What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Acid Reflux
Sixty percent of American adults experience heartburn, also called acid reflux or gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) each year. GERD has nothing to do with the heart despite the common name. Rather, it is an upwelling of stomach acid from the stomach where it belongs, into the esophagus, where it burns. The burning sensation is the result of stomach acid coming into contact with the delicate walls of the esophagus.
The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is the valve designed to allow food to move from the esophagus downward into the stomach. It can also open upward to allow evacuation or vomiting when needed.
Reflux is a dysfunction whereby stomach acid along with undigested food moves upwards from the stomach, through the sphincter into the esophagus. This happens when food fails to digest in the stomach and begins to putrefy. This rotting food releases gas which opens the valve.
What Causes Acid Reflux?
There is a widely held misconception that GERD is the result of too much stomach acid. In fact, this is exactly the opposite of what is happening.
Hydrochloric acid (HCL) is required for the proper digestion of proteins. HCL is secreted into the stomach at a pH of 0.8 – this is highly acidic. The HCL combines with the food until it reaches a pH of 1.5-3, the optimal pH level for protein digestion in the stomach. When the pH of 1.5-3 is reached, the next sphincter opens and allows the food to move into the small intestine for the next stage of digestion. If the pH remains higher than this the food will remain undigested in the stomach for too long.
Because of the very low pH required to digest food in the stomach, it is almost impossible for the body to release too much acid. Reflux is almost always the result of too little stomach acid, not too much!
When there is not enough acid in the stomach, foods do not get broken down. These maldigested foods cause a reflux, or backwards flow, into the esophagus.
While antacids and acid blocker drugs relieve painful symptoms of acid reflux, they should not generally be used for any length of time. These commonly prescribed drugs prevent us from digesting our food. This leads to serious nutrient deficiencies while failing to resolve the underlying, root cause of the problem.
How to Reverse Low Stomach Acid
The easiest and least expensive way to remedy this problem is to calm down before we eat. Take a moment to look at your food, to appreciate your food, and to articulate some words of thanks and gratitude. Pay attention to whether you are in stress (fight or flight) mode, or if you have managed to bring yourself into parasympathetic (rest and digest mode). Take some deep breaths and allow the body to calm down. The body will only produce HCL if it is in parasympathetic mode, that’s why it’s called “Rest and Digest.”
If you still need more assistance to get your food to digest, talk to your wellness care professional about appropriate supplements and protocols. Once your food digests and your body is finally be able to assimilate the nourishment you provide to it, you will feel more vitality and more excitement for life and mealtime.
What Causes Low Stomach Acid?
- Zinc deficiency
- Acid blockers
- A vegetarian or vegan diet
- Advancing age
Liz Morgan, NTP, MA is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner with a nationwide clientele. She is based in Buena Vista, Colorado. Liz explores the intersection of food, health and sustainability while gently walking her clients down the path towards better health and increased vitality. She loves celebrating delicious, nourishing foods and is always up for a wholesome dinner party. www.LizMorganNutrition.com