At first glance it would appear that this is a silly question. Anyone who has experienced heartburn knows that it is caused by stomach acid moving into the esophagus (the tube that food travel into our stomach). This might not be as straightforward as we once thought.
Forty-four percent of the population suffers from some type of indigestion. This should come as no surprise, if you have turned on your TV in the last 10 years. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, How do I spell relief etc. have become household phrases due to the ubiquitous nature of this condition.
The function of stomach acid is to add in the breakdown of large food particles that are ingested. In order to get the proper nutrients out of our diet, it is imperative that the food we eat is broken down prior to moving into the intestines. If there is too little stomach acid, the large food particles sit in the stomach for an extended period of time, instead of being passed quickly to the intestines for nutrient absorption. This undigested food will back up in the stomach and start to push its way up the same tube that it came in, created symptoms of burning and discomfort.
When symptoms of pain and discomfort appear, the most common corse of action is to take an over the counter alkalizing agent such as Tums or Rolaids to decrease the acidity of the stomach acid. This will decrease the symptoms, but it will not address the underlying issue if you are deficient in stomach acid.
How do you know if you have too much or too little stomach acid?
One test for stomach acid is called the Heidelberg Stomach Acid Test. This test is a high tech and performed in a physician’s office. In this test the patient swallows a capsule that measures the level of stomach acid and transmits the information back to a computer, for more information on the Heidelberg Test click here.
Another more low-tech test involves adding vinegar to your diet and watching your symptoms. Vinegar has a low pH, which means that it is highly acidic similar to your stomach acid. If you add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to your meal and your symptoms of indigestion decrease, it is likely that you have low stomach acid.
What can cause low stomach acid?
There are a number of things that can cause your stomach acid to decrease. Stress and long-term medication use are some of the most common. Also, as we age our stomach acid decreases, which explains why more people develop indigestion as they age.
Is this a serious condition?
Low stomach acid alone is not thought of as a serious condition, but the overall effects of this condition on the body are thought to be very serious.
Jonathan V Wright, MD, author of “Why Stomach Acid is Good For You: Natural Relief from Heartburn, Indigestion, Reflux, Gerd..” suggests a causative link between low stomach acid and depression, acne, food allergies, stomach cancer, ulcers and many more.
If you are experiencing the symptoms of indigestion seek the advice of a trained professional. Practitioners of natural medicine are likely to be your best resource for this type of help, although there are a growing number of medical practitioners who are specializing in this area. If you would like a referral to a practitioner please contact me.
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