Are acid-suppressing drugs helping us?
Problems with heartburn and acid reflux are common. Acid-suppressing drugs are among the most commonly used prescription and over the counter pharmaceuticals. The pharmaceutical companies' sales rely on us accepting the idea that stomach acid is something that needs to be kept in check. It does sound plausible, doesn’t it, that symptoms of heartburn, indigestion and gastrointestinal reflux disease are caused by too much acid, because that burning is real. The reality is that it is much more likely that you have too little stomach acid production rather than too much. These medicines are actually working counter to what many people really need. Stomach acid is not something to be feared. We definitely need it. Our body is designed so that enough acid can be produced to bring our stomach pH to around 1.5 to 3.0. That’s a really strong acid!
Why is stomach acid important in immune health?
Stomach acid has several important roles in digestion but I’d like to highlight these in relation to a healthy immune system.
- It inhibits the growth of microorganisms that enter the body through food to prevent infection. Super important for keeping us from getting sick.
- It ensures proper absorption of many minerals, such as zinc. Zinc is a key nutrient for our immune system and (double whammy!) is critical for production of stomach acid. So it is a circular problem…less stomach acid causes less zinc causes less stomach acid and so it goes on!
- It helps protect us from duodenal ulcers and ensures proper digestion of food. Both are important as protection from a leaky gut. Leaky gut can result in food sensitivities, inflammation and autoimmune conditions.
- It is important to keep our essential gut flora healthy, a key aspect of our immune system.
Why do I feel burning when I have low stomach acid?
The stomach has two valves, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) (at the top of the stomach) and the pyloric sphincter (at the bottom of the stomach).
The pyloric sphincter is a one way valve which is designed to open when the food in your stomach is digested to chyme with the correct pH. If you don’t have enough stomach acid the valve may not open.
The other valve, the LES, is designed to open both ways. When excessive pressure builds up in the stomach, but the pyloric valve doesn’t open, the body releases the pressure by opening up the LES. Even if your stomach isn’t producing enough acid, any amount of acid going into the esophagus will result in burning sensations because the esophagus is not designed to handle stomach acid and doesn’t have the same protections that the stomach has. Frequent opening of the LES toward the esophagus will contribute to a weakened valve that compounds the problem.
Note: There are also other causes that contribute to a malfunctioning LES. Certain foods (e.g. hot peppers, citrus, tomatoes), drinks (caffeine, alcohol), overeating, overweight and obesity, pregnancy, hiatal hernia, and many medications (including NSAIDs, antibiotics, bronchodilators, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, nitrates, antidepressants, anti-anxiety, and anticholinergics) are associated with a weakened LES.
Restoring your stomach acid levels
Don’t worry! If you suspect you may have low stomach acid, help is at hand. We can help you identify if low stomach acid is at play in your symptoms, support your digestion as you heal and help you identify and remedy nutrient deficiencies that may be at the heart of things. Get in touch if you’d like to get help. We also have some Special Deals this month to help you address immune concerns and save you money.