They say that digestion begins in the mouth, hence chew your food thoroughly. There is some truth to this. Chewing mechanically breaks down the food and there are enzymes in the saliva that help to break down carbohydrates. But digestion really begins in the stomach with the secretion of stomach acid, otherwise known as hydrochloric acid (HCL).
HCL is naturally released from the entreochromafin cells in the stomach lining. It is essential for:
- The digestion of proteins, it denatures the curled up proteins for pepsin to cleave the proteins into blocks of amino acids called di and tri-peptides.
- HCL is required for the production of intrinsic factor that is essential for the absorption of vitamin B12.
- HCL ionises all minerals so they can be absorbed.
- HCL signal to the pancreas to release digestive enzymes that further digest proteins, carbohydrates and fats in the small intestine.
- HCL stimulates the gall bladder to release bile, which emulsifies and digests fats.
- HCL destroys bacteria and parasites in the stomach.
However, due to our modern stress levels we produce much less stomach acid than generation that have passed before us. We have to answer e-mails and texts, drive in rush our traffic, meet work or study deadlines, try and fit the gym, socializing and relationships into our lifestyles. Then we are bombarded we electromagnetic radiation, the chemical sea of oestrogens that are in our environment and the pollution on our food and in our water. Any kind of stress increases activity in the sympathetic nervous system – the fight and flight side of the nervous system, which reduces activity in the parasympathetic nervous system – the rest and digest branch of the nervous system. Here you can see how stress reduces digestion and reduces the secret of HCL in our stomach.
Low hydrochloric acid (HCL) production leads to poor digestion of proteins, fats and carbohydrates. This can present as:
- Bloating, belching or gas after eating. So if you are farting all night after eating you sure have low HCL!
- Undigested food in stool
- Foul smelling stool – although this may just as likely be due to bacterial dysbiosis
- Indigestion and heartburn, paradoxically this is the case as the oesophageal sphincter is controlled by pH, the stomach's pH is 1.5-2, which is extremely acidic. The more acidic the stomach is the tighter the sphincter holds shut, however if the pH rises due to low HCL production and becomes pH 4, which is still very acidic, the sphincter can loosen and allow backwash of acid in the oesophagus and give heart burn .
Imagine now that you have good HCL levels and that you are digesting all your food properly. You have less embarrassing gas and bloating after eating. The proteins you eat will go to your muscles and immune system to keep you strong and healthy. Vitamins will be absorbed providing antioxidants and co-factors for energy pathways giving your more energy. Your minerals will now be absorbed properly. Good magnesium absorption will improve your sleep and zinc will stimulate more HCL production and boost your immune system.
Before you take any supplements or making any changes to your diet you need to establish you HCL levels. Any changes you make are not as effective without first establishing your HCL levels and supplementing your program with HCL.