I’ve been absolutely obsessed about putting this insomnia puzzle together and recently I’ve discovered a huge clue to solving this entire riddle – low stomach acid, aka hypochloridia. It appears that low stomach acid can be a main culprit behind a number of health issues like adrenal fatigue, food sensitivities, sluggish liver and of course those soul crushing sleepless nights.
In my case it probably all started with stress and H-Pylori infection but I’m not 100% sure because this could be the “chicken or egg first?” situation. I’ve shared my struggles with H Pylory and the natural cure in my other blog post. One thing that I’m certain of is that behind both the H Pylori and Low Stomach Acid hides the beast called stress. In my case it was low grade, extended, hardly noticeable stress that accompanied me for years over years.
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The Stress, Nervous System and Digestion Connection
Many people are fine dealing with sporadic stress; our CNS is designed to cope with this. Problem is, there are certain body types like mine (think Vata in Ayurveda who are tall, slender, quick on their feet, always in a hurry, and easily excitable) to whom extended low grade stress will slowly wreak havoc on the nervous system. Certain gene mutations like COMT are said to also contribute to dominance of sympathetic nervous system. This type of person will find it hard to relax, chill and allow the parasympathetic side to catch up.
This is all bad news for our digestion process. Evolution has programmed us to do certain things very well: eat, chill, reproduce and also endure stress, fight and grow strong to survive the elements. Problem is, all of this can not take place at the same time as it does in our age.
When we stress the body mobilizes its resources for the flight or fight stage and one of the first things that is turned off to consume energy is…. digestion. Research shows that prolonged stress will reduce our stomach acid. Once hypochloridia sets in the real ‘fun’ starts. As Dr. Jockers explains:
Low stomach acid creates a vicious cycle of poor digestion, chronic gut inflammation, microbial overgrowth, leaky gut, elevated stress hormones and lowered nutrient absorption.
What happens is we do not absorb our food -> we do not get the proper nutrients even if we eat super healthy – > blood becomes acidic – > start lacking the basic nutrients to produce the digestive juices (stomach acid) -> even more bad digestion -> food is left undigested in our intestines causing ammonia build-up and inflammation invoking an immune response -> draws upon your cortisol levels from adrenals -> leading to sluggish liver (liver is overburdened by processing too much waste which was left behind by poor digestion) -> leading to fatigue, high ammonia and yes – INSOMNIA.
Other Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid
Besides insomnia, there are many other symptoms associated with low stomach acid:
- Heartburn (see my note below)
- Indigestion, diarrhea, or constipation
- Undigested food in stools
- Leaky gut
- Liver issues
- Various food allergies
- Mineral deficiencies
- Chronic fatigue as well as ‘Adrenal fatigue’
- Various autoimmune diseases.
Symptoms can be very diverse, this is why untangling all this becomes such a headache! If you are only treat insomnia with supplements – it back fires (only trying to suppress a fire); if you only treat adrenal fatigue – it back fires because liver is already overburdened (fire spreads elsewhere), if you just try to treat the liver it backfires too (like trying to put out fire with a vacuum.) Stimulating the liver to detox is like churning out trash faster but you’ll be pulling on other overburdened systems like your kidneys, heart and so on.
Ever wake up hot from 1-3am? This could be your liver working overtime and producing lots of heat. Wake up hot again between 3-5am? Yep this is your immune system going crazy from inflammation over-driving your adrenals and so on.
To add insult to the injury, if your condition was left mismanaged for years it may lead to imbalanced gut flora, SIBO, candida, H Pylori, and other pathogenic bacteria deep in your digestive system which makes the entire situation a real SNAFU. Or perhaps, just perhaps some of these pathogens are the reason why your downward spiral started in the first place. What a mess, isn’t it!? But I’m thinking that perhaps before solving this riddle we should first and foremost tackle the source: stress and low stomach acid.
Restoring Stomach Acid is Somewhat an Art
There are many good articles online on how to restore your stomach acid and I’ll share with you what I’m doing.
- Taking CBD oil to dial down my sympathetic nervous system. Two months into it I’m sleeping much better. I still wake up from my liver and adrenal issues so my struggles are not over.
- Doing daily QiGong for more energy and stamina. Even before CBD, QiGong has brought immense changes to my overall stress response.
- Taking Betaine HCL with Pepsin with heavier meals, especially protein. This relieves my stomach from producing more acid and takes the burden of the liver. Not a magic cure by all means.
- Drinking celery juice every morning. This has been surprisingly effective at keeping me warmer during the day and improving overall digestion. I couldn’t recommend more trying this yourself. Just juice celery, drink a glass on empty stomach in the morning and see what it does for you. It is supposed to help flush toxins, help the liver and provide essential nutrients for your body to produce more stomach acid. (Some also use add other veggies, fruit and ginger but I can not for various reasons.)
- Very light cardio to stir up your blood circulation and metabolism. I take walks or use a water rower machine at home. Loving it.
NOTE: if you feel you have high stomach acid and your doctor has prescribed you acid reducing meds (like Lansoprazole, Nexium, Protonix, Prilosec, Prevacid) he could be doing you a huge disservice. There are many practitioners who claim that 80% of symptoms like heartburn are actually caused by LOW levels of stomach acid, not high. If you have not been diagnosed with excessive acid production and do not have ulcers you may want to discuss this with a good doc and look into adding additional acid like Betaine HCL and see how you do. Many report this “counter intuitive” move makes their condition much better.
Simple Low Stomach Acid test at Home
If you want to confirm low stomach acid you could try this simple test:
- Mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in 4-6 ounces of cold water first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything.
- Drink the soda decoction.
- Time how long it takes you to burp.
- If you have not burped within five minutes, stop timing.
The theory behind this test is that stomach acid will react with highly alkaline baking soda and produce gases. If your stomach is producing enough of stomach acid you’ll likely burp within two to three minutes. Early and repeated belching may be due to excessive stomach acid (just be careful and don’t mistake small burps caused by swallowing air when drinking the decoction). Any burping after 3 minutes indicates a low acid level.
If you want to try a more sophisticated test then look up the Heidelberg Test. It is considered to be the gold standard medical test for low stomach acid and can be much more precise.
Importance of Pancreatic Enzymes
While stomach is a starting point of digestion process (our mouths, to be more precise) the duodenum is where all the rest of the action happens. The stomach signals the pancreas to secrete its digestive juices into the duodenum. If your pancreas is experiencing any issues you’re going to have serious problems with digestion again. This is why doing a bit more research whether supplementing with pancreatic enzymes could be of benefit will pay big dividends for you.
Your sleep depends on good digestion and your digestion depends on adequate stomach acid and healthy liver among other things. If you do confirm low stomach acid with the test you might look into ways to reduce your stress (rest and digest) and help out your body with Betaine HCL, celery juice in the morning and pancreatic enzymes.
The wise ones say that all of our organs are systematically connected. A stress on one organ is stress on all organs. If you give your stomach, pancreas and liver a break your entire body should feel way more at ease. Please come back and let me know how you do.