Stomach acid – an important digestive aid for our stomach
What exactly is gastric acid? Various cells in the stomach mucosa produce two to three litres of digestive fluid every day, the so-called gastric juice. This consists of various components, including water, mucous substances, digestive enzymes, the so-called intrinsic factor (which is important for the absorption of vitamin B12), bicarbonate and hydrochloric acid, i.e. stomach acid.
Our food enters the stomach chopped up and mixed with saliva – depending on our chewing behaviour, well or slightly pre-chewed. But this is not nearly enough preparation for the food components to be optimally broken down and utilised in the further digestive process. And this is where the aggressive stomach acid comes into play: it becomes active as soon as ingested food enters the stomach, but also when we smell a meal or even just think about it.
In response to these stimuli, our gastric epithelial cells, which are special glandular cells in the stomach lining, produce hydrochloric acid and bicarbonate. To prevent the aggressive stomach acid from attacking the stomach itself, there is another important protective mechanism: the gastric mucosa. Bicarbonate is also stored in the mucous membrane, it neutralises the hydrochloric acid and thus also protects the stomach mucosa.
The stomach acid breaks down food into its individual parts and prepares it optimally for further digestion. In the process, important substances are released from the food, for example iron, calcium and vitamins such as vitamin B12.
At the same time, the stomach acid activates the digestive enzymes contained in the gastric juice, which then process the food pulp further. However, gastric acid has another task: it kills microorganisms and bacteria contained in the food. Most pathogens cannot survive such an acidic environment.
You can already see that our digestion is a perfectly coordinated system. Like a big machine, if one cog in the gearbox gets stuck, the whole mechanism comes to a standstill. Or to put it another way: if our food leaves the stomach poorly predigested, it puts a strain on all the other digestive organs, from the intestines to the pancreas to the liver. With sometimes considerable consequences for our health.
When your stomach is acidic: causes and symptoms of hyperacidity
The production of too much stomach acid can have various causes: Constant stress and hectic activity, an unhealthy diet, little exercise, food that is low in nutrients and contaminated with pesticides, the consumption of alcohol, nicotine, the intake of medication but also gastritis caused by the bacterium Helicobacter pylori. In other words, it is almost a challenge not to become over-acidic with our modern lifestyle.
If the blood threatens to become over-acidic, a kind of emergency management takes place: The mucosal cells are called upon to produce alkaline bicarbonate in order to bring the body back into an acid-base balance. Since the accessory cells can only produce bicarbonate and hydrochloric acid, i.e. stomach acid, at the same time, a vicious circle begins. Our body permanently produces too much stomach acid.
A short-term over-acidification of the stomach is usually not a big deal. However, due to a permanent excess of stomach acid, at some point the protective function of the stomach lining also wears off, resulting in so-called hyperacidity, the stomach becomes overacidic.
We notice this in various complaints:
- Heartburn (when the stomach acid does not stay in the stomach, but goes into the oesophagus)
- Acid regurgitation
- Fullness, loss of appetite
- Nausea, vomiting
- Bad breath
- Stomach pain or discomfort
- Damage to the stomach lining such as inflammation or ulcers
- Duodenal ulcer
But at some point this mechanism also breaks down. Due to the constant strain, the stomach cells become tired and block, i.e. they refuse to produce. The result: too little gastric acid is produced in the stomach. And that, too, can have devastating effects on our health.