Now that we’ve made it through the esophagus and into the stomach, the next two blogs will focus on it. This first article talks about what is supposed to happen in the stomach and the second article discusses the importance of hydrochloric acid and much of the misinformation on that subject.
The stomach is where some serious digestion is supposed to start. As mentioned it can hold one liter (four cups) comfortably. It will stretch to hold more, but may struggle to process all of it properly. The stomach makes hydrochloric acid (HCl) to facilitate the digestion process. As the stomach stretches to accommodate food, this signals the body to make HCl. The stomach concentrates the acid to lower its pH below 3.0, ideally getting down to 1.0 to 2.0.
To protect itself from HCl the stomach makes mucus for its lining. And here’s a critical point. HCl does not digest food; it only serves to get the stomach acidic. Once the stomach is acidic pepsinogen is released. This makes pepsin which begins protein digestion.
The stomach also makes what is called intrinsic factor to digest Vitamin B12 and lipase to digest fats. Also note there is no carbohydrate digestion in the stomach. If the stomach is not acidic enough pepsinogen will not make pepsin and lipase will not be released. This means digestion is not occurring!
The acidic nature (and thus HCl production) of the stomach is critical for several other reasons. Of prime importance is to purify our foods. HCl will de-activate plant, animal and synthetic hormones and antibiotics from animals.
Stomach acid kills bacteria and viruses so they cannot get to other parts of our body. The bacteria H. Pylori turns off the stomach’s ability to make HCl. It has been recognized as the root cause of stomach ulcers. This bacteria eats away the stomach’s lining. Without HCl the body cannot kill the bacteria without additional support.
HCl is necessary for protein, B12, iron, and calcium absorption. Protein is the structural basis for our body – our muscles, ligaments, tendons, organs, glands, nails, hair, vital fluids (blood, hormones, neurotransmitters), and enzymes are all protein based. It builds and repairs all these tissues and cells.
Vitamin B12 is important for many functions. It is a cofactor for two important enzymes. One used for the metabolism of methionine, an essential amino acid. The other aids the production of energy from proteins and fats. Overall Vitamin B12 supports the nervous system, promotes the maturation of red blood cells (hence the tie to anemia when deficient in B12), and supports bone and joint health.
Iron is critical for the health of our blood. One-third of our 100 trillion cells are red blood cells! Iron aids in hemoglobin production, which is critical in the transportation of oxygen around the body. Oxygen fuels the body and hemoglobin helps get it around! Iron also supports enzyme formation and function and is part of the enzyme system that produces DNA – the blueprint of the body – so it is critical in growth, reproduction, healing, and immune function.
Iron is tricky as too little can cause anemia—but too much can lead to atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular problems. Unlike other minerals, excess iron is not excreted from the body. Instead, it’s stored in the tissues, accelerating iron overload indefinitely.
Calcium is one of the most talked about minerals and for good reason. It supports strong bone structure, teeth, and muscle tissue, aids in blood clotting function, supports cardiovascular and nerve functions, and helps in normal functioning of many enzymes. I repeat, without HCl we cannot effectively absorb calcium. So, if you are taking both antacids and calcium supplements what do you think is happening (or not happening)?
If all is going well, the stomach has begun the process of breaking down the proteins and fats and some key vitamins and minerals are being absorbed. Next stop is the small intestines. But before we get there, we’ll explore how digestion can be compromised in the stomach, which of course has significant impact as we continue down the north to south path.