What is it, what is it role is in digestion, why does it matter, and how it may be causing problems for you? More importantly – what can you do about it?!
Stomach Acid is Responsible For:
- Proper digestion in the stomach
- Signaling to the pancreas to release digestive enzymes when food moves from the stomach to the small intestine
- A barrier to help kill off unwanted pathogens like bacteria, parasites, mold, candida, and viruses
Stomach acid is hydrochloric acid, sometimes you’ll see it as HCl. It gets secreted into the stomach when you eat food. Very simple. It helps start breaking down things like proteins in the stomach.
When it gets released into the stomach, acid sends a signal to other digestive organs further down in your digestive tract, like the pancreas and gallbladder, so they can release the necessary enzymes and products that are essential to digesting and absorbing your food.
If your stomach acid is low, and you are not releasing the signal to the rest of your digestive system, you now find yourself with an issue in the stomach (with digesting) and in the small intestine (with digesting and possibly the growth of unwanted pathogens).
How to Tell if You Have Low Stomach Acid:
How do you know if you have low stomach acid? One of the first signs is that you have heartburn. I know, that doesn’t seem intuitive. It seems like if you have heartburn or acid reflux, then you have too much stomach acid. So, you go to your doctor complaining of heartburn or acid reflux and they prescribe you a PPI (acid blocking medication). Maybe they tell you to take Tums. However, it’s likely that is going to “work” for a short time, then you’ll return to the same symptoms…or worse.
The symptoms of low and high stomach acid, are the same. If you’ve been on an acid suppressing prescription medication for a long time…it’s time to start considering that perhaps your stomach acid is compromised.
This is not SUPER scientific but it will give you an idea to go off of. Here’s what you’ll do:
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 4-6 oz of water (just enough to mix the baking soda in)
- First thing in the morning, drink the water/baking soda mixture
- Time yourself to see how long it takes for you to produce a burp:
- < 3 minutes = sign of good stomach acid
- 3-5 minutes = potential sign of low stomach acid
- > 5 minutes or no burp at all = sign of low stomach acid
I recommend doing this for 3 days in a row.
Causes of Low Stomach Acid and How to Respond:
- Stress – consider some extra support during times of stress in the form of digestive enzymes or a little HCL (work with someone on this)
- H.Pylori infection – this is a bacterial infection that lives in the stomach and causes a suppression of acid. Get a stool test to determine if this is part of the issue for you – there are very impactful herbal protocols to kill H.Pylori
- PPI medications / Tums – if you’ve been using this for a long time, you might consider asking your doctor to help you taper off of your medication. DGL is an herb that is often used in tandem with tapering off of long term PPI use and can be incredibly soothing and protective while you search for some root causes. You can find DGL here in my Digestion and Gut Health dispensary.
- Fight or Flight – this state will impair digestion and literally move energy and resources AWAY from digestion (because your brain perceives that you are in danger and your energy can better used elsewhere). A quick moment to take a few deep breaths can quite literally move you into “rest and digest” mode.