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There are numerous misconceptions surrounding stomach acid, and its importance far surpasses what most people commonly believe. That’s why antacid pills, which many rely on to alleviate heartburn or GERD, might exacerbate the condition rather than improve it. Here’s why you need stomach acid and how to support healthy levels. 

How Does Stomach Acid Work?  

The primary job of stomach acid is not just digesting food, as most people believe. Instead, its primary job is de-contaminating the food as it enters the stomach. It must do so before the food passes into the rest of the gut. If food isn’t properly digested, partially digested food and stomach acid can flow back into the esophagus, causing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and heartburn. This can create a burning sensation and potentially damage the surrounding tissue.

If the food isn’t properly de-contaminated and passes into the rest of the gut, parasites and other infections can more easily enter the body. Insufficient stomach acid may also create autoimmune issues if undigested food particles pass through the intestinal lining, producing an immune response. 

The secondary job of stomach acid is to activate certain digestive enzymes to break down the food for proper absorption. Taking antacids or heartburn pills masks symptoms temporarily by depleting stomach acid even more, lessening the chances of acid reflux but also hindering your body’s ability to digest food an protect itself from infections like parasites. But just because the pain or discomfort disappears doesn’t mean the problem is gone. In fact, when you go off these medications, you’re likely to experience a rebound effect, meaning the body will respond by producing more acid to return to normal, giving you more acid reflux or heartburn in the process. 

The truth is: You need stomach acid! And, contrary to what you might believe, if you get heartburn or GERD, it may be because you need more stomach acid – not less. 

Natural Ways to Produce More Stomach Acid  

Apple Cider Vinegar  

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has a pH level similar to stomach acid. Stomach acid has a pH of 1-2, and ACV lands around 2-3. Taking a shot of ACV before you eat can increase the acids in the stomach, aiding your body’s ability to sterilize food. There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that drinking ACV improves stomach acid, reducing heartburn and GERD. In fact, we have several testimonials from our patients. Still, there are yet to be scientific studies done on this.  

Because ACV is acidic, it’s important to be careful about how you take it. There are reports that it can start eating away at tooth enamel and other body tissues. Its acidic properties are why it works well for cleaning and clearing up acne scars.  

You don’t want to take too much all at once – we usually recommend a tablespoon or two – and not hold it in your mouth. While doing that with supplements can help your body absorb them faster, it’s not a good idea to keep ACV in contact with sensitive body tissues for too long.  

Betaine HCl 

Betaine Hydrochloride (Betaine HCl) is often used to help raise stomach acid levels. PubMed published a study that shows Betaine HCl brought the stomach’s pH levels down from over 4 to below 3 in an average of about 6 minutes. It stayed below 3 for about 73 minutes. [1] If you’re taking Betaine HCl, take it about 10 minutes before eating; it should last for the remainder of the meal.  

You can also increase your zinc intake if you’re low – your body needs zinc to make HCl. As always, our first suggestion will be to get necessary nutrients through whole foods rather than one or two separate components. Supplements get expensive!  

Smell Your Food  

We all know someone who sniffs their food before eating it. Maybe you’re that person. It can drive some people crazy, but it aids the digestive process. Digestion starts even before the food enters the mouth. Have you ever noticed your mouth watering while cooking? Or perhaps you’ve come home from work, greeted by the aroma of something delicious, and gotten the same result? The nose is very much a part of digestion. [2]  

A 2015 study found that seeing and smelling food for just five minutes kicks the liver into gear to start activating specific neurons that make us feel full – this mimicked the same processes that occur when actually eating food. [3 

Cook Your Food – Don’t Eat Out  

Eating a lot of sugar, foods you’re allergic to, and processed foods can create and worsen inflammation in the gut. When your body is dealing with inflammation, it doesn’t function as well. That includes stomach acid production. [4] 

You can do a lot of research into restaurants and their ingredient sourcing, but you still don’t really know the quality of the ingredients they use in their dishes. When you cook your food at home, you don’t have this problem. You know what’s going into your food and can keep inflammatory ingredients out.  

Eat Slow and Enjoy Your Food  

Like how the smell of food can trigger your body to start the digestive process even before food enters your mouth, how long you chew also impacts digestion. Studies have also shown that people who chew faster have a 1.7 times higher risk for Endoscopic Erosive Gastritis. [5] Remember – if something ends in -itis, it’s an inflammation problem. So, in other words, if you chew faster, you have a higher risk of inflammation in the gut. And as mentioned above, an increase in inflammation means a decrease in stomach acid. 

Eating on the go is also advisable to avoid. Many of us don’t think twice about grabbing a bowl of food for the road, a granola bar to eat as we run into work, or a single handful of nuts between running kids here, there, and everywhere. These “eating on the go” methods end in hurried bites, rushed chewing, and little to no actual enjoyment of the food eaten. It can be challenging– especially when life is full of work and extracurriculars – to slow down and truly enjoy the food you eat. Still, your body will thank you for making it a point to do so.  

Eat Your Fermented Veggies!  

There’s a reason Doc likes sauerkraut and encourages it for most people. Fermented veggies have probiotic effects that can fight harmful bacteria and inflammation and improve stomach acid levels. A 2017 study found links between low stomach acid and bacterial overgrowth in the gut. [6 

On your next grocery store run, be sure to stock up on sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, or other fermented foods in general! (Fermented grape juice or wheat doesn’t count.) 

Next Steps  

Many people view staying healthy as difficult or expensive. That isn’t necessarily true. It doesn’t have to be complicated or costly – it simply involves commitment and a few lifestyle changes. Keeping your stomach acid at an optimal level is a simple but far-reaching and essential aspect of health. For more lifestyle tips, sign up for our newsletter!  

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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