Many Americans experience discomfort pain or burning in their chest after eating a meal. These symptoms have been referred to as heartburn and most people associate the pain or discomfort as an overproduction of stomach acid in the stomach.
While I was in naturopathic school I became familiar with the concept of low stomach producing the same symptoms. The term is called hypochlorhydria and it simply means low stomach acid.
When I first heard of low stomach acid causing burning pain it did not make sense to me but as it was explained how this works in the body I finally got it and it made sense. Here is what happens in the normal digestive process. We think, smell, or taste food and our brain sends signals to the stomach to produce acid to break food and kill any micro-organisms that might be harmful and still living on the food. Once food has been swallowed it moves down a pipe called the esophagus and is deposited in the stomach. A small muscular flap closes to prevent the acid or food from moving backwards and causing pain. Protein is the main product broken down by the acid and enzymes in the stomach. After the proteins are sufficiently broken down it moves into the small intestine to continue the breakdown process of other compounds. If the stomach acid is too low the proteins do not get adequately broken down and instead start to putefry or ferment in the stomach – the food starts to go bad in the stomach. This bad food sitting in the stomach actually starts to create more acid in the stomach. This can cause burning pain when the muscular flap of the stomach has relaxed because the most of the other contents in the stomach have moved to the small intestine. This is a classic presentation of heartburn being caused by low stomach acid instead of high stomach acids. The situation will be worse if the patient starts taking antacids, like tums or stronger prescription medications.
In the next blog we will discuss what are the causes of low stomach acid and what are natural treatments that can rebalance the system. Until next time…
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