A recent study found regular use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for acid reflux raises the risk of stomach cancer. PPI users (Prilosec, Prevacid) in the study had twice the risk for stomach cancer compared to those who used H2-receptor acid reducing drugs (Tagamet, Pepcid). People with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism may struggle with acid reflux because hypothyroidism is one of the factors that can cause it.
Most people attribute acid reflux to excess stomach acid. However, the problem is too little stomach acid. Why is this important to address when you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism?
The stomach is highly acidic by design so that it can quickly break down foods and kill bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens. Good stomach acidity also helps absorb minerals and signal the rest of the digestive tract to release the necessary hormones, enzymes, and emulsifiers to ensure overall good digestion.
If your stomach acid is low, you are more prone to gut inflammation, infection, and dysfunction, all of which can flare Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Healthy stomach acid is vital to gut repair.
What causes low stomach acid?
Common factors that cause low stomach acid include stress, bacterial infection, poor diet, and nutritional deficiencies. An H. pylori infection, which is linked to stomach ulcers, is the most common cause of low stomach acid.
Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism can contribute to low stomach acid, as stomach function requires healthy thyroid function.
Pernicious anemia and deficiencies in zinc B12, magnesium, or chloride are other things to watch out for.
How low stomach acid causes acid reflux
In order for the small intestine to receive food from the stomach, the contents must be acidic enough to trigger that passage. When this fails to happen, the food shoots back up into the esophagus.
Although the food is not acidic enough for the small intestine, it is too acidic for esophageal tissue, which causes the burning of acid reflux, or heartburn.
This is also a signal of poor digestive function likely playing a role in Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
Why antacids worsen acid reflux in the long run
Acid reducing drugs bring temporary relief but can cause bigger problems later as low stomach acid makes the digestive tract more prone to infection, inflammation, and damage. It’s important to address the underlying cause of low stomach acid when you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and not just mask the symptoms.
How to improve low stomach acid when you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
Managing Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism is one way to improve stomach acid, and vice versa. As we age, stomach acid naturally decreases. You can boost stomach acid by taking a supplement that contains betaine hydrochloric acid (HCl). However, if you have stomach ulcers or stomach autoimmunity (many people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism have pernicious anemia), supplementing with HCl could make you worse. In these situations you need to address the existing condition first.
Ask my office how to correct low stomach acid, safely supplement with HCl, improve overall gut health, and manage Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.