Digestive Insufficiency

Jonathan Borba Bljpkyjulq4 Unsplash

There’s a lot that needs to happen to digest your food. First, you need to chew it properly, then you rely on the acid in your stomach, the enzymes from your pancreas and the bile made in the liver to break it down. 

A deficiency in stomach acid, bile or pancreatic enzymes can lead to maldigestion of your food. That means it isn’t broken down properly and you can’t extract as much of the nutrition from your food. 

We see this at Shift all the time. It’s very common to see a patient displaying multiple signs of nutrient deficiency yet their diet is full of amazing wholefoods that should provide them with everything they need! 


There are some clues that you may be low in your digestive acids and enzymes. Here are some clues to look out for. 

PANCREATIC insufficiency means you won’t be able to digest carbohydrates, proteins and fats as well. This can lead to bloating, indigestion, excessive gas production and sometimes burping. 

BILE insufficiency leads to the inability to digest fats. You may feel queasy or bloated after a fatty or rich meal. Your stools may float out of the water and are usually lighter in colour since bile gives your stool that dark brown look. 

STOMACH ACID insufficiency or hypochlorhydria leads to the maldigestion of proteins and minerals. Partially digested proteins can then ferment and putrefy in the intestine, leading to bloating and wind (often smelly).  We commonly see patients with low zinc and iron in this situation. Since zinc is a key factor in the production of stomach acid, this can be a vicious cycle (low zinc, can’t make acid, so cant digest zinc)


STRESS is the number one cause of a reduced production of enzymes and acids. When we are stressed we’re in a ‘fight and flight’ state, which reduces our digestive system function and leads to maldigestion. 

NUTRIENT DEFICIENCIES can also lead to a reduction in what we need to make these compounds. For example you need zinc to make hydrochloric acid and you need choline and taurine to make bile. 

LIVER DYSFUNCTION can lead to a decrease in the production of bile. This could be caused by inflammation due to a virus or hepatitis, alcoholism or a heavy level of toxicity. 


You can upregulate your production of bile, stomach acid and pancreatic enzymes by eating a diet rich in bitter and sour foods, which stimulate the release. Apple cider vinegar is a well known remedy to help to up your stomach acid. 

Managing stress and eating slowly and mindfully, smelling your food and savouring the flavours can also help.

Lastly, there are many herbal medicines that are helpful to regulate stomach acid, improve bile flow (cholagogues) and improve pancreatic output. You may need to see a naturopath to help support your natural digestive function and get back on track to healing this important part of your body. 

For more on this, listen to episode 3 of The Shift Podcast with Katherine Maslen

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