When we digest a meal containing protein, our stomach produces hydrochloric acid to break down the food into useful amino acids, which are the building blocks of life needed for every bodily function.
What are Amino Acids
Amino acids make up 75% of the body and are needed for every body process. Nine of the twenty amino acids are derived from the food we eat, while the other eleven are produced naturally by the body.
Histidine is needed for tissue regrowth, Lysine aids calcium absorption, Phenylalanine aids memory and nerve functions, Methionine breaks down fats, Leucine regulates blood sugar and Tryptophan aids in sleep and serotonin production, to name a few.
While it may look like food to us, the stomach recognizes the protein as a complex sequential chain of amino acids linked together by peptide bonds. Once the acid is secreted, the protein is unravelled, exposing the amino acid chains so that the pancreas, small intestine and stomach lining’s digestive enzymes can get to work splitting peptide bonds and freeing individual amino acids for energy absorption, fat for storage and waste for excretion.
When our digestion system is out of whack, we suffer in both big and small ways. Acid reflux, heartburn and indigestion can be the small yet terribly uncomfortable side effects of improper digestion.
While it is widely believed that heartburn acid reflux comes from overproduction of HCL acid, research suggests that indigestion can be caused by the contrary – underproduction!
In the case of underproduction of acid, also known as achlorhydria, undigested protein sits in our stomach, essentially rotting. Bloating, burping and discomfort ensues – sometimes forcing acid or food back up the esophagus.
If you have bad breath, burp excessively after eating, feel heavy after eating, experience nausea, diarrhoea or constipation, then these may be telltale signs that food is not being broken down properly into the amino acids you need to feel your best.
What are some causes of improper digestion, abnormal levels of stomach acid and poor absorption of amino acids?
As we age, stomach acid production declines. Stress, sleep deprivation, eating too fast and over-eating also contribute to acid secretion. Essentially, we are not getting the chemical triggers we need to keep our machine well-oiled.
Drugs such as Prilosec, one of the top selling prescriptions, appeal to us by promising to stop acid production, even though it is a much-needed natural process. While these drugs provide immediate, temporary relief, they still do not attack the underlying issue – that your body simply is not digesting foods properly, and, as a result, cannot derive the amino acids from the food that you have eaten.
Without sufficient stomach acid as the essential trigger for other processes, the pancreas may not secrete fat and starch digesting enzymes, the gall bladder may not release bile, and we won’t absorb amino acids or minerals like B6, B12 and folic acid, as needed.
Adequate levels of stomach acid also protect us from bacteria, viruses, parasites and toxins that may lurk deep inside our food. In the worst case scenario improper digestion and loss of amino acids can lead to poor nutrition, disorders and serious diseases.
While it is almost instinctual to take the fast track to immediate heartburn symptoms relief, many researchers warn against it. To address the underlying problem, which is inadequate amino acids and improper digestive functioning, reflux treatment should include a healthy diet that triggers one’s natural body processes.
If achieving that is difficult, then a boost of amino acids supplements might do the trick.