Last updated February 11, 2019 by Lisa Richards, CNC

Just How Important Is Your Stomach Acid?

Heartburn

Do you suffer from heartburn, or believe you have excess stomach acid? Do you regularly take over the counter remedies like antacids to relieve that burning feeling?

If so, you should take a moment to consider what the underlying problem might be. You might be surprised to learn that many cases of heartburn are caused not by an excess of stomach acid, but by a lack of it.

Everything that your body does is for a reason. The acidic environment in your stomach performs several important roles that are truly vital for good digestive health and wellbeing. That heartburn is a sign of imbalances in your digestive tract. Taking an antacid may relieve your short-term symptoms, but it might not fix the long-term imbalance. Antacids may even contribute to other problems. For example, an acidic environment in your stomach and intestines is one of your first lines of defense against pathogens like Candida.

You have probably heard terms like heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) used interchangeably. There are actually some differences between what they mean.

Acid reflux is the term for acid leaking or splashing from your stomach up into your esophagus (the tube between your stomach and throat). Heartburn is the name for the burning sensation that you typically experience when this happens. And GERD is the condition where acid reflux happens regularly, or chronically.

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The most important thing to know is that heartburn, acid reflux and GERD can all be caused by low stomach acid. If this is the case, acid reducing drugs like antacids could actually be making your heartburn worse, not better.

Where Does Stomach Acid Come From?

Stomach acid doesn’t just come from one source. The gastric glands in your stomach produce hydrochloric acid, which forms the main part of your stomach acid. The foods and medications you consume also contribute to the overall pH. Further down your digestive tract, probiotic bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus produce lactic acid to maintain an acidic environment in your intestines.

Isn’t all this acid bad for your stomach lining? Actually, no. Although the pH of the stomach is a very acidic 1.5 to 3.0, your stomach lining has a special trick that prevents it from being damaged. A dense layer of mucous and epithelial cells produces an alkaloid solution that counteracts the gastric acid. By the time your stomach fluids reach the stomach lining, they are far less acidic.

What’s The Point Of Stomach Acid?

Why do we need this extremely acidic and potentially harmful substance in our stomachs? It’s tempting to think that we’d be better off without gastric acid, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Stomach acid performs several vitally important roles. Here are just a few of them.

  • Begins the process of breaking down proteins in your food, by activating the enzyme pepsin
  • Aids your immune system, by inhibiting the growth of pathogenic organisms that you might have consumed
  • Lowers the pH of your food until it is ready to be passed on to the small intestine

As you can see, stomach acid is a vital component of your digestive system and your immune system.

Low stomach acid doesn’t just cause acid reflux and heartburn. It can also contribute to chronic disease and imbalances in many other parts of your body.

Insufficient stomach acid can prevent you from digesting your foods properly. This means that undigested food is passes on to your intestines. The presence of this undigested food in your intestines can cause ulcers, damage the intestinal lining, and lead to blooms of undesirable microorganisms like Candida overgrowth or SIBO.

If this condition of low acidity is serious enough, it can cause a protein deficiency. Then, your body will start looking for other sources of protein like from the surfaces of your joints. As the joints suffer, there is the possibility of this eventually leading to arthritis. In fact, multiple studies have found low stomach acid in individuals suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.

Lastly, a lack of stomach acid can interfere with the passage of food from your stomach to small intestine. In a healthy digestive system, the pH of the food in your stomach is lowered until a point where it is allowed to drop into the intestines. An unhealthy pH can slow this process, leading to slow digestion and contributing to bloating after meals.

What Happens When You Get Heartburn And Acid Reflux?

It is commonly believed heartburn is caused by an excess of gastric acid in the stomach. The theory goes that when there is too much acid, it backs up and creates that burning sensation in the esophagus. This is often not the case. Here is another explanation for what might be happening.

The stomach possesses two valves, one at the top and at the bottom. The valve at the top opens both ways, while the one at the bottom only opens one way. The lower valve opens when your food becomes acidic enough to pass on to the small intestine. If this doesn’t happen quickly enough, pressure can build up in the stomach. And there is only one direction in which the pressure can be reduced – upwards.

That’s how stomach acid can end up splashing up into your esophagus. Not because stomach acid is too high, but because it is too low and it is preventing food from passing through your stomach in a timely manner.

How To Fix Low Stomach Acid

Restoring the correct acidity to your intestines will come more easily when you follow an effective anti-Candida diet. By cutting out processed and refined foods, eliminating added sugars and restricting fruit, you should start to see improvements in your digestion. Within a few days of starting the diet, your gut pH should be much closer to the optimal level of acidity, allowing your recovery to begin.

However, depending on your age and health, your body may need a little extra assistance. Even with the best diet, we all lose stomach acid production as we age. Sometimes we simply need to replace what we’re losing due to this aging process. That’s where supplements like Betaine HCl can be very useful, to supplement the stomach acid that you are already producing.

Other measures might include changing your eating habits to chew more, and not rushing your meals. Eliminating antacid medication is a great step to take, as it may be making your symptoms worse in the long term. Instead, use supplements that will support your body’s own digestive processes, like digestive bitters, Betaine HCl, digestive enzymes, and apple cider vinegar.

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Comments

  1. Meg says:

    This email came to me just as I finished sending an email to my doctor asking why he’s making me take hydrochloric acid and if that’s even safe. Your post was perfect and easy to understand! It answered everything probably better than he’s going to.

    1. Lisa Richards says:

      Awesome 🙂

  2. Peter Downer says:

    If this article is true (and it certainly sounds plausible), why do gastroenterologists prescribe drugs such as proton pump inhibitors for GORD? Surely they understand the biology better than anyone? They argue that the upper stomach sphincter is the last muscle in the body to develop (hence many babies get reflux in the first weeks/months of life) and the first to deteriorate. They prescribe acid-inhibiting drugs to reduce the damage to the oesophagus (symptomatic relief only). They say the only true ‘fix’ is to re-build the upper sphincter. Where is the peer-reviewed, published scientific evidence to back up your claims?

    1. Lisa Richards says:

      If someone really does have damage to the lower esophageal sphincter, then antacids or PPIs are certainly an option to relieve their symptoms. However, often heartburn and GERD symptoms are caused by simple dietary imbalances and low stomach acid. If this is the case, then antacids and PPIs can actually compound the problem.

  3. Barbara Grimsley says:

    Can you tell me if PERFECT FLORA will help with Gerds. I was taking it but I thought Perfect Biotics were better for me. Can I take both?

    1. Lisa Richards says:

      Hi Barbara. Different people do well with different probiotics. Both should help you and, if you don’t mind the expense, there’s no real reason not to take them at the same time.

  4. Happiness says:

    Please, which medicine can one use to cure candida and acid reflux?

    1. Lisa Richards says:

      The key is restoring the correct balance in your digestive system. For a long term cure, it’s not just one ‘magic bullet’ unfortunately…

  5. Gail Snyder says:

    I had stomach cancer and they removed my stomach. I have so many problems and I’m wondering if I have an over growrth of Candida.

    1. Lisa Richards says:

      Hi Gail, I’m sorry to hear that. I’m sure that would certainly alter the environment in your intestines, and possibly leave them open to dysbiosis of some kind. Have you asked your doctor about probiotics?

  6. Nicole Buelow says:

    I’ve only really had acid reflux/heartburn a handful of times and it was with my first pregnancy 20 years. I just finished my first week of the diet and I’m in constant pain with heartburn. Could the drink have damaged something? I also am losing my appetite. Thought? Suggestions? Thank you!

    1. Ted says:

      Is it the cayenne pepper? You can just leave that out if you need.

  7. Casey Hoffman says:

    Hi Lisa I have been reading about this subject for days and started your diet. But something is confusing me. You are saying you can have lemons and limes which are acidic but cause alkaline conditions in the intestines. Yet you don’t want the intestines to be alkaline because candida thrives in the fungal form in alkaline conditions. Also you have alkalizing vegetables on the diet. But you don’t want the intestines to be alkaline correct? As I understand it, many acidic foods cause alkalinity further down the line, and alkaline foods cause acidity. Vinegar is confusing me as well because I would assume it causes alkalinity in the intestine. But Apple cider vinegar also alkalizes. And that is OK. I did read your article on Candida and pH. But I am still confused. Can you elaborate a little bit? Please!

    1. Lisa Richards says:

      Hi Casey, ideally we want alkaline body tissues and acidic conditions in our intestines. The diet and treatment plan, including the probiotics, all promote this. Don’t get too fixated on one or two food items – it’s the overall plan that counts 🙂

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