Acid and Enzymes for Indigestion: How they can Help

Oct 11, 2021

Indigestion or dyspepsia is a common digestive issue affecting millions of people. It occurs when your stomach does not produce enough acid and digestive enzymes. Fortunately, you can aid digestion by using HCl and enzyme supplements.

Highlights

  • Stomach acid and enzymes are essential for digestion.
  • Impaired digestion results in poor absorption of nutrients, which ultimately leads to many nutrient insufficiencies.
  • Indigestion can result due to inadequate stomach acid, proteolytic and pancreatic enzymes, and bile acid secretion.
  • You can ease indigestion by “replacing” these digestive chemicals with certain products.

Stomach Acid: Function, Deficiency, and How to Increase It

Our stomach contains powerful acid – hydrochloric acid (HCl) – that breaks down food and prepares the breakdown products for further digestion by specific enzymes. Besides, HCl is instrumental in preventing infections, as it kills harmful bacteria.

Two HCl-related health conditions are achlorhydria and hypochlorhydria. In achlorhydria, the stomach does not produce HCl, whereas, in hypochlorhydria, there is a low level of HCl in the gastric juice. Studies estimate that about 1 in 3 older adults have hypochlorhydria.1

Both conditions can severely affect your ability to digest food, causing:

  • Indigestion
  • Reflux
  • Bloating
  • Nutrient deficiencies

Aside from higher age, other causes of low acid levels include stress, heartburn drugs called PPIs, antacids, and surgery.

How to Increase Stomach Acid

Using a betaine HCl supplement with dietary changes is the most commonly used approach to promote digestion. It helps temporarily restore the acidic environment in the stomach.

According to a 2013 study, people with drug-induced hypochlorhydria can temporarily increase stomach acid levels by taking betaine HCl.2 Most notably, the researchers revealed that betaine HCl acted within 4 minutes after intake, and the effect lasted for more than 60 minutes.

Using betaine HCl with pepsin (a protein-digesting enzyme) is likely superior to taking betaine or pepsin alone, reports a 2020 study.3

Enzymes for Digestion: Function, Deficiency, and How to Supplement It

Your body uses enzymes to break down carbohydrates (carbs), fats, and proteins. The main types of enzymes in the human body are:

Amylase

It breaks down carbs or starches into sugar molecules. Having too little amylase can cause diarrhea.

Lipase

Lipase, in association with bile, breaks down fats or oils. Insufficient lipase increases your risk of developing a deficiency of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K).

Protease

Protease splits ingested proteins into amino acids (AA). Besides, it protects the intestines against harmful microorganisms. People with low protease may have allergies or intestinal toxicity. Common proteases are pepsin, trypsin, and chymotrypsin.

Cellulase

Your body needs cellulase to break down dietary fiber into simple molecules. Low cellulase can lead to gas, bloating, non-specific abdominal discomfort, frequent diarrhea with foul-smelling stools, tiredness, or weight loss.

Lactase

Without lactase, your stomach cannot digest lactose, leading to a condition called lactose intolerance. Lactose is a sugar found primarily in milk and dairy products. Symptoms of lactose intolerance, which usually occur from 30 minutes to 2 hours after consuming lactose-containing foods, include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Bloating
  • Gas

How to increase enzymes in the stomach

If you or anyone you love has indigestion, it is best to try an enzyme supplement that contains all the major digestive enzymes in appropriate proportions. Starting supplementation soon after the first symptoms of indigestion is crucial to prevent nutrient deficiencies and food intolerances.

Besides, you may also consider the following tips:

  • Eat foods rich in natural digestive enzymes. Examples include pineapple, papaya, mango, honey, bananas, avocados, and ginger.
  • Eat fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains, fruits, and leafy greens.
  • Drink enough water.
  • Stress is a well-established cause of indigestion and other digestive problems.
  • Chew your food. Digestion begins in the mouth, and chewing helps digestive enzymes work more efficiently.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Use alcohol in moderation and avoid late-night eating.
  • Avoid lying down immediately after eating a heavy meal.
  • Limit fried foods. Instead, eat healthy fats, such as fatty fish, fish oil, soybean and safflower oil, and tofu.

When to Call A Doctor

Most digestive issues are temporary and tend to respond to supplementation. Yet, some may need professional help.

Talk to your doctor if you have:

  • Abdominal discomfort lasting longer than usual
  • Black, tarry stool
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Unintended weight or appetite loss

Resources:

  1. Vitamin B12 Deficiency: Serious Consequences, PharmacyTimes, https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/vitamin-b12-deficiency-serious-consequences. Accessed September 26, 2021.
  2. Yago, Marc R et al. “Gastric reacidification with betaine HCl in healthy volunteers with rabeprazole-induced hypochlorhydria.” Molecular pharmaceutics vol. 10,11 (2013): 4032-7. doi:10.1021/mp4003738.
  3.  Guilliams, Thomas G, and Lindsey E Drake. “Meal-Time Supplementation with Betaine HCl for Functional Hypochlorhydria: What is the Evidence?.” Integrative medicine (Encinitas, Calif.) vol. 19,1 (2020): 32-36.
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