When we talk about stomach acid, most people think about unpleasant things such as acid reflux and heartburn. But what if stomach acid is actually our friend?
We need a fair bit of stomach acid to function properly, but many people never understand it’s job in the body. Low stomach acid can lead to a host of problems, including the dreaded heartburn.
Let’s listen to our heart(burn) and take a look at the important role stomach acid plays in digestion.
The Role of Stomach Acid
According to gut and digestive health nutritionist Caroline Peyton there are several reasons our body needs stomach acid.
- Pathogens - stomach acid neutralizes harmful pathogens (yeast, bacteria, etc.) preventing infections. Without enough acid these pathogens can cause imbalances in your gut resulting in symptoms of food poisoning and upsetting your gut flora.
- Digesting protein - acid is needed to break down the protein that we consume. It activates pepsin, which is an enzyme needed to break down protein molecules.
- Chyme - after the food is broken down and mixed with the stomach acid it turns into a type of gruel called “chyme.” This chyme will then pass into the small intestines where it triggers the release of more digestive secretions.
- Enzymes - stomach acid signals the pancreas to release important digestive enzymes.
- Absorption - acid is needed to turn our food into digestible simple sugars, amino acids and fatty acids. This can’t be done without the proper amount of stomach acid.
- Vitamins and Minerals - acid releases vitamin B12 from food and allows it to be absorbed. It also is responsible for the ionization of minerals (iron, zinc, calcium and magnesium).
- Sphincters - Acid is necessary to close the lower esophageal sphincter. This is important to prevent the acid from passing up the esophagus. It also aids the pyloric sphincter, allowing 'chyme' to pass into the small intestines.
Signs That You Need More Stomach Acid
So now that you know the crucial role stomach acid plays in digestion, how do you know if you have enough.
To start with, look at your bowels. Most foods should break down completely in your digestive system. If you see pieces of food in your stools (other than perhaps corn), it may mean that your digestion isn’t thorough.
You may want to talk with your doctor about doing a simple test to see if a little more acid would benefit your digestion. Take a spoonful of lemon juice mixed with a little water before each meal. Then limit the amount of water you have during the meal, so that you don’t dilute the acid.
Notice if you feel any difference in your digestion, bowels, and watch for any improvement to levels of heartburn.
If you continue dealing with uncomfortable symptoms like heartburn, Gerd, or acid reflux, check out Dr. Hymans article “3 Simple Steps to Eliminate Heartburn and Acid Reflux.”
What About Antacids?
As always, feel free to schedule an appointment to discuss some natural methods to tackle this issue.