By Heather Tallman Ruhm, M.D.
Contrary to TV images of fire-breathing monsters burning holes in the esophagus after a late night pizza or stressful workday, stomach acid is not the enemy. It is one of our body’s most important and misunderstood resources. As we age it declines; under stress it is impaired; drugs and refined foods deplete it further. Many illnesses result from low stomach acid, even the famous “GERD” or acid reflux. How?
An acidic environment helps digest food in the stomach. In a low acid environment:
Undigested food stagnates in the stomach → pathogenic organisms grow → fats become rancid, proteins putrefy, carbs ferment → gas creates pressure and nerve irritation → a one-way valve between the esophagus and stomach gets lax → liquid regurgitates → heartburn or inflammation results → people take acid blockers (such as proton pump inhibitors) to stop acid’s natural production→ acid lowers further.
Reflux symptoms may be temporarily relieved with the elimination of acid, but at what cost? Here is an abbreviated list of the many benefits of good stomach acid:
It is a first line of defense against invading organisms (and infection); it allows vitamin B12 absorption for nerves and key biochemical pathways; it breaks down proteins to build enzymes, hormones, and other vital tissues.
It prompts the liver to release bile to digest fats (including omegas) to build and repair your bones, brains and cell membranes and keeps the liver and gallbladder filtering and flushing toxins, lowering inflammation and supporting the retention of critically important minerals for teeth and bones.
It prompts the pancreas to release enzymes to digest important nutrients and to release bicarbonate - which neutralizes acidity (as does bile from the liver) - so that food particles can be further assimilated by the small intestine.
Despite its vital role in our health, stomach acid continues to be maligned by the media, medical establishment, and pharmaceutical companies who make millions off of pills to eliminate it. Even newborn babies are prescribed acid blockers. When you understand stomach acid’s health benefits, you see why sustainable medicine works with not against it. For more insight and a list of diseases related to low stomach acid read Dr. Jonathon Wright’s book, Why Stomach Acid is Good for You.
Now, slow down → smell your food → chew it well → enlist the support of a practitioner who appreciates your body’s natural physiology → consider high quality supplements or other lifestyle changes (here are a few that could be helpful):
GI repair - probiotics, DGL, marshmallow root, glutamine, aloe, slippery elm
Stomach acid – sip water with lemon or apple cider vinegar or bitters
Digestive support - digestive enzymes, betaine HCl, pepsin
Then, relax → enjoy the food that your body was designed to eat → Bon Appetite!