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This past weekend on the Body Ecology Diet Facebook Fan Page, Chiara R., Madelyn R., and Armand G. all asked the same question:
How can I increase my stomach acid?
You see, we pointed out recently that not all acidic foods are acid-forming in the body. And acidic foods—like lemon—do not make heartburn worse.
In fact, heartburn is often a case of too little stomach acid—rather than too much stomach acid.
Healthy stomach acid is mostly made up of hydrochloric acid (HCl), and it’s about as acidic as battery acid. In order for the body to release the right enzymes to digest food and to protect against outside microbes and parasites, your stomach acid must be strong and extremely acidic.
When stomach acid is weak or too alkaline, the body is more susceptible to infection, Candida overgrowth, poor digestion, and heartburn.
If you would like to figure out how to increase stomach acid, it’s important to know what made your stomach acid weak or too alkaline in the first place.
Heartburn is caused by too little stomach acid. Support healthy digestion and minimize pain through three stages of stomach acid release.
The release of stomach acid happens in three steps. And it’s the first two that are the most important—these two steps control the release of more than 80% of your stomach acid.
1. The First Step: A whopping 30% of your stomach acid is produced when you expect or smell food. The brain sends messages along the vagus nerve, telling specialized cells in your stomach to release stomach acid.
What Can Go Wrong: If you are locked into a stress response pattern before or while eating, chances are that your stomach isn’t getting the memo to release stomach acid because your brain isn’t sending it.
What You Can Do: Turn off those fight-or-flight hormones. Before eating, take a few deep breaths and clear your mind. Sit down to eat (rather than stand). Notice what you smell and what you see.
If possible, avoid eating while watching television or when driving since these activities often activate tension within the body.
2. The Second Step: An increasingly full stomach and the presence of amino acids trigger the release of stomach acid. Roughly 50-60% of stomach acid is released during this time.
What Can Go Wrong: In order for your body to pick up on the presence of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins), it needs to first break down proteins. It does this with the help of stomach acid. It is a vicious cycle.
If you didn’t get enough stomach acid during the first step, you most likely won’t be able to release enough stomach acid during the second step. Also, an overgrowth of alkalizing bacteria—like H. pylori in the stomach—can reduce stomach acid. So can over-the-counter or prescription antacids.
What You Can Do: If you are not releasing enough stomach acid to break down proteins and digest food, you may want to consider taking an HCl supplement like Assist Dairy and Protein that contains hydrochloric acid. The presence of hydrochloric acid will assist in balancing stomach acid.
Remember, healthy stomach acid is as acidic as battery acid!
If the stomach contains the wrong kind of bacteria, this can create an overly alkaline environment. In order to bring the inner ecosystem of the stomach back into balance, fermented foods are extremely important. Foods fermented with a culture starter provide beneficial bacteria and yeast that replenish your inner ecosystem and help fight infection and overgrowth.
3. The Third Step: Once the small intestine begins to digest and pull nutrients from food, we see the release of the remaining 10% of stomach acid.
What Can Go Wrong: The small intestine is an alkaline environment; it releases alkaline fluids, like bile (from the gallbladder) and enzymes (from the pancreas). Sometimes the pancreas is exhausted and unable to produce the enzymes that the body needs to break down food. Other times, there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, making the small intestine overly acidic and interfering with the activation of enzymes.
Signs of bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine include cramping pain and heartburn.
What You Can Do: When the pancreas is exhausted and not producing the full spectrum of enzymes that you need to break down food, it is essential to supplement. Assist SI targets the small intestine and specifically delivers enzymes to help with the digestion of food.
If you show signs of bacterial overgrowth within the small intestine, fermented foods will assist the inner ecosystem of the small intestine in returning to a state of balance. Remember, the small intestine should be relatively free of all bacteria (the good and the bad)—it is the large intestine, or the colon, that offers long-term housing to your helpful microbes.
Most people are surprised to hear that heartburn is caused by too little stomach acid, rather than too much. Healthy stomach acid is made up of mostly hydrochloric acid, and it is almost as strong as battery acid. This acidity allows your body to release helpful enzymes to digest food and protect against pathogenic microbes and parasites.
Stomach acid is effectively released in 3 different steps to guard against poor digestion, heartburn, Candida, and infection: