Stomach acid, too much or is it actually too little – How stress may be the culprit and how you can have better digestion naturally
Heartburn, acid reflux, GERD, we assume that too much acid production is the problem, here we will break down what is actually happening in the body, what can be the causes and how to heal digestion naturally!
Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, affects approximately 20-30% of the population weekly! This results in over the counter ant-acids, prescribed acid blocker medications and NSAIS’s being taken regularly, causing a vicious acid cycle and not healing or even addressing the root issue.
It makes sense to us if we experience heartburn (stomach acid reaching the esophagus and causes burning) that if we take ant-acids (a stomach acid neutralizer) the pain goes away. So it is easy to assume that high levels of stomach acid causes heartburn. But this is untrue and actually causes a vicious acid cycle…
How low stomach acid actually causes heartburn
Naturally when you begin to chew a meal your body begins secreting stomach acid (HCL), digestive enzymes, bile and more to adequately digest the upcoming meal. Now there is one important structure you need to know, when talking about heartburn or GERD, that is the esophageal sphincter. This is the valve that allows food to enter the stomach from the esophagus, and then shuts to prevent food and stomach acid from coming up into the unprotected esophagus. This sphincter is an involuntary muscle – meaning a muscle that contracts without conscious control. Go ahead right now and try to contract your esophageal sphincter, no matter how hard you try, you cannot close or open this sphincter on your own sheer will. This valve is controlled by the presence of stomach acid (HCL). When there is no stomach acid present it remains open, once stomach acid is secreted this sphincter closes.
Where things go wrong are when the body doesn’t produce enough hydrochloric acid. The sphincter doesn’t get the message to close, or only partially closes, leaving a space for acid to splash or spill up into the esophagus causing pain and burning. This is why they symptoms often get worse when in a laying down position.
Typically this is when many people take an ant-acid, acid blocking medication or NSAID’s. While this will help with the instant pain, it unfortunately causes a a vicious cycle; the less stomach acid you produce the less chance the esophageal sphincter will get the signal to close, to more acid reflux pain you will be in.
The key, as unorthodox as it sounds is to help the body produce more stomach acid. This will signal the valve to close, insuring no acid will splash into the esophagus, as well as aid in proper digestion and absorption of nutrients.
How can you promote more stomach acid?
Through your diet:
- 1-2 tbs of freshly squeezed lemon juice or Apple Cider Vinegar, first thing in the morning and before each meal (can be diluted in 1/4 cup of luke warm water) – Bitter foods will stimulate the production of HCL. Swedish or Angostura bitters are also a great option.
- Restrict drinking water or liquids within 45 minutes before or after meals. Water dilutes the stomach acid and digestive enzymes in the stomach. Keep in mind bitter digestives as mentioned above as well as IPA beer or wine will assist in digestion!
- Chew your foods – chewing is one of the most important steps in digestion. The act of chewing stimulates the production of all digestive secretions in the body, triggers peristalsis, the movement of the intestines that move food through and continue to help with regular bowel movements and obviously is the first and very crucial step in the breakdown of meals.
- Avoid processed and refined foods void of life and nutrients and eat a whole foods diet, rich in fruits and vegetables that contain live enzymes that will assist in digestion and overall health. Add in supportive herbs and spices like ginger, fennel, cinnamon, garlic, cayenne that will help stimulate digestion an bring energy and blood flow to the digestive system.
- Betaine HCL capsule or Full Spectrum Digestive enzyme with HCL capsule – taken with each meal to support stomach acid production and complete digestion of all macronutrients.
- If needed, use calmative herbs like slippery elm and dyglycerized licorice to sooth and coat digestive lining.
If you aren’t sure if this is the cause of your heartburn you can do the Betaine HCL test at home to determine – Click here for the simple instructions to our DIY Stomach Acid Level Test
The Stress Connection
Many see the connection of stress and stomach acid as that stress causes an increased production of acid – which is physiologically incorrect.
Stomach acid production goes down with stress!
Stress puts your body into fight or flight mode, shunting blood away from digestion and towards organs and tissues which help the body survive. This was a needed evolutionary trait thousands of years ago, but in our current society, stress is a daily occurrence for many people. Ongoing stress reduces not only stomach acid production but the secretion of ALL digestive enzymes and gastric juices.
This is why it is important to heal the digestive system and encourage more acid production but also be mindful of the stressors in our lives, taking time away from work, technologies and other distractions around meal times and practice relaxation exercises regularly!
In holistic nutrition we look at the body as a whole system and how each system relates to optimal health instead of looking at symptoms and treating those as isolated issues.One of my passions is working with clients to heal the digestive system as I believe it is the first point of contact to everything we put in our bodies good and bad, and what feeds all our other tissues and organs. If our digestive system is working properly we have clearer minds, glowing skin, feel more vitality, our immune system is functioning properly and we are less likely to develop disease!
Digestive System Reboot: Whether you are dealing with heartburn, acid reflux, bloating, cramping, and other IBS symptoms. Leaky gut and allergies, skin issues or weight gain – this is a chance to take a comprehensive analysis of your digestive system to determine what is the underlying root issue – then step by step through diet and natural supplementation recommendations reboot, soothe and heal the digestive system.
Click here to learn more: Digestive System Reboot