By now I'm pretty sure you have heard of the importance of gut health for optimal overall health. Hippocrates really was onto something over 2000 years ago after all!!!
Rather than talking specifically about gut bugs and the gut lining which there is so much focus on currently (and rightly so), I want to focus on an aspect of digestion that is not spoken about as frequently yet it is affecting most of us today. This is the production of stomach acid.
The production of stomach acid is possibly one of the most important aspects of our overall digestive function.
Stomach acid is normally made on demand in response to the food stimuli by the cells in the lining of the stomach. Just thinking about what we are about to eat, preparing food, the smells of cooking, chewing (along with saliva production) signals the stomach telling it to wake up, it's time to get ready for food! So if you think about our food culture today and compare it to the past, we can already see lost opportunities to signal stomach acid production. In the past there weren't instant pre-prepared meals available, we grew our food and often there were broths, soups or long cook dishes on the stove wafting through the beautiful smells of food to help instigate digestion.
Have a think back to high school science and the pH scale! Stomach acid has a low pH (pH scale runs from 0-14; zero (low) is highly acidic and 14 (high) is highly basic – water sits around the 6/7 mark). Stomach acid normally should sit between 1.3 and 3.5. It is so acidic that outside the gut it would burn us to touch our skin. The stomach is a controlled environment that actually protects the rest of our cells from being burned by this concentrated acid. Ideally we want this low pH so that we can start breaking down macro-nutrients from our food (fats, carbs, protein). From there the pancreas is signaled to produce bicarbonate. This bicarb buffers the food that is about to enter our small intestine so we don’t burn holes in our duodenum after it leaves the stomach. From there pancreatic enzymes are released (in accordance with the signalling thanks to stomach acid) which break down our food and help the release of nutrients..... can you now see how important this acid is?!!! Then from there we produce bile which is our master transporter of fats, toxins and excess hormones but with impaired signalling this is also not optimal.
So from this point we can present with any of the following:
How do we support stomach acid production?
Who needs to consider their stomach acid production?
In one word: everyone!
Interestingly stress is a major contributor to a decrease in stomach acid production and alterations in pH. Just living in our modern world with our modern diet is having an impact on stomach acid levels. If you are stressed, have hormonal or digestive disturbances, this is a very support to be considered.
Studies have shown a change in stomach acid production and pH changes in children with autism (Clin Infect Dis. (2002) 35(Supplement 1): S6-S16.doi: 10.1086/341914).
It is a worthwhile habit to bring into daily life which can have significant health benefits!