Benefits of Stomach Acid For Health
our stomach helps to break down food using two different fluids, hydrochloric acid (HCl) and the enzyme pepsin. This process is known as digestion. The environment of our stomachs consists mainly of high concentrations of HCl (approximately 1M HCl).
That’s right, the harsh acidic conditions in which enzymes work best to break down carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. In this article, we’ll see how stomach acid can be a good thing in the context of our overall health.
Stomach acid is required for proper digestion:
The role of stomach acid is critical for proper digestion and providing us with the necessary nutrition from the foods we eat. Hydrochloric acid is a very corrosive and alkaline compound that’s produced and secreted by our stomachs. It acts as a catalyst for the enzyme pepsin, which helps us to digest proteins.
Without adequate levels of HCl in our stomachs, we would not be able to properly break down food or absorb nutrients from the foods we eat. This would lead to a poor state of health where we would not be able to absorb sufficient vitamins and minerals.
In fact, the pH inside of our stomachs is so low that it’s considered one of the most acidic places in the human body! Our stomachs are designed to maximize enzyme activity on foods eaten which is achieved by having an environment with a pH of 1-2. Compare this to the rest of our bodies, which have an average pH of around 7.4.
Hydrochloric acid is important for maintaining optimal levels of stomach bacteria
Although hydrochloric acid in high concentrations can be caustic and harmful if not regulated properly, it’s an essential compound in our stomachs that works to protect us from pathogens and parasites that we ingest with our food.
The acidic conditions in the stomach are inhospitable to most bacteria, which causes any bacteria that may be ingested along with food to be killed off. This acidity level is only enough to kill dangerous microorganisms found in raw or undercooked animal foods, it is not strong enough to kill off the bacteria in our own bodies.
Our stomachs have a large population of beneficial bacteria that help us digest proteins and ferment carbohydrates. We need these good guys to keep the bad guys at bay! A small portion of harmful pathogens can survive in low pH conditions, but this causes no harm because once they leave the stomach and enter the small intestine (a more alkaline environment), they will be killed off by the bile salts secreted by our liver.
Stomach acid is important for healthy digestion valves between our stomach and intestines:
Oftentimes, indigestion, heartburn, nausea, and reflux can be attributed to problems such as low stomach acid production and low pH. When we don’t produce enough hydrochloric acid, food will tend to spend more time in our stomach leading to symptoms such as nausea and heartburn.
This is because the valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach (known as the lower esophageal sphincter or LES valve for short) opens to let food enter the stomach and closes once it is done.
Once the valve begins to relax, partially digested food from our stomachs will begin to reflux into our esophagus due to gravity. By increasing HCl production in our stomachs, we improve the function of this LES valve, preventing future symptoms from occurring.
The production of stomach acid can decrease as we age:
As we get older, our body produces less and less hydrochloric acid in the stomach. This is one of the main reasons why many elderly individuals experience more problems such as heartburn, indigestion, and low nutrient absorption. These issues often require prescription medications that further reduce the amount of hydrochloric acid our stomachs produce.
These medications can reduce or fully block HCl production, which results in a very alkaline environment within the stomach. This is important to note because low pH conditions can allow potential pathogens such as parasites and fungi to survive. In fact, research has shown that people who regularly take these medications have a higher risk of being infected by these fungi and parasites.
The best way to ensure that we have optimal levels of stomach acid is to eat enough dietary fat, take digestive enzymes that contain HCl, and reduce the stress in our lives. Low stomach acid production can be due to chronic stress from daily life as well as poor nutrient absorption from the foods we eat.
When our digestive enzymes don’t contain HCl, food spends more time in the stomach which can lead to symptoms such as nausea and heartburn. Reduce stress through deep breathing exercises, yoga, laughing with friends, or other relaxation methods that work well for you.
Be sure to include enough dietary fat in your diet to ensure optimal digestion. Fat is required for the production of digestive hormones. When we are deficient in dietary fat, our body will produce less hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes (lipase) which slows down the rate at which food is digested.
Make sure to supplement with a high-quality digestive enzyme that contains HCl if you don’t eat enough dietary fat or have a history of taking prescription medications that reduce stomach acid production.
Finally, if you suffer from indigestion, heartburn, nausea, and/or frequent gas after eating a meal rich in protein and fat you most likely have low stomach acid production. Try the tips listed above to improve digestive function and monitor your symptoms over a two-week period.
If you find that your symptoms improve while adding more dietary fat and taking a digestive enzyme that contains HCl, then you likely have poor stomach acid production. If not, try looking at other causes of indigestion such as candida overgrowth, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or leaky gut.
symptoms of high stomach acid:
When stomach acid levels are imbalanced, a variety of symptoms can occur. Low stomach acid is usually the result of stress on the digestive system and a lack of intrinsic factors from a vitamin B12 deficiency, but high stomach acidity can be caused by bloating and belching as well as an overproduction of gastric juices.
Symptoms of low stomach acid:
– bloating and flatulence after meals
Symptoms of high stomach acid:
– Feeling as if food is getting stuck in the esophagus.
“Most people with these symptoms do not have too much stomach acid; they have too little.” according to Dr. Wright in his book Why Stomach Acid is Good For You. On the other hand, when stomach acid levels are higher than normal people report symptoms like:
– feeling food stuck in throat or esophagus (regurgitation or GERD)
– heartburn (excessive reflux of stomach contents to mouth)
– belching, bloating, or flatulence after meals
Although too little or too much stomach acid can cause similar symptoms they are not the same. If you have any of these symptoms it is best to see a health care practitioner and get your stomach acid levels balanced.
Symptoms like heartburn and regurgitation (food going back up into the esophagus) are often treated with proton-pump inhibitors, which reduce acid production in the stomach. The problem is that these drugs also alter bicarbonate levels in the intestines, which can lead to intestinal pH changes over time.
Finally, there are now several studies indicating that higher than normal acid levels are correlated with enhanced immune system function.
Preventive measures for high stomach acid:
– cut back on coffee, carbonated drinks, and alcohol
– eat smaller meals more often
– reduce or eliminate certain medications like NSAIDs (anti-inflammatory drugs), aspirin, and other painkillers which can damage the intestinal lining leading to acid increased
– increased intake of green vegetables which contain magnesium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C that are important for the synthesis of acid in the stomach.
Symptoms like reflux or heartburn can be reduced by taking probiotics, drinking ginger tea, eating yogurt with live cultures, using apple cider vinegar as a salad dressing, avoiding tomatoes and spicy foods, and reducing overall intake of fatty foods.
Symptoms like belching or bloating can be reduced by chewing more thoroughly before swallowing, exercising after meals, consuming small amounts of food at a time, avoiding carbonated drinks and alcohol altogether, not eating just before going to bed, and by taking digestive enzymes which improve the absorption of food in the stomach.
However, before using medications like antacids it is important to check with your doctor whether they are compatible with any medical conditions you might have or if medication interactions could occur with any drugs you are already consuming.
Although most people can cope well with either high or low stomach acid, for some people this condition causes major discomfort and disruption to their daily life. In those cases, it is always best to seek medical advice as soon as possible.
how to increase stomach acid naturally:
– Consume apple cider vinegar (mixed in water) before meals.
– Take digestive enzymes after every meal to increase the effectiveness of stomach acids and resolve any food allergies or intolerances you might have.
– Consume bone broth throughout the day and add a tablespoon in your individual smoothies.
– Reduce intake of dairy.
– Consume fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, and pickles which are rich in enzymes for breaking down proteins.
– Reduce intake of high carbohydrate diets low in carbohydrates because these will not permit the proper release of stomach acids necessary for digestion.
– Replace coffee with organic green tea to reduce excess stomach acid.
– Consume small amounts of food throughout the day, limiting your intake to two major meals at least three hours apart.
– Chew foods properly and thoroughly before swallowing to improve digestion and reduce heartburn symptoms.
– Get regular daily exercise to keep bowel movements regular and prevent constipation, which can increase stomach acid.
– Record your food intake in a food journal to identify possible food allergies or intolerances that could be causing you discomfort.
– Get adequate rest and sleep each night which is necessary for the proper function of all body systems especially the digestive system.