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An old couple walking towards the Seven Sisters in Eastbourne, UK


As we age so many factors can affect the absorption of vital nutrients that we need for daily function and ideal health. One of those known factors is that from around the age of 50 our body starts to produce less stomach acid. Why on earth do we want more stomach acid, doesn’t that cause acid reflux and heartburn? Surprisingly not and it is often the case that low stomach acid is the cause of a myriad of health issues including H. Pylori infection, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), acid reflux and poor vitamin and mineral absorption to name a few.

Studies have shown that approximately 20% of the elderly have an inflammatory condition that damages the cells in the stomach. These cells are responsible for the production of vital stomach acid also known as hydrochloric acid or HCL. If production of stomach acid is low then this can lead to reduced absorption of vitamin B12, iron, calcium and magnesium.

A good level of stomach acid is needed to protect against toxins, pathogens, and to break down proteins during digestion used for repair and growth of cells in the body. HCL is also needed to keep the stomach in a low pH. In fact HCL is as low as 1-2 pH similar to battery acid in a car. So you can imagine how this super protective mechanism in the stomach kills bacteria and toxins that are ingested through food and inhalation.

How does the pH of the stomach affect vitamin and mineral absorption? It is estimated that 10-30% of adults over the age of 50 have difficulty absorbing vitamin B12 from food often due to low stomach acid. The acid is needed to release B12 from food. The main symptoms of low B12 are fatigue, breathlessness, feeling faint, headaches, pale skin and many more. Iron also requires HCL for absorption.

How can I support my levels of stomach acid? Zinc is needed to produce stomach acid and so supplementation may be warranted in those whose diet is not meeting daily requirements.

Betaine HCL supplements and raw apple cider vinegar with the mother can help to stimulate stomach acid in those that are deficient.

Another challenge of aging is a reduced appetite. Unfortunately, this creates a nutritional dilemma. Older adults need to get just as much, if not more, of some nutrients, all while eating less food. Vitamin D is not easy to obtain from food and is more difficult to process through the skin as it thins with age. Fortunately, eating a wide variety of whole foods and supporting with a supplement can help meet nutrient needs.

In the way that we function there are complex chemical and physical processes used by the body to absorb and utilize food, nutrients and water that just don’t function as well when we get older and so supplementation of vitamins and minerals can certainly be warranted as we age to support our overall health.

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