – Some prescriptions and over the counter drugs suppress HCl production.
  • Chronic stress – This is when HCl secretion is inhibited by chronic low-grade worry (acute stress may cause overproduction of HCl, which is associated with ulcers).
  • Older age – Your body tends to decrease HCl production levels as you get older.
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiency – In particular, low zinc and thiamine levels can contribute to insufficient hydrochloric acid levels.
  • H. pylori infection – When there’s an overgrowth in the stomach, H. pylori can cause low HCl levels.
  • Processed foods and refined sugars – These foods are mineral deficient and cause inflammation of the stomach, which alters your gut microbiome and can reduce stomach acid production.
  • Chronic illness – Some chronic illnesses have an increased risk of low HCl production.
  • Antacids – Antacids interfere with your acid levels and can be the cause of low HCl production.

If you are experiencing constipation – other related symptoms – and also have any of the above contributors to low hydrochloric acid, you should test yourself for low stomach acid. There are three simple ways you can test your HCl levels at home before you make a trip to the doctor.

How to Test Your Stomach Acid (HCl) at Home

These three easy ways to test for low hydrochloric acid production in your stomach are much cheaper than a conventional HCl test administered by many doctors. Keep in mind a negative test result for these techniques is not an absolute diagnosis. These methods are simply for seeing if your constipation is caused by your stomach’s inability to produce enough stomach acid.

Self-Exam for Low Stomach Acid

A quick method for checking low hydrochloric acid levels is an old homeopathic trick. Take both your hands and find your xiphoid process – the bottom of the sternum where it meets the ribs – marked in red in the image below.

Then, with both hands slide along the rib cage in both directions while pushing in and under your ribs – on your left and right side of your body.

In people experiencing low levels of stomach acid, it’s common for the left side to be more tender than the right side – this area is marked in blue in the image below. It can be so tender it may cause you to jump when you find the right area – if this occurs you likely have low hydrochloric acid levels.

Apple Cider Vinegar for Low Stomach Acid

Another test you can try at home is taking a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar when you experience temporary symptoms after eating, such as indigestion or upset stomach. If your symptoms are relieved after taking apple cider vinegar, that could be a sign of inadequate hydrochloric acid production.

Betaine HCl Test for Low Stomach Acid

The betaine HCl is another at-home test you can use to check for low stomach acid. Take a betaine HCl capsule during or right before your last bite of a meal containing protein and fat. If you experience indigestion or burning, then you have plenty of HCl and shouldn’t take any more of that supplement. But if you don’t experience any burning, your stomach isn’t producing enough hydrochloric acid.

Home Remedies for Constipation Caused by Low Hydrochloric Acid

The best choice of remedy for any individual’s constipation always depends on the underlying cause. If you’ve determined the underlying cause of your constipation may be low stomach acid, here are a couple of changes you can make:

  • Add fermented vegetables to your diet
  • Reduce processed food consumption
  • Increase zinc intake
  • Reduce chronic stress in your life, especially at mealtime
  • Have a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar in warm water before each meal
  • Add betaine HCl supplements to your diet

These are a couple of remedies that may give you constipation relief. But if you continue to struggle with constipation, you should see your doctor so you can have a comprehensive diagnosis made as early as possible.

When to See Your Doctor for Constipation

As with many conditions, using temporary fixes that relieve symptoms only prolongs the underlying issue. Waiting to treat your condition can cause complications and make it more difficult to treat. If you are experiencing constipation that lasts longer than a couple of weeks, or if one of the three at-home self-tests for low stomach acid appears positive, it’s a good idea to see your doctor.

There is a myriad of ways to treat low hydrochloric acid levels naturally. By working closely with a holistic physician, you can restore balance to your stomach and relieve uncomfortable and widespread symptoms.

Elena Klimenko, MD, a certified functional medicine physician, will help you choose the right course of action to identify the root cause and relief your unsettled symptoms. Call today to find out more about functional medicine and speak with Dr. Klimenko at 212-696- HEAL(4325).

If you want more information about Functional Medicine, contact us to receive a FREE copy of Dr Klimenko’s E-book.

Inflammation and " Leaky Brain" Syndrome

Inflammation and Leaky Brain Syndrome

Very commonly I see patients with significant emotional and cognitive problems that last for years. Either long standing problem with focus and concentration or decreasing memory could be the signs of “Leaky Brain” or increased permeability of the blood brain barrier. It is a highly suspected problem especially in people whose symptoms developed later in life.

Our brain is one of the most protected organs in the entire body and also, it is one of the most important one. The blood that brings nutrients to the brain goes through a protective barrier, called blood brain barrier.

This brain barrier ensures that only substances that can provide some type of functional asset to the brain are allowed through and that the brain will be compromised by invasive substances.

Leaky brain syndrome occurs when this blood brain barrier fails to keep out certain substances. This means that harmful substances are able to carry through the walls and find their way into the brain which can change the way that we function every day.

Quite often leaky brain syndrome is related to leaky gut syndrome. Both conditions are caused by the inflammation. The same factors that cause inflammation in the gastro-intestinal tract, like food sensitivity or imbalance of bacteria, may cause the inflammatory processes in the entire body and cause weakness of blood brain barrier. Once this barrier becomes compromised the brain can fall victim to damage from environmental toxins, like heavy metals, bacteria and more. In extreme cases with leaky brain symptoms one can start to experience major neurological or psychiatric conditions like ADD/ADHD, autism, chronic pain, depression and other mental illnesses.

As it’s fairly common to have leaky brain and leaky gut syndrome at the same time, and it is usually a good idea to focus on the treatment of both conditions at once. A specific diet and life style modification leading to decrease exposure to toxic factors must be implemented in the treatment of Leaky Brain syndrome. We often recommend supplement with omega-3 oil, anti-inflammatory botanicals and neurotransmitter support medication.

Feel free to call our office to schedule evaluation and receive adequate functional medicine treatment for your symptoms. To find a certified functional medicine practitioner in your area go to www.functionalmedicine.org

3 Ways You Can Recover from Leaky Gut Syndrome

3 Ways You Can Recover from Leaky Gut Syndrome

Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS), also referred to as increased intestinal permeability, is a condition where the junction between the cells of intestinal wall lining becomes loose. This allows substances from the digestive tract penetrate through the intestinal wall into the blood, therefore bypassing the normal pathway, which is going through the cell. That would not be a problem, except, the substances that end up in the blood stream, like microbes, undigested food particles and even toxins, should never be there. As a result, the intestinal wall gets inflamed and cannot perform it’s important function which is nutrients absorption. Therefore, one can start suffering from malabsorption and malnutrition. We often see it as low levels of common vitamins and minerals in the blood test.

Most commonly LGS may present with symptoms of bloating, gas, stomach aches and food intolerance or sensitivity. The substances that end up in the blood may also set off the beginning of the autoimmune diseases like celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid diseases, like Hashimoto or Graves disease, multiple sclerosis and many others.There is an established link between LGS and some mental symptoms (brain fog, poor memory, intellectual sluggishness) and even psychiatric diseases (attention deficit disorder, depression, anxiety). We often refer to it as “leaky gut = leaky brain”.

Interestingly, Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS) is not a diagnosis necessarily taught in traditional medical school programs so strictly conventional doctors may not acknowledge the existence of this condition. Therefore, they don’t always suspect it in their patients or don’t know how to treat it.However, more and more research data confirm the link between this condition and development of multiple chronic medical conditions, especially related to gastrointestinal diseases such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) like Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

My continued studies after traditional medical education, in alternative science-based medical practice and recent certification in functional medicine have taught me the tremendous effects of a leaky gut on people’s overall health.

The factors contributing to LGS are: stress, alcohol, toxins, some pharmaceuticals meds, poor diet, gut bacterial imbalance (dysbiosis).

Three ways you can recover from Leaky Gut Syndrome are:

Find out if you actually have LGS

Change the way you eat

Learn to deal with stress

Find out if you actually have Leaky Gut Syndrome

First, determine whether you actually have LGS. Find a functional medicine physician in your area who can help you (go to www.functionalmedicine.org). As a result of extensive training in alternative and functional medicine I go beyond traditional methods and take a full health history. I use special laboratory testing to get to the very root of medical problems rather than simply charting symptoms and writing prescriptions to suppress them.

Change the way you eat

During the process of investigating your illness, I can help you establish a new customized diet, which is likely to improve your health, regardless of the final diagnosis. A diet in this sense is not meant to restrict your caloric intake but refers to the types of foods you are eating. Natural and unprocessed foods should be eaten in variety with lots of green leafy vegetables and lean protein as main parts of your food intake. Certain supplements might be recommended that will help to heal the intestinal lining and make the cell junctions tight again.

Learn to deal with stress

Leading a high stress lifestyle will result in greater risk for developing chronic diseases and LGS is one of them. Learning how to deal with stress and identifying stressors in your life will be a part of any treatment plan that will re-balance and heal your body long term.

Gut Dysbiosis

Gut Dysbiosis

Recently a new patient came for a functional medicine consultation complaining of frequent colds. Jonathan was a 35 years old singer with history of frequent colds up to 3-4 times per winter season. The nature of his profession demanded faster recovery to perform, therefore he had no time to recover on his own, so he was treated with multiple antibiotics and steroids courses. Jonathan also had multiple complaints related to digestive symptoms (bloating, heartburn and constipation) and recently he developed skin hives after eating certain foods. Jonathan had classical symptoms of food sensitivity as a result of dysbiosis.

Dysbiosis is a condition that involves imbalance of beneficial and harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract. This imbalance can take place anywhere from mouth to the stomach and further down to small and large intestine. In our practice we diagnose and treat dysbiosis of different areas of gastrointestinal tract. As a result, patients’ chronic medical conditions get better.

Multiple environmental factors such as antibacterial and pharmaceutical medications, pesticides and toxins, unbalance diet lacking of vegetables and healthy proteins and fats are some of the factors affecting our gastrointestinal microbiome. When we host unhealthy microbiome we can experience multiple symptoms outside of the digestive system realm. For example, eczema and asthma are strongly connected to imbalance in the gastrointestinal tract.

Back to Jonathan. Based on his history and symptoms we ordered several tests that revealed candida overgrowth. After appropriate treatment involving  4R program (see our previous blog) and specific diet his digestive symptoms improved and he was no longer sick with upper respiratory infections.

Our gastrointestinal tract is a gate keeper to our health. It is always the first place to start treatment if you have any chronic medical conditions. Feel free to call our office if you have any questions or think you may have dysbiosis.

LGS Leaky Gut Syndrome

Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS)

Leaky Gut Syndrome or LGS, also referred to as intestinal permeability, is a condition where the lining of the intestine walls becomes thinner, allowing toxins, undigested proteins and other substances penetrate through the intestinal wall into the blood, which normally should not occur. As a result, inflammation may occur and symptoms such as bloating, gas, stomach aches, food sensitivity/allergy and other bodily pains may arise.

Though the gut is the largest immune system organ in the human body, conventionally trained doctors not always recognize this condition as a cause of many chronic medical conditions and symptoms.

Dr. Elena Klimenko, a functional medicine physician in New York City, helps patients to identify traditionally unrecognized illnesses, like Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS). She helps her clients to identify and eliminate the causes of variety of chronic medical conditions.

Learn more about her health now through personal evaluation with Dr.Klimenko. Call at 212-696-4325 to make an appointment or address any questions you might have.