Importance of Stomach Acid by Functional Nutritionist Andrea Nicholson

Importance of Stomach Acid

Stomach acid plays a crucial role in digestive health and our immune system. In this episode, we will discuss the symptoms associated with low stomach acid, the medications that are prescribed to reduce acid, the downsides to reducing acid in the stomach, and strategies for improving stomach acid levels.

Let’s start by discussing the symptoms of low stomach acid. Many people are familiar with the symptoms like heartburn and acid reflux and believe that they have high stomach acid causing these symptoms.  And while that seems perfectly logical…studies have shown that nearly 90% of us actually have low stomach acid. And low stomach acid can not only cause heartburn and acid reflux, but it can also contribute to bloating, gas, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea, and even prevent absorption of nutrients.  Stomach acid also plays a vital role in killing off microbes that enter the body through your mouth.  The acid kills and degrades these microbes, preventing them from infecting you!  

Let’s back up a minute to how low stomach acid can cause heartburn and acid reflux.  Inadequate production of stomach acid can actually lead to heartburn and indigestion because the stomach needs an acidic environment to properly digest food. When there is not enough stomach acid present, the food that is consumed does not get fully broken down. As a result, it sits in the stomach for longer periods of time, causing discomfort and bloating. The valve between the stomach and the small intestine is also triggered by the overall acidic pH of the contents of the stomach.  If there isn’t adequate acid, the pH doesn’t drop enough to signal this valve to open appropriately.  When the undigested food does eventually move into the small intestine, it can cause further digestive issues such as gas, bloating, and cramping. The acid in the stomach also signals to the value between the esophagus and stomach to close, thereby preventing acid and food from backing up.  Without adequate acid, this sphincter muscle stays relaxed, allowing food and acid to back up.  

Now, when it comes to medications that are prescribed to reduce acid, you may have heard of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2 blockers. These medications are commonly prescribed by medical providers to alleviate symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn. However, these medications are merely masking the symptoms if your true underlying cause is low stomach acid to begin with.  Sure, it’s calming the burning sensation, but further lowering the acid is contributing to the problem.  The same is true for any antacid use as well.  All medications come with additional risks and side effects. Long-term use of these medications has been associated with an increased risk of bone fractures, kidney disease, increased risk for serious infections, and nutrient deficiencies.  

So, what can we do to improve stomach acid levels? First, it’s important to eat a nutrient-dense diet to ensure that you have all the building blocks you need to maintain healthy cells, enzymes, hormones, and tissues. This includes protein, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals.  Some key nutrients you need specifically to make stomach acid are zinc, chloride, iron and B vitamins.  Protein is also necessary to stimulate the release of stomach acid, so many vegetarians, vegans, and low protein dieters often have low stomach acid production.  

It’s also important to eat slowly and mindfully, as this allows the body to prepare for digestion. On a small level, drinking warm lemon water or diluted apple cider vinegar before meals can help stimulate stomach acid production.  This may not be adequate in all cases however.  

There are also specific microbes and gut dysfunctions that can contribute to low stomach acid production. Full gut testing and undergoing healing protocols are often needed to repair this system.  
Finally, we can incorporate digestive enzymes and probiotics into our routine. Digestive enzymes can help break down food and improve nutrient absorption, while probiotics can support a healthy gut microbiome, which is crucial for digestive health.

So now you know, stomach acid plays a crucial role in digestive health, and low stomach acid can lead to a host of symptoms that would seem to stem from high stomach acid. While medications may provide temporary relief, they come with their own set of potentially serious downsides. By focusing on a nutrient-dense diet, mindful eating, and incorporating nutritional supplementation, we can support healthy stomach acid levels and improve our overall digestive health.

Are you ready to finally fix your digestive issues, and stop merely masking symptoms? Let’s talk! Schedule a free call with me here.


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