I’m so excited! The Body Sass® Cleanse Group Program opens for registration in just 15 days, on Tuesday August 25th. Woo-hooooo! This powerful program will be at your service again this September—running from Sep. 11 – Oct. 1—and will immediately be followed by the 28toGreat® (Intermittent Fasting plus Food Sass®) Group Program running Oct. 2 – Oct. 29. Registrations open on Tuesday, Aug. 25th, so mark your calendar, and I’ll keep you updated and in-the-know!
While we wait for all of that fabulousness, let’s check out topic numero 3 in our three-part exploration about ACID. Part One found us uncovering what’s behind the hoopla around lemon water. In Part Two we explored apple cider vinegar, and today we’re all about stomach acid. Why is stomach acid important? Why-oh-why do so many people suffer from acid reflux? Are acid reflux medications safe? And more. This is a juicy topic, so hang on to your seat, and LET’s GO.
Why is stomach acid important?
Stomach acid is muy importante! Its official name is hydrochloric acid (HCl) and is secreted (along with a compound called intrinsic factor) by special-agent cells in our stomach called parietal cells. These cells maintain the necessary acid pH of our stomach environment and these cells respond to specific triggers that tell them to bring on more acid when we eat, allowing us to properly to digest our food. But there’s more.
In addition to breaking down food into smaller molecules, stomach acid is essential in some other key areas. It triggers other actions in the stomach, like the release of pepsin and intrinsic factor, which further assist digestion by splitting apart protein molecules and liberating B12 from food, respectively. HCl prompts our small intestine to release the necessary enzymes to absorb nutrients, and it’s our first line of defense to kill ingested pathenogens like yeast, parasites and bacteria (including bad boys like H. pylori, E. coli, salmonella). Wow!
Also worth mentioning is that proper levels of stomach acid help to close our lower esophageal sphincter (the flap at the end of our esophagus as it dumps into the stomach) and to open the pyloric sphincter which allows the partially digested food to move from our stomach into the small intestine, and to not stay too long in said stomach. See what I mean about HCl being important? This is actually the short list of HCl tasks; it has a SERIOUS job description.
So…why is stomach acid important? Because if we don’t have enough of it, we become malnourished, our body is more vulnerable to infection, we develop food allergies and our sphincters don’t close and open properly, making digestion a big, uncomfortable mess.
The Plot Thickens.
As we age, a special bonus (dripping with sarcasm) is that the release of stomach acid secretions starts to decline. Meanwhile, one of the top physical effects of chronic stress (very common in middle age) is….drum roll….(you guessed it!)….reduced digestive function, including HCl production.
These factors can hinder the many jobs of HCl that we explored above, and then some. Even just mechanically, things go amuck: the upper sphincter doesn’t close as well, allowing stomach acid to burble into our sensitive esophagus; AND the lower sphincter doesn’t open as well, holding food in the stomach where—especially without enough stomach acid—it can start to, well…sortof ferment, causing gas.
This means that the gathering gas can then help even more acidy liquid bubble into the esophagus past the only-partially-closed esophageal sphincter. Sound familiar? ACID REFLUX and GERD. Because so many people suffer from the discomfort of these conditions—an estimated 30% in America—acid-reducing drugs are one of the top ten prescribed drugs in the world.
So. The plot thickens:
- What we think is a problem of too much stomach acid, is most often a problem of NOT ENOUGH STOMACH ACID, largely induced by age and unmanaged chronic stress. Studies have shown this to be true 90% of the time in cases of acid reflux!
- Once we take an acid-reducing drug, on top of already having low stomach acid, we now have little to no stomach acid. Which, of course, means that we no longer feel uncomfortable when stuff burbles up into our esophagus because all of the life-preserving stomach acid is gonzo. With acid-inhibiting drugs, the symptom improves, but our health worsens.
Once again in my work of functional medicine and foundational health, I see that a symptom is not a cause, nor is it a disease.
The Plot Saddens.
In truth, we may experience less discomfort, on those drugs (less burning), but there is a series of unfortunate things coming to roost in our sweet bod, including:
- Improper digestion of protein, the building block of the body
- Incomplete digestion of carbohydrates, the energy molecule of the body
- Improper assimilation of nutrients such as iron, folate, calcium, zinc and B12
- Lowered immunity
- Gas, burping and stomach bloating
- You may end up being diagnosed with another condition called gastroparesis, which means delayed stomach emptying. This is often largely due to that lower sphincter not opening properly to empty into the intestines, because stomach acid is too low!
- Increased bacteria and yeast entering the intestines
- Lowered stomach acid can lead to SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) and ulcers
- Improper digestion in the upper part of our GI (gastrointestinal) tract can lead to disruption on the other end, if you know what I mean.
- Increased potential for anemia, autoimmune conditions, cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression, and more.
- Studies have shown that people move into osteoporosis within a year of being on anti-acid meds, as they are not assimilating and absorbing calcium and magnesium properly. Further, in a vicious cycle twist…without proper B12, other B vitamins, and minerals, we have less ability to make stomach acid!
Basically, proper digestion is really super important because it’s how we receive nourishment, protect ourselves and maintain proper immunity. If we’re not properly nourished, a lot more than the sad story above can happen, because all of the systems and organs of the body are affected. As such, when I work with clients on healing digestive function, it’s amazing what I hear. Things like:
- My energy is ginormous!
- I’m finally losing excess weight
- I’m sleeping better
- My pants button again (no bloating!)
- I’m no longer constipated
- My IBS has improved
- My mind is sharper
- Eating is fun again
How to Heal
The solution in most cases of acid reflux is to bring MORE acid into the stomach (typically via careful and intentional use of supplements), evolve food choices for healing, adopt lasting habits for managing stress, and restore the healthy mucosal lining in our small intestine. Results are often relatively quick, but it’s a tricky job to boost the acid WHILE not flaring the discomfort in an already-raw esophagus. This is best done under the care of a knowledgeable, whole-person practitioner who can stay in lock-step with you while you heal.
If nothing else, know this: we need stomach acid. It’s essential to our health on many levels. Proper digestion of nutrient-dense foods provides us with everything we need to heal and thrive! And you CAN heal acid reflux and GERD; they are an imbalance, not a disease.
Create Vibrant Health: BodyMindSpirit®
With love and happy digestion,