Saturday, July 21, 2007

How Stress Depletes Precious Stomach Acid

I want to revisit the topic of stomach acid because it is so crucial to good digestion. Almost every patient that I see has some problem with digestion. For example, bloating after meals, frequent bouts of gas, problems with constipation, difficulty losing weight, food allergies and much more. Stomach acid is absolutely necessary, yet many people have depleted their acid for a few different reasons.

First of all, why is acid in your belly so important? The stomach should have an acidic pH when food is present. It is much more alkaline (about 6.0) when the stomach is empty. When you eat, the acid produced in the stomach should bring the pH to 2.0. This wonderful acidic substance is secreted from cells called parietal cells in mucosal lining of the stomach. The acid is important in protecting us from bacterial, parasites and other microorganisms that might come in to the body in our food supply. The acid also activates enzymes that digest proteins. When proteins do not completely digest the word for this is called putrefaction. Isn't that lovely? They rot in your intestines and the waste products can become poisonous. You also don't get the benefit of a completely digested food. You do not receive the needed amino acids from those proteins. Ultimately, you eat protein, so that it will break down into amino acids that your body will use. If the food will not digest properly, what's the use in eating it?

The ideal cirucmstances for perfect digestion would go a little like this. You begin preparation of your meal with your family by going out to your own garden and picking fresh vegetables. You see the fresh food, the vibrant colors, and completely appreciate all the time and effort that has gone into growing it. Not just your effort, but the plant's effort and the miracle of the sun, the soil, the seed all coming together to create beautiful food. You lovingly prepare the food together. You bless the food first, and eat the food over lively conversation, listening to music that is conducive to good digestion, like classical music, jazz or something similar that appeals to you.

WHO eats this way today? Here's a tasty tidbit of information. 40% of americans eat breakfast in their car. So, I know that this meal situation is something that you strive for, but might not achieve. In that situation, the parasympathetic nervous system is highly stimulated. At this point, all the enzymes necessary to break down the food are released. The stomach cranks up the production of that lovely acid, also called gastric acid or hydrochloric acid. Perfect digestion becomes possible.

If you eat breakfast in your car, take lunch at your desk, or eat when you feel stressed, just the opposite takes place. If you are in a state of stress, worried about work, see the person in front of you slam on the brakes, thinking about financial worries, then you are in "fight or flight" mode. The brain is perceiving danger in an ancient way, thinking that you are facing a life or death situation. Blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate all increase in anticipation that you may need to soon fight for your life. Does this seem like a good time to digest a burger? Not to your body either. So, the body shuts down the production of enzymes, and, of course, your awesome stomach acid. It also sends the blood from the stomach to the skeletal muscles. Remember how mom told you not to swim within 30 minutes of the whole meal thing?

Being in a constant state of stress, or at least stressed out when eating creates a poor environment for digestion. As a result, food stays in the stomach longer. This can create a feeling of bloating. The putrefaction can lead to the creation of gas in the body, which can "express" itself as belching or the lovely flatulence. This prolonged time in the stomach along with the putrefaction can cause organic acids to form. Guess what that makes you feel like you have? Yep. Acid reflux or heartburn. So, what do you take for that? You got it, acid blockers. Tums or your favorite over-the-counter acid blocker. Now, how do you think that will help your already challenged state of low stomach acid? Stay tuned for more information about the benefits of stomach acid, and how to tell if yours is low, and how to improve it.

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