Do you ever wonder what really breaks down the food we eat? It’s not only our teeth, which is a huge part of it, or the enzymes in our saliva that activate as we chew our food, (which is also super key)….It’s the acid in our stomach!
Hydrochloric acid, also known as stomach acid is a crucial component to our digestion because it not only breaks our food down to its smallest particle but it also takes place in the destruction of pathogens, parasites, bad bacteria, and yeasts that we may accidentally ingest.
The digestive system is comprised of many organs such as the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine, the liver, pancreas, and the gallbladder. Each of these organs should maintain a certain level of acidity in order for it to do its job properly.
The stomach should always be in an acidic state because it needs to be able to pulverize food down to its smallest particle, (think of your food turning into a soup). The stomach is where proteins are mainly broken down into essential nutrients. They need to become “soupy” so that its nutrients become absorbed into the bloodstream. Sufficient levels of HCL are important in order to make that process happen.
What causes low-stomach acid production?
Sadly, once we hit our 20s, our digestion already becomes compromised. Our systems naturally secrete less of this acid, less enzymes and gastric juices. This makes the breakdown of our food more difficult, causing low nutrient absorption and making our bodies more susceptible to health conditions.
OTC antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) that are used to “treat” heartburn and other acid-related issues like gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). Antacids and PPI’s intend to stop the production of stomach acid. But why get rid of it when our stomach is already lacking in it to begin with?
Stress plays a huge role in digestion and in the secretion of stomach acid as well. When we are in a stressed state, digestion can either slow down or speed up depending on if you are chronically stressed (slows down equals constipation) or in a short state of distress or nervousness (speeds up equals a run for the toilet). Stress impedes nutrient assimilation and can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and emotional problems such as depression, anger, or low self-esteem.
How do you know if you don’t have enough stomach acid?
One of the main signs of having low stomach acid is actually having HEARTBURN. Believe it or not, the majority of us human beings don’t secrete enough stomach acid because we consume all too much of the Standard American Diet – refined carbohydrates, processed and packaged foods, sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and chocolate. It’s tasty, yes but these foods wreak havoc over our bodies on so many levels. Eating these foods weakens the sphincter that connects the lower esophagus to the stomach, causing gastric juices and undigested food to come up.
Here are some symptoms we may consider “normal” because we are so used to them being in our lives:
Flatulence an hour after eating
Diarrhea (chronic or quickly after eating a meal)
Feeling uncomfortably full
Continual parasitic infections
Foul smelling sweat
Stomach upset after taking vitamins
Strong desire to skip meals
Sleepiness after meals
Stomach pain and distress
Weakened hair, nails, and skin
When these symptoms are left ignored, they can develop to:
Autoimmune diseases like lupus, psoriasis, arthritis, rosacea
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Reduced night vision and macular degeneration
Ways to support natural secretions of stomach acid with foods:
Fresh squeezed lemon juice in a tall glass of warm water first thing in the morning. (Make sure to rinse your mouth with water afterward to prevent the breakdown of tooth enamel)
Fermented, unfiltered raw apple cider vinegar (2 tbsp.) in eight ounces of water, first thing in the morning or 15 minutes before meals
Umeboshe plums or paste, Japanese pickled plums
Pickled ginger, check out how to make it HERE.
Digestive enzymes that include pepsin and pancreatic enzymes
How to test for stomach acid levels:
Heildelberg Lab Test gives accurate and unbiased results. This involves a small capsule with a radio transmitter that records the pH of your stomach as you drink a solution of baking sodium. The pH should be lower that 2, the test shows a graph of your pH levels. You may have to ask your doctor is they offer this test.
Home Assessment: The baking soda test. First thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything, you add 1 teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of 8-10 ounces of water. Next, you’ll want to activate your HCL secretions, so think about a delicious food. What does it look like? What’s it smell like? Try to activate those senses. Wait ten to fifteen minutes. A nice solid burp within that time frame indicates that your stomach has enough acid because that acid is reacting with the baking soda and producing carbon dioxide. Weak burps or zero burping means there is low stomach acid.
Betaine HCL Test: You buy 550 mg of betaine HCL capsules from a natural food store and at the start of dinner, you take one, then the following day you take one at lunch, and one at dinner. The third day, you take one at the start of breakfast, the start of lunch and the start of dinner. You go up until you take two at the start of each meal, if you don’t experience a warming sensation in the stomach area. If you do experience a warming sensation, you go back the dosage of the day before and stay at that dosage for a little while the betaine HCL is building the stomach acid. This is short-term and shouldn’t be done for long-term periods.
References: List of symptoms and home assessments from Andrea Nakayama’s Holistic Nutrition Lab “Why Stomach Acid is Good For You” Jonathan Wright The Whole Journey, Christa Orecchio