The Stomach in the Digestive Process
I have written in the past about the importance of a healthy gut in the quest to heal endometriosis — considering 80% of the immune system is found in the lining of the intestines.
I’ve written about the importance of healthy gut flora, the role of bile in digestion and immunity and the negative impacts of leaky gut. Today my focus is on the importance of the stomach’s role in the whole digestive process.
I am reading a highly recommended book called the Immune System Recovery Plan by Dr. Susan Blum and she explains the important role of the stomach which is the start to what she terms the “river” of digestion processes.
The contents of the stomach empty into the small intestine and has a major influence in the balance of good bacteria and immune health “downstream”.
Importance of Proper Stomach Acid pH
The important part of the stomach’s role lies primarily in the stomach acid it contains. The pH of this acid should be 1.5, which is very acidic. This very acidic environment kills viruses and bacteria that may be ingested and prevents unwanted infections.
Good bacteria is very tolerant of this acid, while unfriendly flora and yeast are not — therefore it is important to have adequate amounts of stomach acid and a proper pH to keep a proper balance of good bacteria in the small intestine.
The correct pH is also necessary for the absorption of many vitamins and minerals. Calcium and magnesium are unable to absorb in alkaline pH and the absorption of zinc (a key player in the immune system) is also affected.
A very acidic stomach acid also helps food digest quickly so that it moves forwards down the “river” instead of refluxing backward into your esophagus.
Stress, alcohol, H. pylori, aspirin and other medications can all wear away the stomach lining lending way to symptoms of what is commonly known as “heartburn”. Heartburn is caused by a stomach lining that has worn away, making it raw and sensitive to the amount of acid that should be in the stomach.
The common solution to heartburn is to take antacids, which reduce stomach acid — only adding more fuel to the fire.
Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid
Stomach acid is made in special cells in the stomach called parietal cells. If the stomach is constantly irritated then these cells become damaged and produce less acid and less digestive enzymes. Too little stomach acid is called hypochlorhydria.
Low stomach acid impairs digestion of proteins, which provide the body with amino acids that are needed for the creation of immune cells. In order to have enough of these amino acids then the protein needs to digest properly so that it is absorbed in the body. Stomach acid helps activate digestive enzymes so that this happens.
If stomach acid is low then partially digested foods makes its way down to the intestines, contributing to leaky gut.
According to Dr. Blum, signs of low stomach acid include:
- bloating/belching immediately following most meals
- sense of fullness or nausea after eating
- itching around your rectum
- weak/peeling/cracked fingernails
- undigested food in your stool
- dilated capillaries on your face or rosacea
- iron deficiency
- chronic Candida or parasites
- history of multiple food allergies
- acid reflux
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- history of taking proton pump inhibitors, acid blockers or antacids
If you have five or more of these symptoms then you likely have low stomach acid and not enough digestive enzymes. This cartwheels down the digestive track, causing an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the small intestines and lends way to leaky gut, which contributes to auto immune diseases and inflammation (hello endo).
How to Stimulate Stomach Acid
To support low stomach acid naturally Dr. Blum suggests including fermented and cultured foods in the diet (kimichi, sauerkraut and fresh pickles), also including some raw vegetables and sprouted vegetables as they naturally contain enzymes and non-dairy cultured yogurt or kefir, as they contain beneficial bacteria.
To stimulate stomach acid, she suggests taking one TBS of apple cider vinegar or one umeboshi plumb before each meal, especially before large meals that include protein. Ginger, gentian and swedish barks also help stimulate acid production.
In addition, we can also supplement with betaine hydrochloric acid (HCL). Dr. Blum suggests starting with 250-350mg a day while eating – not before. She suggests increasing the dosage each day by one pill until reaching a maximum of eight pills.
If you notice a warmth or discomfort in your stomach right after eating then you’ve reached the maximum dosage. When you notice this, she suggests cutting back one pill next time you eat until you reach a point where you have no more discomfort. The higher amount needed, the more severe the low stomach acid is.
Of note, HCL should not be mixed with any over pain medications – including ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, etc.
On the Positive Side?
I have not taken much consideration into the impacts of low stomach acid on my road to heal my gut, but realize now how important this step is, as it is the start to the whole process. It seems I definitely have symptoms of low stomach acid.
I am pleased to have found that there are natural ways to remedy this and will definitely be incorporating some of these into my eating routine 🙂
Of note, I have found quite a bit of success by supplementing with a blend of digestive enzymes called Vitalzym.
What about you? Do you have signs of low stomach acid? Have you successfully overcome this with the suggestions above, or do you have anything to add? I’d love to hear from you.