How can too much and too little stomach acid have the same symptoms?

by | Nov 11, 2023 | gut health and digestion

Digestion is a complex process. It involves a number of stages, requiring the action of different digestive juices, acid, enzymes and hormones. It is a sequence of co-ordinated events designed to efficiently extract nutrients from our food. Unfortunately, things can go wrong.

Stomach pain with a burning sensation is a common symptom. These symptoms are often believed to be caused by having too much stomach acid. No wonder there are so many acid suppressing medications available. Both over-the-counter and prescribed. But, most people don’t realise that having not enough stomach acid can produce the same symptoms as too much.

Producing too much stomach acid, could be related to stress or as a reaction to eating certain foods. Spicy foods, citrus fruits, coffee and alcohol cause problems for some. And people can often identify what foods don’t agree with them.

When there is too much acid it can leak into the oesophagus. The tube that runs between the mouth and the stomach. This area of the digestive tract is less protected from acid contact. And over time the tissues become inflamed and painful, with a burning sensation. Antacids or acid suppressing drugs relieve the symptoms. Some herbal remedies, such as marshmallow or meadowsweet can also provide relief without side effects.

Stomach acid aids digestion and kills off many invading bacteria and yeasts. But, in later life production often declines. Though there will still be some acid produced. The pH of the stomach is higher than in a healthy stomach. Digestion is impaired and bacteria can thrive. The result is too many bacteria, or abnormal species of bacteria growing in the small intestine.

Impaired digestion means food sits around in the stomach for too long. When the food finally enters the small intestine, bacteria ferment the carbohydrates. The fermentation releases gases which give rise to bloating and pain. And, a back pressure into the stomach. This forces some stomach contents up into the oesophagus creating inflammation. Over time this condition becomes chronic and produces the familiar burning sensation. And people often will use antacids to reduce the symptoms.

However, antacids are not appropriate when the stomach is not producing enough acid. Instead the digestion need to be improved and supported rather than suppressed. Inappropriate use of antacids only makes the condition worse.

Good digestion is the foundation for good health. Adding bitter herbs and foods to the diet improves digestion and aids absorption of nutrients. Improving digestion with bitter herbs also makes small intestinal bacterial overgrowth less likely.


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