It might surprise you that out of all the heartburn and reflux cases only about 5% is due to excessive acid production
Heartburn, or gastroesophageal disorder (GORD) is one of the most common complaints people turn to me for help. It’s a burning sensation in the chest caused by the regurgitation of bile and the acidic content of the stomach into the lower oesophagus.
It might surprise you that out of all the heartburn and reflux cases only about 5% is due to excessive acid production. In around 95% of the cases it is quite the opposite.
Symptoms of low stomach acid frequently occur straight away or several hours after eating and can include a desire to eat when not hungry, a sense of fullness after meals, excessive belching, flatulence, constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn, reflux and in long term - hiatus hernia formation. When the gastric secretions are reduced for whatever reason, food can not be broken down and digested properly, therefore it ferments in the gut, causing gas formation. This excess gas pushes the slightly acidic contents back up the oesophagus causing the well-known symptoms.
Hydrochloric acid has an important role in the digestion, including: initiating protein digestion, stimulating the release of pancreatic enzymes and bile, therefore helping carbohydrate and fat digestion; increasing the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals from foods and supplements and helping their absorption. In addition, hydrochloric acid also plays an important role in maintaining a clean environment in the stomach, and does this by protecting against orally-ingested pathogens and acting as a barrier to prevent bacterial or fungal overgrowth of the small intestine.
Researchers have shown that a common pathogen, E coli (Escherichia coli) is inactivated when stomach acidity is high. Conversely, low stomach acidity is associated with the rapid invasion of microorganisms from the colon, leading to gastric and intestinal bacterial colonization and overgrowth. An additional finding of a Japanese team was a strong correlation between low stomach acidity and increased infection by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), one of the most common chronic bacterial infections of humans and recognised as a major cause of gastritis, gastric ulcer disease, gastric carcinoma and B-cell gastric lymphoma.
Good digestion is the cornerstone to good health. Factors which can negatively affect digestion include stress, smoking, ageing, a poor diet, rushed meals and the overuse of drugs such as antacids or antibiotics. The root of the problem should always be investigated and addressed. There might be more serious reasons behind your heartburn, like Helicobacter pylori, or even autoimmune processes, where your immune system attacks your stomach lining, or indeed parts of the entire digestive tract.
The first solution you are offered is suppressing the acid, where in fact, bad digestion can have a profound effect on your overall health. No matter how healthy your diet is, by not absorbing the nutrients within your food you may be susceptible to problems such as poor skin, joint pain and fatigue just to mention a few. The most common side effects of stomach acid suppression is low magnesium and vitamin B12 absorption – both nutrients are crucial for all your systems, your energy production and nervous system. So insist on investigation and addressing the root of the problem.
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