Is Acid Reflux Caused By Too Much or Too Little Stomach Acid?

tumsAs we age, the vast majority of us will need MORE stomach acid, not less.  I remember hearing a gastroenterologist say that acid reflux can result from both too much or too little hydrochloric acid (HCl). It was hard to believe after having been bombarded with drug commercials constantly saying we have too much acid and we need an antacid.

When you eat a meal, the stomach produces hydrochloric acid to begin the digestive process, especially of proteins which are harder to break down. When there is too little stomach acid, our food sits in the stomach too long and remains undigested where it begins to ferment and rot.  That is where we can get the feeling of acid indigestion (which can also lead to ulcers).  Our stomach needs sufficient acid to signal the small intestine to open so it can receive the contents of our stomach.  Without a strong signal, the contents of our stomach can escape in the other direction and we get acid reflux.

About 4 years ago, I experienced acid reflux and had other gastrointestinal concerns, and since my dad had esophageal cancer, I wanted to get to the bottom of it. I consulted with a doctor who believed that it was important to find the root cause and not just treat the symptoms.  He performed  a digestive analysis using a Radio Telemetry Gastric Acidity Study.  The procedure used was a gastrointestinal pH test that was developed by NASA through a company in Heidelberg, Germany.  It measures the functional process of digestion after swallowing a small capsule that contains a miniature radio transmitter and measures the acidity or alkalinity as it passes through each compartment of digestion.  It was determined that I have hypochlorhydria, or the lack of adequate production of hydrochloric acid, so now I take a supplement with meals that has helped me to break down my food so I am better able to absorb the nutrients.

Why we need strong stomach acid

1. Digestion of our food: Our stomach should be highly acidic to be able to adequately break down our food and extract the vitamins & minerals we need to provide energy, build red & white blood cells, bones, hair, skin, etc.  Let’s just say that we don’t break down our protein well…now we’re at risk of mental health issues because we don’t have the raw materials to make neurotransmitters.  Without stomach acid, we also have a hard time cleaving the B12 and in time, we may become anemic.  With nutrient deficiencies, we can experience so many health issues, including bone loss leading to osteoporosis. You may be eating all the right healthy foods, but if you can’t digest them, then that plate of healthy salmon, avocado, and berries isn’t giving you the nutritional boost you think it is!

2. Our stomach acid signals the pancreas to secrete digestive enzymes into the small intestine.

3.  The pH of our stomach acid is important for fighting off bacteria likes H. Pylori, E. Coli, and parasites. It’s hard to grow anything in an acidic environment.

4.  Stomach acid inhibits Small Bowel Overgrowth (Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO) – a condition in which abnormally large numbers of bacteria grow in the small intestine. A person with small bowel bacterial overgrowth may not absorb enough nutrients and will be malnourished. In addition, the breakdown of nutrients by the bacteria in the small intestines can damage the cells lining the intestinal wall. Too much growth of bacteria in the small intestine can occur with many different conditions, including Crohn’s Disease, diabetes, scleroderma, and more.

So the next time you experience reflux symptoms, before reaching for the antacid, think about what you just ate and whether it may be a case of weak stomach acid that is unable to break down your food.

Here’s a fun video that does a great job explaining the problems with insufficient stomach acid:

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  1. Cindy Hannah says:

    This is so true………….My son has not been able to keep things down. They are looking at several different things like gastro-paresis. He is deficient in Folic Acid and B12 most like from the lack of nutrients being consumed.

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