Stomach Acid- Why Should I Care?

Have you ever given much thought to stomach acid in relation to health? I hadn't, before my Nutritional Therapy training. You probably think about stomach acid only when you've eaten food that causes a lovely burning sensation in your esophagus. Perhaps your only thought then is how evil your stomach acid must be! 

Did you know that acid reflux and heart burn is caused by too LITTLE stomach acid, not too much? In fact, as much as 90% of Americans don't produce enough Hydrochloric Acid. If your stomach does not produce enough HCl, the food in there will not reach the correct pH to move on to the small intestine.  And if it doesn't move on through the digestive process, then it sits in your stomach for too long and starts to putrefy.  This creates gas that pushes back up into the esophagus.  Even though the food isn't acidic enough to move on through that digestive process, it IS acidic enough to burn on the way back up! 

So if you don't experienced heart burn, why should you care about stomach acid? It actually serves another important function. Stomach acid is your first line of defense against pathogenic microorganisms. When the pH is correct in the stomach, pepsin digests microorganisms such as yeast, bacteria, viruses and parasites.  But if the pH is not correct, these microorganisms can thrive and wreak havoc on the GI tract. Bottom line: stomach acid kills bad bacteria. 

Nerd Alert: This is a great book if you want to nerd out on stomach acid

Nerd Alert: This is a great book if you want to nerd out on stomach acid

Stomach acid also promotes the digestion and absorption of vital nutrients. Iron, copper, zinc, calcium, B12 and folic acid all depend on adequate stomach acid for digestion and absorption (Why Stomach Acid Is Good For You, Wright & Lenard). I could write another blog post entirely comprised of problems caused by nutrient deficiencies-- for example, low levels of vitamin B12 are connected to feelings of depression. In children, poor absorption of B12 is linked to asthma. Even if your diet is full of vitamins and minerals, they are doing you no good if you are not absorbing them.

So how do we help our stomach produce acid? Raw apple cider vinegar taken 30 minutes before each meal can help trigger the stomach's acid production. Lemon water can also help.  If the problem is more severe, HCl supplements may be necessary to really kickstart the body's healing process.  And of course properly chewing your food, and practicing mindful eating will help ease the burden on your stomach in the first place. 

Do you have symptoms that you think may be related to stomach acid production? Feel free to message me if you have any questions or would like more information!