Low Stomach Acid and Autoimmunity

Parietal cells are found in the stomach and have 2 very important jobs. First, parietal cells make stomach acid that breaks up a cheeseburger, French fries or a beautiful salad.  This acid is extremely important at helping with digestive motility, breakdown of food to facilitate absorption of nutrients and even helps to prevent reflux of food into the esophagus by communicating to the band between the stomach and esophagus to stay closed during digestion. Secondly, parietal cells secrete a glycoprotein called intrinsic factor that allows for absorption of B12 in the small intestine.

There is a known autoimmune condition, when the body attacks its own healthy tissue, that targets parietal cells. Autoimmune reactions create what is called antibodies, which can be measured through blood testing. Antibodies against parietal cells are more commonly found the people who already have an existing autoimmune disease. Specifically, individuals with autoimmune conditions including type one diabetes, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and vitiligo have been found to possesses these antibodies up to 40% of the time! A simple blood test can tell you if you are making these antibodies against your parietal cells and compromising the acidity of your stomach and reduces the secretion of intrinsic factor.

What to do about it?

If you already have an autoimmune condition you are likely aware of anti-inflammatory diet strategies, stress reduction techniques and supplements that support your condition.  When it comes to addressing anti-parietal cell antibodies, there are two key things shown to reduce these antibodies, thus reducing the attack on the cells.

  1. Test for any imbalances in the microbiome (healthy bacteria.) Specifically, H. Pylori, an infection that resides in the stomach, more often found in those individuals with positive anti-parietal cell antibodies.
  2. Therapeutic doses of B12 has been demonstrated to decrease the antibodies via oral supplementation or injection.

In naturopathic medicine we aim to treat the cause of illness. With so many people on stomach acid reducing medications, poor lifestyle choices and digestive infections, low stomach acid and b12 deficiency has become the norm. Removing these stomach acid reducing factors can help improve proper parietal cell activity.

Many people may have low stomach acid, not absorb nutrients effectively as well possibly having symptoms like acid reflux when actually they have an additional autoimmune disease that is being overlooked. If you suffer from gas, bloating or reflux, have low nutrient levels including B12 or have an existing autoimmune disease, anti-parietal cell antibody testing might be worth investigating.

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