What Is Stomach Acid | Hydrochloric Acid (HCL)
Stomach acid is critical to the bodies overall health. It protects the body from infection, breaks down food clumps so the vital nutrients can be absorbed, and triggers the lower esophageal sphincter to close, thus preventing reflux and heartburn.
The use of stomach acid suppression drugs and antacids can introduce side effects similar to the symptoms of a disease called Achlorhydria (no stomach acid) and seem to give you no relief of the systems or even make them worse.
Do We Need Stomach Acid and what does it do?
Your body needs stomach acid for good reasons
- Stomach acid plays an essential role in the immune system, by killing harmful bacteria and parasites, that are ingested with food.
- Stomach acid activates the enzyme pepsin needed for protein digestion.
- Stomach acid signals to the pancreas to produce digestive juices and enzymes to further break down food in the intestines.
- Stomach acid initiates peristalsis, the rhythmic contractions of the intestines, that moves the food through the GI (gut) tract.
- Stomach acid is essential for the absorption of vitamins, such as vitamin B12, which plays key role in the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system, and in the formation of blood.
- Stomach acid performs an essential digestive function of reducing food clumps (bolus) into smaller particles (chyme), so that the intestines can absorb nutrients quickly and effectively.
- Stomach acid is needed in the lower intestinal tract to support enzymes, bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health and kills the bad, for a balance of the Probiotics that are need for nutrition both mentally and physically. (There is whole medical science called gastrointestinology on this subject)
The digestive system acidity level is measured by a pH scale (shown below) a 1 (very acidic), through 14 (very alkaline), a pH of 7 is water
As you can see from the image, an individual with a healthy, properly-functioning digestive system, the esophagus (the tube between the throat and the top of the stomach) has a pH of about 6-7, the small intestines has a pH of about 5.5, and, the lower stomach with a pH of around 3.
Digestion and Normal Stomach Acid Function
Another important function of stomach acid is the effect it has on the LES (Lower Esophageal Sphincter) which is the valve which allows food to enter the stomach but prohibits reflux of gastric acid (Hydrochloric acid or HCL) back into the esophagus.
The normal empty stomach is at a pH of about 4-6 or low HCL level.
The action of chewing, your mom always said to ‘chew your food’ well, now you will know why, plus the presents of proteins in your food causes the concentration of stomach acid, which the lining of the stomach produces, to increase. The LES has ‘sensors’ that measure the acidity of stomach contents and begins to close as the acidity increases. But if, for whatever reason the stomach does not reach the proper pH of 2-4 (high HCL) of acidity, the LES valve does not close completely, which allows some stomach acid and undigested liquid to reflux into the esophagus causing the sensation of ‘Heartburn’.
There is another valve on the outlet of the stomach, the pyloric sphincter valve(PSV), which works in the opposite way of the LES, it holds stomach contents until the pH increases to between 2 and 4 (high HCL) and opens to allow the contents to flow into the intestines.
If the stomach does not reach the proper level of acidity (low HCL), the pyloric valve remains closed and stomach contents will sour, resulting in indigestion, bloating and possibly forcing stomach contents to back flow into the esophagus, which still feels like ‘HeartBurn’. (Read my article ‘Heartburn | Did you know there are 2 kinds’).
Normally, as we age, our body produces less stomach acid. It is of no coincidence that reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) increase with age. So what we used to eat as a young person, pizza and other oily, fried foods, gives us fits (bloating, indigestion and heartburn) NOW..
But There is a Hidden Danger of Acid Neutralizers and Inhibitors (Purple Pill)
What Happens When You Neutralize Stomach Acid for Heartburn
The effect of suppressing stomach acidity with drugs is to decrease nutrient absorption to such a degree that there can be long term health consequences. In the process you are also compromising an essential part of your immune system.
Stomach acid kills harmful microbes in the intestinal tract but without it these intruders can flourish. The longer the duration of acid suppression the higher the risk of harmful effects.
The conventional method of treatment for ‘Heartburn’ or ‘Acid Reflux’ is a prescription or an over-the-counter ‘acid-neutralizer’. These include proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s), H2-receptor antagonists, or antacids. The function of these differ, but they all reduce or eliminate stomach acid, in effect, lowering the level of the stomach acid (Low HCL).
There is some relief from symptoms because any acid that refluxes into the esophagus will have a lower acid concentration, therefore, lessening the damage to the esophagus. But they do not treat the underlying cause, and by taking them, you are self-inflicting yourself and your stomach, to a condition known as achlorhydria(Low HCL). Achlorhydria is a lack of sufficient stomach acid which is, if left untreated, responsible for dozens of disease throughout the GI tract.
So if you are not sure if you have low stomach acid or it is high, you need to get tested. Please read the related articles ‘How Long does Heartburn Last’ and ‘Heartburn | Did you know there are 2 kinds’ for the tests and some information on relief.
Diseases that are directly or indirectly related to Achlorhydria (Low HCL).
Achlorhydria Related Upper Gastric Tract Diseases
Esophagus: Candidal esophagitis (Boerhaave syndrome, Mallory-Weiss syndrome), Zenker’s diverticulum, Barrett’s esophagus, Esophageal motility disorder (Nutcracker esophagus, Achalasia, Diffuse esophageal spasm, GERD), Esophageal stricture, Megaesophagus.
Stomach: Gastritis, Peptic ulcers, Dyspepsia, Pyloric stenosis, Gastroparesis, Gastroptosis, Portal hypertensive gastropathy, Gastric antral vascular ectasia, Gastric volvulus
Achlorhydria Related Intestinal Tract Diseases
Small intestine: Enteritis (Duodenitis, Jejunitis, Ileitis), Peptic (duodenal) ulcer, Curling’s ulcer.
Malabsorption: Coeliac, Tropical sprue, Blind loop syndrome, Whipple’s, Short bowel syndrome, Steatorrhea, Milroy disease, Kidney Stones.
Intestines, appendix and colon: Appendicitis, Colitis (Pseudomembranous, Ulcerative, Ischemic, Microscopic, Collagenous, Lymphocytic), Functional colonic disease (IBS, Intestinal pseudo obstruction/Ogilvie syndrome), Megacolon/Toxic megacolon, Diverticulitis, Diverticulosis
Large and small intestines: Enterocolitis (Necrotizing), IBD (Crohn’s disease), Vascular: Abdominal angina, Mesenteric ischemia, Angiodysplasia, Bowel obstruction: Ileus, Intussusception, Volvulus; Fecal impaction — Constipation · Diarrhea (Infectious)
Rectum: Proctitis (Radiation proctitis), Proctalgia fugax, Rectal prolapse.
Anus: Anal fissure/Anal fistula, Anal abscess, idiopathic pruritus ani(dry Anal skin)
Accessory Achlorhydria Related Intestinal Tract Diseases
Liver: Hepatitis (Viral hepatitis, Autoimmune hepatitis, Alcoholic hepatitis), Cirrhosis (PBC), Fatty liver (NASH), vascular (Hepatic veno-occlusive disease, Portal hypertension, Nutmeg liver), Alcoholic liver disease, Liver failure (Hepatic encephalopathy, Acute liver failure), Liver abscess (Pyogenic, Amoebic), Hepatorenal syndrome, Peliosis hepatis
Gallbladder: Cholecystitis, Gallstones / Cholecystolithiasis, Cholesterolosis, Rokitansky-Aschoff sinuses, Postcholecystectomy syndrome
Bile duct, biliary tree: Cholangitis (PSC, Secondary sclerosing cholangitis, Ascending), Cholestasis/Mirizzi’s syndrome, Biliary fistula, Haemobilia, Gallstones / Cholelithiasis common bile duct (Choledocholithiasis, Biliary dyskinesia)
Pancreatic: Pancreatitis (Acute, Chronic, Hereditary), Pancreatic pseudocyst, Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, Pancreatic fistula
Bladder and Kidneys: Kidney Stones, Urinary infections, Yeast infection.
And the list goes on and on.
Here is some more info on the affect of low Stomach acid and your health.