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Can you stomach acid? Part I by Dr Jon Morley
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Dr Jon Morley

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VITALI Health Centre

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Can You Stomach Acid?

All too often, we hear of someone we know being told they have too much acid in the stomach, and are put on drugs to reduce the acid. Symptoms that took that person to the doctor may include: bloating, indigestion, heartburn, nausea, belching, stomach pain, tummy cramps, flatulence or even stool changes. Very often the symptoms alone result in a prescription of acid reducing drugs, with the advice to return if symptoms don’t settle. Often they don’t, and an examination is arranged to look into the stomach with a camera (gastroscopy). Again, even if an ulcer is not seen, the strength of the prescription gets stronger, some standard dietary advice is given, like avoid rich fatty foods, avoid excessive alcohol and spicy foods, and symptoms may reduce, or even stay the same. Sound familiar?

Your problem may in fact be that you are not secreting enough acid!

Our stomachs are amazing organs: they secret an acid that is strong enough to corrode metal, while at the same time secrete a protective mucous layer that prevents the acid from destroying stomach tissue. The pH within the stomach, on waking with an empty stomach, is incredibly low, similar to pool acid, and yet we don’t even have an experience of that. This is because of the amazing protective properties of the mucous lining. In fact, most of us feel our stomach symptoms after eating and as the day goes by, particularly in the evening or even after we have gone to bed.

The strange paradox is: as food enters our stomach and mixes with the acid, the pH becomes more alkaline and the stomach macerates the food/acid mixture to begin the digestion process. As we add more food and drink to the stomach, the pH rises during the day. So when most of us experience symptoms towards the end of the day, the pH is actually more alkaline than when we woke up. Possibly the reason for symptoms is not too much acid, but an inflamed stomach wall and too little mucous lining to protect it. Now the process of maceration of food mixed with acid merely irritates the stomach lining.

The functions of stomach acid include: keeping a sterile environment within the stomach (reducing growth of potentially harmful bacteria, such as helicobacter pylori, and other fungi and parasites), to initiate the breakdown of proteins and the absorption of certain key nutrients: such as calcium, magnesium, zinc, folic acid, ascorbic acid, beta-carotene and vitaminB12. As stomach acid enters the small intestine it will stimulate the perfectly timed release of the pancreatic and gall bladder enzymes, which help to breakdown starches, fats and fibres. Appropriate acid levels also stimulate the release of bicarbonate in the small intestine, making the liquid environment more alkaline to facilitate further enzyme action here.

So low stomach acid may be linked to many different illnesses, like chronic skin conditions (eg eczema, chronic folliculitis), fungal overgrowths, alcoholism, poor wound healing, various gastrointestinal disturbances such as increased intestinal permeability (‘leaky gut’), food intolerances, and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (‘SIBO’), to name a few.

I think one can see the logic of how, when correct acid levels are reduced in the stomach, a host of normal functions diminish and a range of essential micronutrients may become deficient in the blood, with downstream consequences for optimal health.

Sometimes, using acid reducing drugs to alleviate annoying stomach symptoms may not be the best thing to do in the long run.

In my next article I will discuss what may lower stomach acid, what may cause thinning of the mucous lining of the stomach and subsequent inflammation, how you can determine your stomach acid levels and what we can do to improve the situation. In the meantime, eat less food, eat more mindfully and chew more thoroughly.

READ CAN YOU STOMACH ACID - PART 2 HERE

 
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