The importance of stomach acid in digestion can’t be overstated.
Stomach acid is where the action gets interesting in digestion. When your body is producing hydrochloric acid like it should, you’re setting the stage to make the most of what you eat and feel great in the process.
A stomach that functions well is able to maintain an optimal pH of 1.5 to 3. In between meals little stomach acid is secreted, but once the body is stimulated by food, the secretions increase. Food goes in at about a neutral pH of 7 and that raises the stomach pH a bit so the cells lining the stomach keep pumping the acid out to get it back to the lower range.
Stomach acid is an important player in your immune system since it provides a defense against bacteria. Most of these unfriendly critters just can’t live long in an environment that is highly acid. While this isn’t going to guarantee you’ll never catch a bug, it’s a worthwhile ally to cultivate.
Stomach acid is also critically important in the digestion and absorption of some parts of proteins, minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, and calcium, as well as vitamins B12 and folic acid. If you don’t produce enough hydrochloric acid, your stomach also won’t be triggered to release enough pepsin. Pepsin is a protein digesting enzyme. If your body produces insufficient amounts you can end up with essential amino acid deficiencies, even if you are eating plenty of protein. Long term deficiencies in amino acids like phenylalanine and tryptophan could lead to chronic depression, insomnia, or anxiety.
Low stomach acid is linked with a host of diseases and according to the book, Why Stomach Acid is Good for You by Jonathan V. Wright, M.D. and Lane Lenard Ph.D., low stomach acid can be a cause or factor in the following conditions:
- Addison’s disease
- Allergic reactions
- Celiac disease
- Childhood asthma
- Chronic autoimmune hepatitis
- Gallbladder disease
- Graves’ disease
- Macular degeneration
- Multiple sclerosis
- Myasthenia gravis
- Pernicious anemia
- Polymyalgia rheumatica
- Reynaud’s syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Type 1 diabetes (juvenile)
- Ulcerative colitis
If you or a loved one suffer from any of the above I highly suggest that you read the book to learn more detailed information to discuss with your health care provider!
Anyone who wants to make sure that they are encouraging optimal stomach acid secretions can try consuming a small amount of something bitter prior to eating. This can be a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar, lemon juice mixed with a tiny bit of water, bitter herbs like ginger and dandelion, or traditional Swedish bitters. It is very important that you taste the bitterness – don’t just toss it down your throat. The bitter taste on your tongue is what alerts your brain that more digestive secretions are needed.
A common misconception about stomach acid is that when you make too much of it you get heartburn. In the vast majority of cases heartburn is actually caused by too little stomach acid. Since heartburn is suffered by so many people, my next post will be specific to this issue.