Digestion. It’s a process that, let’s be honest, few people ever think about (unless they’re suffering, of course). You can’t see it, although you can sometimes feel it, hear it and smell it if your digestion is off-balance (or you eat a lot of gassy foods). Besides that, however, most people barely give their digestion a second thought.
For millions of Americans, though, digestion is a constant problem. From feeling like there’s a lump of clay in your belly to acid reflux, IBS, persistent indigestion, and more, these unhappy folks suffer from symptoms caused by a digestive system that’s out of balance.
If that’s you, and you’re looking for a way to restore your digestive system and reduce or eliminate the symptoms you’re suffering, today’s blog is for you. We’re going to take a close look at digestive enzymes and HCL (hydrochloric acid) to determine which of the two is better at helping relieve your gastric grumbling. If that sounds like the info you need today, read on!
What Is HCL?
The main component of gastric acid (i.e., stomach acid), HCL, is an aqueous (water-based) solution made up of hydrogen chloride gas. Amazingly, HCL is very toxic outside of the human body but, inside, it’s one of the main substances used to break down the food we eat.
Indeed, HCL is made naturally in the stomach, which has a lining impervious (mostly) to the acidic stuff. HCL is also why, when you vomit, it burns your throat and mouth. The fact is, HCL is a highly corrosive acid. It’s used daily in many industries and is one of the primary ingredients used to make PVC plastic.
That’s why HCL is so good at breaking down food into its essential ingredients; it’s highly corrosive! Not only does it do that, however, but also:
- Eliminates bacteria and viruses.
- Protects the body from infection.
- Allows the body to absorb vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.
When a person has low levels of HCL, a condition known as hypochlorhydria, all sorts of health problems can occur. They include:
- Thyroid problems
- Pernicious anemia
- Chronic autoimmune disorders
Fun fact; during the Roman Empire, when vomitoriums were a thing, the ruling class would eat like pigs and, when they were full, force themselves to throw up so that they could keep eating. (Thus, the need for a place to vomit and catch up with friends!) The problem was, the HCL in their stomach would often ruin the enamel on their teeth, leaving them with a mouthful of decaying choppers.
What are Digestive Enzymes?
Digestive enzymes are very different from HCL. First off, they can’t burn your skin or ruin your enamel, thankfully. Also, you’ll find digestive enzymes in several other parts of your body, not just the stomach. They include the:
You’ll also find digestive enzymes in several different foods, including honey, mangoes, bananas, papaya, avocado, and a few other fruits. Also, fermented foods like sauerkraut and cabbage are infused with digestive enzymes when the fermentation process occurs.
As you might’ve guessed from the name, digestive enzymes are involved in digestion and, like HCL, break down food so that the nutrients inside can be used by the body. There are several different types of enzymes that target specific nutrients for breaking down. For example:
- Amylase. This digestive enzyme handles breaking down carbohydrates and starches.
- Protease. Proteins are broken down in the digestive system by this digestive enzyme.
- Lactase. This enzyme has the job of breaking down lactose or milk sugar.
- Lipase. When your body needs to break down fat, lipase takes care of it.
Without sufficient digestive enzymes in your digestive system, your body can’t digest food well enough to keep you healthy. That can cause all sorts of different symptoms, including diarrhea, gas, stomach aches, and others. (Many of them can be rather painful also.)
Today, many people suffer from lactose intolerance, which is the inability of the small intestine to break down lactose or milk sugar. The reason for this is an insufficient supply of the enzyme lactase. With lactose intolerance, dairy products skip the absorption process in the intestines and go directly to the colon, which is not good. That’s because, when they do, they often combine with bacteria to cause all sorts of uncomfortable symptoms.
Proper Digestion Demands Both HCL and Digestive Enzymes
Here’s the thing; HCL and digestive enzymes are both vital for the digestive process. Both of them break down food and food proteins, which prevents the immune system from targeting those proteins and causing unpleasant symptoms and health conditions.
If your body lacks one, or both, of these vital substances, you can supplement them to reestablish a sound digestive system and reduce any symptoms you might be experiencing.
Supplementing with HCL
One standard solution for low stomach acid is supplementing with betaine hydrochloride. It’s highly recommended, however, that you seek out the advice of a nutritionist or medical professional before supplementing. Depending on your symptoms, you might need a small amount of HCL or a more significant amount. Not knowing what the correct dosage is could end up being counterproductive.
Supplementing with Digestive Enzymes
One important thing to keep in mind when supplementing with digestive enzymes is that they don’t work like vitamins. You can’t take them whenever you want and expect them to work because they’re digestive catalysts. That means, to work correctly, they need something to break down. If there’s no food in your stomach, they’re not going to do much of anything.
Interestingly, you should take some digestive supplements while eating while others are better taken after you’ve finished. Whatever the case, however, you should take them very close to mealtime to work correctly. Nutritionists recommend taking a high-quality, broad-spectrum digestive enzyme that includes pepsin, bromelain, and proteases.
Also, do keep in mind that, in place of supplementation, you could eat more of the foods we mentioned (above) to increase the digestive enzymes in your system.
HCL and Acid Reflux
Doctors and nutritionists have found that low levels of HCL can cause acid reflux, which technically would mean that more is needed, not less. However, many people with acid reflux are prescribed acid blockers to cut down stomach acid, which is 100% counterproductive.
Instead, most people with acid reflux actually need to increase the amount of HCL they have in their stomachs. Also, if you’re suffering from poor digestion due to low HCL levels, digestive enzyme production in your body will be negatively affected, especially in the pancreas.
HCL and digestive enzymes are wildly different substances that perform a similar function; breaking down the food you eat so that your body can absorb the vital nutrients therein.
If you suffer from digestive issues like IBS, acid reflux, and other conditions, supplementing with HCL and digestive enzymes is highly recommended. Both are relatively safe to supplement with very few side effects although a conversation with a nutritionist before starting is an excellent idea. It’s also a great idea to increase the number and variety of foods you eat that have high levels of digestive enzymes.