Most people believe that heartburn or acid reflux is the result of too much stomach acid. Nothing could be further from the truth. Counterintuitively, these conditions are the result of too LITTLE stomach acid.
The Role of Stomach Acid
We need our stomachs to maintain a highly acidic environment to properly digest food, particularly proteins. When food doesn’t get broken down into the microscopic nutrients our cells can utilize, we can experience all kinds of “downstream” problems such as gut inflammation, poor nutrient absorption, and elevated stress hormones. Another one of its important roles is to kill any pathogens that may arrive with your food and potentially make you sick.
Why Low Stomach Acid Causes Heartburn
At the bottom of your esophagus—that long chute that connects your mouth to your stomach—there’s a flap called the Lower Esophageal Sphincter, or LES. Its purpose is to let food into the stomach but to prevent anything in the stomach from going back up. Guess what signals the LES to tighten and close off!? Stomach acid! This means that when your stomach acid is low, the LES weakens and doesn’t tighten properly. What stomach acid you DO have then backs its way up through the LES and into the esophagus, causing that burning sensation.
What Causes Low Stomach Acid?
A few reasons for low stomach acid include the overuse of antibiotics, chronic stress, poor diet, eating too quickly, aging, and food sensitivities.
If you have chronic heartburn or acid reflux, you’ll want to work on building up your stomach acid and healing your LES. Add one of these natural ways to your daily routine, and you’ll feel better:
- Start your day with 1/2 lemon squeezed into water
- Mix a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed into a glass of water – drink up!
- Drink a teaspoon of baking soda mixed with water
- Consider taking HCl (hydrochloric acid) supplements
Here’s what NOT to do: take antacids, which quell stomach acid instead of promote it. Even though they help you feel better in the short term, they actually make the problem worse.