Symptoms like heartburn and acid reflux as well as pretty much any indigestion are sometimes blamed on “too much stomach acid.” While too much acid can certainly end up in the esophagus, where it should not be, the important question is how it gets there. Understanding and envisioning the ideal healthy function of the body is helpful for our Toronto naturopath patients both in navigating their treatment options and in making healthy choices when it comes to their nutrition and lifestyle.
In order to digest proteins – which is one of the stomach’s main jobs – it has to remain extremely acidic. The production of acid and stomach enzymes is especially important at the beginning of a meal. This acidity creates a feedback loop with the LES – the lower esophageal sphincter. The LES has receptors for stomach acid right on it, and when they are activated it helps the LES to close. Without this correctly timed acid stimulation for the LES, it remains quite open. At a later phase in the digestive cycle, the stomach may finally be building up enough acid to deal with the food it’s received, but with the LES open due to a lack of proper signalling, this acid rises up into the esophagus, causing acid reflux and heartburn.
Timing is what it all comes down to, much like a washing machine cycle which needs the soap to be released during the wash, not during the spin cycle. This is why the timing of meals is so important. If we eat a large amount of food in a rush while under stress, this sets us up for low stomach acid at the start of a meal. In order to produce enough stomach acid and other digestive “juices,” we need to relax. Stress directly suppresses digestive function through the sympathetic nervous system.
In addition to the tips we shared in our other article on acid reflux here, it can help to take three big breaths at the start of a meal, before taking the first bite. Any water should be taken before starting to eat as well, rather than taking it during or after the meal which dilutes that stomach acid – which stops the LES from closing and causes the stomach to make more acid. There are also ways to work with nutrition, botanical medicine and supplements to enhance the digestive cycle, which our Toronto naturopath employs to help your acid work for you instead of against you.