Stomach Acid – an Important Digestive Aid for Our Stomachs
What exactly is stomach acid? Various cells in the stomach lining produce two to three liters of digestive fluid, called gastric juice, every day. This is made up of several components, including water, mucus, digestive enzymes, intrinsic factor (which is important for the absorption of vitamin B12), bicarbonate, and hydrochloric acid, or stomach acid.
Our food enters the stomach chopped up and mixed with saliva – well or lightly chewed, depending on how we chew. But this is not nearly enough preparation for the food components to be optimally broken down and utilized in the further digestive process. This is where the aggressive stomach acid comes in: It becomes active as soon as ingested food enters the stomach, but also when we smell a meal or even just think about it.
In response to these stimuli, our gastric follicles, special glandular cells in the stomach lining, produce hydrochloric acid and bicarbonate. To prevent the aggressive stomach acid from attacking the stomach itself, there is another important protective mechanism: the stomach lining. Bicarbonate is also stored in the stomach lining, neutralizing the hydrochloric acid and protecting the stomach lining.
Stomach acid breaks down food into its component parts and prepares them for further digestion. This process releases important nutrients from the food, including iron, calcium, and vitamins such as vitamin B12.
At the same time, stomach acid activates the digestive enzymes in the gastric juice, which then break down the food. But stomach acid also has another job to do: it kills microorganisms and bacteria in the food. Most pathogens cannot survive in such an acidic environment.
As you can see, our digestive system is a perfectly coordinated system. Just like in a big machine, if one cog in the gearbox gets stuck, the whole mechanism grinds to a halt. In other words, if our food leaves our stomach poorly digested, it puts a strain on all the other digestive organs, from the intestines to the pancreas to the liver. This can have serious health consequences.
When Your Stomach Is Acidic: Causes and Symptoms of Acid Indigestion
The production of too much stomach acid can have many causes: Constant stress and hustle and bustle, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, nutrient-poor and pesticide-contaminated foods, alcohol, nicotine, medications, but also inflammation of the stomach lining caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. In other words, it is almost a challenge not to over-acidify with our modern lifestyle.
When the blood threatens to become too acidic, a kind of emergency management takes place: The accessory cells are called upon to produce basic bicarbonate to bring the body back into acid-base balance. Since the accessory cells can only produce bicarbonate and hydrochloric acid, i.e. stomach acid, at the same time, a true vicious circle begins. Our body constantly produces too much stomach acid.
A short-term overacidification of the stomach is usually no big deal. However, if there is a permanent excess of stomach acid, at some point the protective function of the stomach lining also wears off, resulting in what is known as hyperacidity, i.e. the stomach becomes over-acidified.
We then Notice this in Various Symptoms:
- Heartburn (when the stomach acid does not stay in the stomach but passes into the esophagus).
- Acid regurgitation
- Bloating, loss of appetite
- Nausea, vomiting
- Bad breathe
- Stomach pain or discomfort
- Damage to the stomach lining, such as inflammation or ulcers
- Duodenal ulcer
But at some point, even this mechanism breaks down. As a result of the constant stress, the stomach cells become tired and block, meaning they refuse to produce. As a result, too little stomach acid is produced. And this, too, can have devastating effects on our health.