What happens when food reaches our stomach? A couple of weeks ago, we published a blog discussing Assimilation and the Digestive System, briefly examining each stage of the digestive system. We mentioned that after chewing and swallowing, our food then reaches our stomach. But what happens next?

What Gets Digested in the Stomach?

Not everything is digested in the stomach – in fact, it’s mostly protein that’s broken down here. First, the acid content will break down the protein into its amino acid components which will, in turn, be broken down further with the help of digestive enzymes.

If we are lacking in any of these, our body’s ability to digest protein will be impaired. What’s more, if this undigested protein travels further in the digestive system and into the small intestine in this form, it will cause more issues later on. We’ll describe what happens in the small intestine in a different blog but, for now, let’s concentrate on digestion in the stomach.

Many people suffer from acid reflux and try to solve this problem by taking antacids, sometimes following the recommendation of a doctor and other times deciding on their own to take these to try and combat symptoms they’re experiencing. Antacids are all known as proton pump inhibitors and can actually exacerbate the problems in this part of the digestive system. But before we get into that, let’s first look at what acid reflux actually is.

What is Acid Reflux?

Acid Reflux is an issue that occurs when stomach acid flows back into the food pipe, causing a burning pain in the lower chest more commonly known as ‘heartburn’. Treating this problem with antacids presumes that we have too much acidity in our stomach. But it’s not quite so simple as this.

Why Antacids Don’t Work

There should be no acid in the food pipe – but having it there doesn’t necessarily mean there’s too much acid present. Instead, it may just mean that there’s something that’s pushing the acid up and out of the stomach and into the food-pipe.

In other words, acid in the food-pipe doesn’t necessarily mean that we have too much acid in the stomach – on the contrary, it could actually mean we don’t have enough.

As mentioned before, stomach acid breaks down proteins. If we don’t have enough of this, proteins will sit in the stomach undigested – and because they haven’t been broken down properly, they’ll take up much more space and will therefore push up the contents of the stomach into the food pipe, causing a feeling of acid reflux.

If we take an antacid to treat the symptoms of acid reflux, we’ll neutralise what little acidity we had and the protein we consume will end up less digested than before – causing a vicious cycle, as we take more antacids to try and solve the problem.

Hypochlorhydria & Other Common Symptoms

Low acidity is called Hypochlorhydria. Common symptoms are bloating, belching, flatulence immediately after meals and a sense of fullness after eating – especially following the consumption of food high in protein. Indigestion, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea and food intolerances may also signal low acidity. Weak, peeling and cracked fingernails, dilated blood vessels in the cheeks and nose might be related to low acidity as well as iron deficiency, chronic intestinal parasites or abnormal gut flora, undigested food in the stool, chronic candida infection and other digestive tract symptoms.

Low stomach acidity will also inhibit pepsin production (the digestive enzyme that breaks down proteins in further smaller particles). Stomach acid is also necessary for absorption of many minerals, including iron, calcium, zinc, magnesium and copper as well as absorption of B12 vitamins – which means we might end up being nutrient deficient, causing us to feel weak and fatigued, which could eventually develop into problems with our nervous system.

Stomach acid is also required to kill the bacteria, parasites and other infections that come into our system through the food we eat. Without adequate acidity in the stomach, we leave ourselves open to a decreased immune resistance and a variety of health problems as a result. Some conditions associated with hypochlorhydria are: asthma, coeliac disease, chronic autoimmune disorder, chronic hives, gluten sensitivity, diabetes, eczema, gallbladder problems, psoriasis, rosacea, vitiligo, etc.

Want to know if you have too much or too little acidity in your stomach? Try this…

So, you’re probably wondering how you know if you have too much or too little acidity in your stomach? Well, there’s a very simple test that you can do to find out. It’s something that takes just 5 minutes and that you can easily do at home – just follow the instructions below.

– First thing in the morning, before you have any food or drinks, add a tablespoon of Bicarbonate of Soda into a glass of water.

– Once it’s fully diluted, drink up.

– Bicarbonate of Soda is alkaline. When it meets the acid in your stomach, a chemical reaction will occur, resulting in the creation of gases which will rise up from your stomach as a burp.

– Wait five minutes (without having any drinks or food) to test for any of the following effects:

If you have lots of acidity in your stomach…
You’ll start to burp excessively.

If you have some acidity in your stomach…
You might burp a few times.

If you are lacking in stomach acidity…
You won’t burp at all.

What To Do if You Lack Acidity in Your Stomach?

If the result of this test is that you lack the adequate acidity in your stomach, the best course of action is to talk with your Functional Medicine practitioner. They will most likely recommend that you take a supplement of Betaine with Hydrochloric Acid with meals – especially when these meals contain protein. Please consult with your healthcare professional before taking any supplements, as you need to make sure you are not taking these tablets if you have too much acidity in your stomach. Some supplements may also interfere with other medications you are taking so you shouldn’t take these unless you have consulted with your Doctor or Pharmacist first.

What Else Can I do to Rebalance Acidity in My Stomach?

Other steps you can take to rebalance your stomach acidity include drinking a glass of hot water with the juice of a lemon when you wake, which also helps with your daily detoxification. You could also take a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with ‘The Mother’ in a glass of water. Do this on a continuous basis and see how you feel overtime. Following these steps daily, you may find that further supplements are not needed after all.

Consult a Functional Medicine Practitioner

If you’d like to consult a functional medicine practitioner about issues relating to acid reflux, stomach acidity or any other health issues, please click here to book your initial appointment.

Alternatively, if you have any questions you’d like to ask, please feel free to email me at andrea@wholeharmony.co.uk.

Written by Andrea Okos