The current paradigm is wrong!
It is common knowledge that if you experience heartburn (a burning sensation in the oesophagus), then you should take an antacid. If the problem becomes ongoing then a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) might be a good solution. This logic is based on the assumption that heartburn is caused by an excess of stomach acid, and that suppressing the acid culprit is an effective means of addressing the problem.
Today I want to debunk this theory and give you a logical, alternative explanation for why heartburn occurs and how we can fix it – naturally!
Digestion relies on stomach acid for correct function
Contrary to popular belief, stomach acid is absolutely critical to healthy digestive function. Humans are omnivores, not herbivores. Unlike cows and other herbivores, we do not have four stomachs and our digestive process does not revolve around the fermentation of carbohydrates. Rather, we have a digestive system that relies on an abundance of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach to breakdown our food and digest nutrients. What more than anything relies on HCl for digestion? Protein, which is found most abundantly in animal products, a give away that meat is an inherent part of the human diet.
What is heartburn?
Stomach acid is meant to be there, it is just when the acid ends up in the wrong place that we experience the discomfort of heartburn.
The stomach has a number of inbuilt mechanisms that protects it from its highly acidic contents. However, when the acid is able to escape through the valve that separates the stomach from the oesophagus (the lower oesophageal sphincter), up into the oesophagus then we experience the uncomfortable burning sensation of heartburn. The primary role of the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) is to prevent stomach acid from coming up into contact with the oesophagus.
We experience the sensation of heartburn when acid from the stomach is able to escape through the Lower Oesophageal Sphincter and into the oesophagus.
The answer if you can’t be bothered with the biology:
If we have insufficient stomach acid then a number of processes that break down our food do not occur. In particular fats and proteins are not properly broken down and able to exit the stomach. Fats can stay in the stomach or the upper part of the small intestine and rancidify, while proteins putrify. If this occurs then the next time we eat, our stomach won’t be properly empty and the valve up the top of the stomach can become overfull due to existing, undigested food.
This puts pressure on the valve at the top of the stomach (the LOS), which overtime can lead to a weakening of the LOS. If the LOS is weak then it does not serve its main function: preventing stomach acid from rising back up to the oesophagus.
…And this is why we feel the sensation of heartburn.
The biology behind why stomach acid is critical to human digestion
Stomach acid is central to our digestive process!
The stomach must be acidic enough that it can break down our food and kill germs. pH is the scientific scale used to measure how acid or alkaline something is. A low pH means something is acidic, a high pH means something is more alkaline (basic).
A number of processes are dependent on the stomach being acidic, which acts as a catalyst.
The acidic nature of the stomach:
- Breaks down food;
- Releases nutrients like calcium, iron and B12 making them absorbable;
- Kills bacteria so it cannot enter the small intestine;
- Stimulates the lower stomach valve (pyloric sphincter) to open to allow food to enter the small intestine;
- Stimulates production of pancreatic enzymes; and
- Stimulates release of bicarbonate soda to de-acidify food from the stomach so it does not damage the intestines.
The body is pretty clever and has many inbuilt mechanisms for protecting itself and ensuring all processes happen. But if we are stopping one of the central players, stomach acid, then lots of things won’t happen further downstream.
Low stomach acid causes your digestion to back-up
A lack of stomach acid prevents the processes outlined above from taking place resulting in a cascade of negative effects later in the digestive process. An acidic stomach stimulates the lower stomach valve to open and allow the contents of the food to pass into the small intestine for further digestion. Food should then pass into an area of the small intestine called the duodenum. Here, the acidic content stimulates the release of:
Mucous: protects the lining of the intestine from the acidic stomach contents
Bicarbonate soda: brings the pH of the stomach contents up – make it less acidic so it does not damage the intestine
Release of bile: from the gallbladder in order to break down fats
if our stomach acid is not sufficient then the following will not occur
- food won’t be properly broken down and large particles will remain
- the lower stomach valve won’t open properly so food won’t progress out of the stomach and into the intestine
- the important hormones for digestion in the small intestine wont be release so the food that does make it will also not be properly broken down.
Everything starts to get blocked and backed up!
If this continues then the next time we eat, our stomach won’t be properly empty and the valve up the top of the stomach can become overfull due to existing, undigested food. This puts pressure on the valve at the top of the stomach (the LOS), which overtime can lead to a weakening of the LOS. If the LOS is weak then it does not serve its main function: preventing stomach acid from rising back up to the oesophagus.
Enter the feeling of heartburn!
The presence of stomach acid in the oesophagus when it shouldn’t be there. The problem isn’t your body making too much acid, it is the fact that there isn’t enough, which is preventing the occurrence of the downstream process.
IF we have enough stomach acid like we are supposed to then our food is fully digested and easily moves through to the next phase in the colon. Considering the majority of our nutrition is absorbed in the small intestine, we want our food to be properly digested by the time it gets here!
Now you understand how the symptoms of heartburn develop.
The current prescription is wrong
In response to the burning sensation we are advised to take antacids, which serve to further reduce the amount of stomach acid our bodies produced. This only exacerbates the problem! This approach is symptomatic of the medical establishment’s tendency to treat symptoms and overlook underlying causes of various conditions.
The pharmaceutical industry has way too much power in medicine. Antacids in particular represent a billion-dollar industry and big pharma gets richer the more we supress our natural stomach acid and become dependent on their products.
Another huge problem with the current paradigm is that big pharma sponsors a huge amount of research on medication. There isn’t enough money to fund research into natural and food related remedies for conditions such as heartburn, because no one is going to make money from that!
Antacids are handed out far too frequently as a solution to heartburn. However, they only serve to exacerbate the problem by de-acidifying the stomach, which is supposed to be acidic!
A number of lifestyle factors contribute to low stomach acid:
- not chewing enough
- caffeinated beverages
Other problems resulting from low stomach acid
Without sufficient stomach acid our food can end up in our intestine, still in solid pieces. Since 90% of our immune system lives in our intestines, if undigested food particles make it down that far they can cause damage the lining of the intestine resulting in intestinal permeability. When our gut is leaky then our immune system is seriously compromised. I cover this in great detail here.
– Impaired mineral and vitamin absorption
When we have low stomach acid the digestive process downstream does not work properly meaning we do not absorb minerals and vitamins properly. This is particularly true of iron and B12, critical nutrients for energy regulation and overall vitality.
– Increased risk of bacteria or infection
Low stomach acid also means that there is nothing to kill bacteria and pathogens and they can pass into our small intestine where they can do serious damage.
Final words on heartburn and stomach acid
This article has provided a brief snapshot of why the symptoms of heartburn are actually caused by low stomach acid. While it may seem counter intuitive to treat heartburn with more stomach acid, this is the most natural and long-term effective way to fix the problem. Sufficient stomach acid means that our entire digestive process will work better, nutrient absorption will improve and our ability to kill bacteria will be stronger. If you are experiencing heartburn and are sick of being dependent on big pharma to feel well, then please get in touch with me and I can provide guidance on how to approach this naturally.