Digestion and Stomach Acid

The digestive system is responsible for providing the body with energy and nutrients. The digestive organs break down food into small nutrient molecules that are used to supply the body's energy needs, and also absorb the raw materials that are required for growth and repair. Mechanical digestion, such as chewing, breaks down food by physical action; chemical digestion uses digesting agents called enzymes to break down food particles even further, which occurs throughout the system - even in the mouth.

Stomach Acid Imbalance, Indigestion & Home Test
The condition of both low and excess stomach acid is highly uncomfortable and irritating. 

The digestive system secretes enzymes, intrinsic factors and gastric acids - necessary for proper digestion of food in the stomach to break down and digest the food we consume. Gastric acids consist of hydrochloric acid, sodium chloride, potassium chloride and protein-digesting enzyme pepsin, with a pH of 1-2 in the lumen of the stomach. Secretion is induced by the smell, sight or the feel of food in the mouth. The stomach, gallbladder, and pancreas work together as a team to perform the majority of the digestion of food.

When the secretion of gastric acid increases or decreases in the stomach it leads to various stomach-related problems - resulting in discomfort, burning sensation, gastric ulcers and basic gastritis. Only about 1 in 10 people with acid problems actually do have too much stomach acid – the rest actually has insufficient stomach acids (hypochlorydia) or a different problem altogether such as a food intolerance.

Causes
One of the primary causes for stomach acid problems is the deficiency of vitamins and minerals needed for acid production and absorption. Poor dietary habits and malnutrition cause nutrient deficiency in our body.
Stress - even in children, Adrenal fatigue, excessive alcohol, sugar and substance consumption also hinder the cells that produce gastric acids, while stress also contributes in decreasing or increasing the production of gastric acid.
Presence of bacteria; Helicobacter pylori inhibits the stomach ability to produce appropriate amounts of gastric juices - acids, often leading to conditions such as acid reflux problems. Advancing age is also one of the causes for acid-related problems. HCl production decreases with age and the production capacity of a 50 year old individual is only one-fourth as compared to that of a 20 year old individual.

Most people have difficulty digesting food not because of too much stomach acid, as we've been led to believe, but due to decreased stomach acid.

Insufficiency of stomach acid leads to indigestion, leaving food undigested in the stomach, where bacteria and other micro-organisms start to grow. This imbalance can hinder your body's ability to absorb nutrients, even if you eating healthy foods.

Long-term deficiency of nutrients can cause more serious health issues, mostly arising from weak immune system. All other symptoms that are associated with low stomach acid arise due to the presence of undigested foods in the stomach.

Symptoms include:
bloating, belching, burning and flatulence after meals, a feeling of fullness even after eating little or nothing, upset stomach; coupled with indigestion (diarrhea or constipation). Heartburn and/or gastric relux (sometimes too much HCL but most often not enough), bad breath, foul smelling stools, loose stools in the early morning, acne in adults, rosacea (dialated blood vessles on the cheeks and nose), pernicious anemia or iron deficiency, anal itching, nausea especially after taking vitamins and minerals, bacterial dysbiosis or infections in the gut, parasites - or at least increased susceptibility to parasitic infections, chronic yeast infections, asthma, food intolerance and allergy, fatigue. Another common symptom of poor digestion is vertical ridges in the nails, or nails which tend to split, peel or break easily.

The Baking Soda - Stomach Acid Home Test
While it is best to have low stomach acid diagnosed by a health care provider, a simple home test can help identify this condition. The purpose of this test is to give a rough indication as to whether your stomach is producing adequate amounts of hydrochloric acid. This test works by drinking baking soda and creating a chemical reaction in your stomach - between the baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and hydrochloric acid (HCL). The result is burping caused by the produced ‘carbon dioxide’ gas.
Ingesting baking soda is an old school natural home remedy for upset stomachs. Many people choose to try this test first because it’s very safe, low cost and you can do it straight away if it’s in the cupboard.

It is recommend performing the test 3 consecutive mornings - before putting anything in your mouth - to find an average.

1. Mix 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda in ½ glass of water (4-6 ounces) first thing in the morning.
2. Drink the baking soda solution.
3. Time how long it takes you to belch. Time up to five minutes (5-15).
If you have not belched within five minutes stop timing.

In theory, if your stomach is producing adequate amounts of stomach acid you’ll likely belch within two to three minutes. (Though, note, that early and repeated belching or burps can occur from swallowing air when drinking the solution). Any belching, little or no belching - after 3-5 minutes suggests a low acid level. Because the time frames can vary from person-to-person, as well as how they drink the solution, this test is only a good indicator that you might want to do more testing to determine your stomach acid.

I have low stomach acid now what?
Untreated acidity problems can lead to stomach lining damage or gastric ulcers. Try to reduce the levels of stress and eating ‘on the go’. Eat small meals frequently and chew well. Make sure you include foods that are high in complex carbohydrates – avoiding sugar and white flour products. Drink plenty of water and fresh juices. Avoid: oily and stale food, alcohol and other carbonated drinks.

In the short term, you can supplement your acid levels to allow the rest of the digestive process to work properly. Natural supplements include apple cider vinegar and digestive bitters.
Centaurium (A.Vogel) rebalances stomach acid - evens it out if it’s too acidic or not acidic enough; and makes sure enzymes needed to digest protein properly are produced (helpful: acid reflux, hiatus hernia, and indigestion of upper digestive tract). Yarrow Complex reduces bloating – bubbling and boiling sensations from foods that didn’t ‘agree’. Most people experience these symptoms when their diet revolves around wheat, cheese and coffee. Yarrow Complex reduces inflammation from irritating foods and calms spasms (good for general indigestion, bloating, wind, food intolerances). Cynara (Milkthistle) improves the way the liver handles fat –helping that fats are being digested more efficiently, so you are less likely to get bloated. Aiding in good bowel movement and low cholesterol. (good for: tendency to constipation, difficulty loosing weight, high cholesterol and chalky coloured stools).
Silicea Liquid calms inflammation and painful digestive tract by instantly putting a buffering layer over the gut lining – actively reducing inflammation and help heal any damage to the gut wall (great for acid reflux, gastritis and diarrhoea).

Some people may need to supplement with Betaine HCL as a replacement for the low acid. Over time Betaine HCL will retrain your stomach to get to the correct pH levels. Long-term you may need to work on finding the root cause problem and taper off the supplements. But until then, Betaine HCL supplementation is a safe way to have great digestion and make sure your getting the nutrients you need from you foods. An indicator if Betaine HCL is right for you is when you feel nothing when taking it after a meal – and that your stomach is probably not producing enough hydrochloric acid. A normal response to taking Betaine HCL is a feeling of warmth in the stomach.

This information is provided for general guidance only and should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice. If you are concerned about any aspect of your health you should contact a health care professional, your GP or visit http://www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk

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