As we head into the holiday season with lots of parties, family gatherings and a whole lot more food than our digestive system can tackle at once, people often start carrying Tums with them everywhere. Tums may make you feel better in the immediate moment, but it will slow down digestion significantly and only exacerbate the problem. What if there was a way to stimulate digestion rather than suppress it in those moments?
Tums is intended to stifle the gastric juices in the stomach stopping the symptoms of heartburn. However, it also means that digestion of your food is drastically slowed. Our digestive system works on a series of triggers. Much of the breakdown, motility and absorption of our food is dependent on the stomach reaching a very specific level of acidity. Gastric juices are secreted into the stomach at a level of .8 acidity during digestion to break down the foods and kill any pathogens that might be in the stomach. This high level of acidity is actually what triggers the food in the stomach to be moved down to the duodenum and ultimately down through the small intestine and colon.
If you take Tums, it slows this process down. Meaning, food can’t move to the duodenum in a timely fashion and now it just gets to hang out in your stomach for longer. What does food do when it ‘hangs out’ anywhere in the digestive tract? It ferments. Gnarly. What happens when you then eat another meal and the food from your last meal is still in the stomach? Think of the bulging closet with doors bursting open. Food has to go somewhere so it starts to push back up into the esophagus and pushes down through to the duodenum leading to heartburn and potentially duodenal ulcers. Yikes!
What would be a better way to support digestion in these moments? I know this sounds very counter-intuitive, but in these moments you need MORE stomach acid. The only way to get digestion back on track is by giving your body the tools it would normally use to digest appropriately. Ideally, if you know you are going to be eating a large meal (aka Thanksgiving) then you would support yourself during the meal with some extra Hydrochloric Acid (HCl), but if eating an extra large meal is something you just didn’t plan for, you can also take the extra HCl post-meal.
Everyone’s needed dose of HCl is highly individual, but I typically have people start with 2 tablets of a very low-dose form such as this one (this is a great form as it has some co-factors for digestion built in). If you still find that you have the bloating, gas, and heartburn, you may need to take more. There are also higher dose HCl supplements such as this one if you are finding you need lots of the low-dose form to get the desired effect.
Averse to taking pills? Try some digestive bitters such as these or even a little Apple Cider Vinegar before the meal. These help stimulate your own gastric juices, but may not be enough for some.
Consider having some HCl on hand this holiday season and see if it makes you a little more comfortable and therefore the evenings, a little more enjoyable!
**One caveat, if you are battling chronic heartburn, there may be some intermediate steps needed to allow for healing before introducing an HCl supplement. I recommend getting the support of a professional to address your unique needs.