How often do you hear that someone is suffering from low stomach acid? Hardly ever I would guess. Yet most holistic practitioners would suggest that low stomach acid was far more common than high stomach acid. So why are so many people in the UK taking some form of antacids, whether over the counter or by prescription?
There is a lot of natural variation of the pH within the stomach depending on whether we have eaten or not, our age and our general health. pH ranges from 1-2 with an empty stomach and up to 4-5 after food. Hydrochloric acid (HCl) is secreted in response to food ingestion and this environment also triggers other digestive responses at the same time. The stomach’s acidic environment also protects us against orally ingested pathogens and prevents bacterial and fungal overgrowth in the small intestines.
Some foods pass easily from the stomach into the small intestines while others take longer but a general rule of thumb is that food should pass through within approximately 4 ½ hours. If stomach acid is low however this can take considerably longer so food sits there backing up. This means that we eat the next meal without the previous meal having left the stomach and this often results in burping, feeling full quickly, heartburn, bloating, reflux etc. This is exactly when we reach out for some form of medication instead of looking at the root cause.
Candida and yeast infections also flourish when stomach acid is low. Food is passed into the small intestine without it being properly broken down so the bacteria here has something to feed on and multiply.
Symptoms often lessen when we eat a healthy diet full of vegetables and good quality foods and this is because the stomach, and the body itself, begins to react positively to a more natural way of eating. Probiotics, along with naturally fermented foods, are also very important for balancing the gut flora which in turn helps improve the body’s immunity. Some take a supplement of Betaine HCl with Pepsin along with other digestive support and don’t underestimate the negative effect stress plays on our health so consider your schedule and factor in regular relaxation times.
If you have upper digestive discomfort and you think stomach acid is the problem then it is worth digging a little deeper to find the cause rather than masking the symptoms. It is not uncommon to find that symptoms are related to the Helicobacter pylori infection (more information in the blog below) and/or a hiatus hernia, where the upper part of the stomach pushes upwards and into the oesophagus, and again more information below. Some chronic health conditions are correlated to low acid i.e. asthma, gallstones and allergies for example so by taking antacids we are reducing our acid levels even further.
There is a lot we can do to help ourselves before we begin taking medication so do your own research and/or visit a holistic practitioner in your area to find out more.
Please note: If you are taking medication from your GP then please do not stop or alter this without discussing it with him/her first.