Stomach acid plays numerous roles in our bodies. There is a large misunderstanding within our modern society stating that stomach acid is not essential. By taking acid suppressants it negatively impacts the underlying causes of heartburn and acid reflux putting individuals at risk of serious, and even life-threatening, conditions.
When I explain to individuals that acid reflux is caused by not enough stomach acid, rather than too much, the response is often skeptical. Often individuals comment, “If this were the case, then my does my antacid provide relief?”
It is true that antacids help limit the symptoms you are feeling of stomach acid refluxing up into the esophagus. By reducing stomach acid relief can be provided. However, it’s important to realize that any amount of stomach acid in the esophagus is going to cause problems. The delicate esophagus lining isn’t protected against acid like the stomach lining is. And you don’t have to have excess acid in your stomach to have heartburn symptoms.
By just addressing the symptoms of heartburn, the underlying cause of the problem is not addressed. By suppressing the symptoms without improving what is causing the symptom in the first place can continue to make matters worse.
Four main consequences of acid suppressants:
1. Impaired nutrient absorption
Without enough stomach acid, proper chemical reactions necessary to absorb nutrients is impaired, such as iron, B12, folate, calcium and zinc. Over time, this can lead to anemia, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, depression and more.
2. Compromised digestion of protein
Stomach acid is needed to break down protein in order for protein to be absorbed by the body. The secretion of stomach acid prompts the production of pepsin (an enzyme required to digest protein). If stomach acid is suppressed, so are pepsin levels. This suppression limits proteins from being broken down into smaller amino acids and peptides. The result of essential amino acid deficiency may lead to chronic depression, anxiety and insomnia.
3. Increased bacterial overgrowth
Simply put, low stomach acid causes bacterial overgrowth in the stomach and in parts of the intestine. Research has shown that bacterial overgrowth causes carbohydrates to be improperly digested, resulting in the production of gas. It is the increase of gas pressure within the stomach that causes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to inappropriately function. This malfunction of the LES enables stomach acid to enter the esophagus and produce symptoms of heartburn (as shown in the above image).
4. Decreased resistance to infection
The acidic barrier of the stomach easily and quickly kills bacteria and other bugs that enter the body through food, water and other ways. By killing off the unwanted bacteria it helps prevent the bugs from getting down into the intestines and causing an alarm to the immune system. However, if the bacteria are able to by-pass the stomach, the immune system kicks in to defend the intruders. If our immune system is always putting out “fires” that can and should be avoided, then a result is more inflammation and less balance within the body, thus negatively impacting our overall health.
Three of the most common signs of low stomach acid that I see in my practice:
To review, heartburn and acid reflux are not caused by too much stomach acid. Instead, they are caused by too little stomach acid and bacterial overgrowth in the stomach and intestines. It is important to get to the root cause of your heartburn helping to restore the proper production of stomach acid and eliminate the overgrowth of bacteria.
So, where might you begin to improve these areas? One area you can focus on right now is to consume foods that are rich in probiotics. If you haven’t read this yet, here’s a previous post discussing probiotics and ways to add these good bugs into your day.
To learn more about how to address your individual health concerns, contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation answering any questions you have regarding your health situation and how I can help you reach your health goals.
Here’s to a healthy stomach, thus a healthier you!
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Hello, my name is Stacy Peterson, licensed Functional Nutritionist and Holistic Health, Wellness and Strength & Conditioning Coach with a MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine practicing whole-foods nutrition and physical training to individuals around the globe.
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