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Digestion: Part 2 (of 4)

Hi there!  In the last post, we looked at how the brain and mouth affect digestion in Part 1.  Continuing on to dive in to this whole digestive process, we will get going with seeing the stomach’s role in digestion.

We left off with the bolus (ball of mush which is chewed food mixed with saliva) being swallowed and thrown into the esophagus.  The esophagus essentially has no role in digestion, other than serving as a passageway for the bolus to travel down from mouth to stomach.  At the end of the esophagus is the cardiac sphincter, a little gate, to allow food to pass through INto the stomach, but not back up (except in extreme circumstances like vomiting but we won’t get into that).  So now the bolus is in the stomach.

Stomachsource of photo

In an ideal situation…

When the bolus enters the stomach, gastric juice is secreted from the glands in the lining of the stomach.  This gastric juice, more commonly known as stomach acid, is made of important components like mucous, pepsinogen, and hydrochloric acid.  The stomach’s job is to further break down the food both chemically (mainly proteins by way of the pepsinogen/pepsin) and mechanically.  There are layers of muscle that contract and relax in a wave-like fashion, called peristalsis, to really grind up the food, mixing it with the gastric juices for chemical breakdown to form what’s now called a chyme (pronounced k-eye-m) and preparing it to move into the small intestine through the pyloric sphincter.

The pH of the stomach is a really important thing.  The optimal pH level is between 1.5 and 3 (that’s really acidic).  Hydrochloric acid itself has a pH of 0.8, which is almost pure acid. As I said before, it’s really important and that’s because that acid has a number of roles aside from digestion such as disinfecting the stomach and killing bacteria and parasites before they continue further and make you sick.

So as far as the stomach goes, that’s pretty much it.  There’s a lot of “nitty gritty” that happens here, but I don’t think it’s necessary for this post.  Unfortunately, a lot can go wrong though.

whatcangowrong

The biggest problem is not having sufficient stomach acid, which can happen a few different ways.  First of all, stress can hinder the production/release of hydrochloric acid.  So all that stuff we talked about in the last post is showing up again in a connective way.  Secondly, drugs like antacids and acid blockers raise the pH of the stomach acid to a more alkaline level…not good for digestion.  Without that really acidic environment, a lot can happen like certain things not being broken down, or even bacteria not being killed that can pass through to the intestines and cause problems like ulcers.

Here’s a really interesting fact from the book, Why Stomach Acid is Good for You, acid  reflux is not the result of too much stomach acid!  It’s the result of too little!  This was one of our assigned books for NTA and I found it really fascinating.  Highly recommended if you’ve been suffering from this common problem.  It will definitely shed some light on why you’re still suffering, why you’re still dependent on this medication.  How does this happen?  When there’s not enough stomach acid available to properly break down food, some of it will not pass through to the small intestine.  So that means it sits in the stomach…and basically starts to rot.  The carbohydrates will ferment, the fats will become rancid, and the proteins will putrefy.  As the food sits there, it can produce gas, causing the stomach acid to bubble.  The gas can push on the esophagus, and if that sphincter opens, some of that bubbling stomach acid can splash up into the esophagus.  Now, the esophagus is not lined with a protective layer like the stomach is and so that acid burns!  That’s the “burn” you feel.  So yes, you’ll feel relief from taking an antacid because it neutralizes the acid that’s in the esophagus, but it’s not really helping the root cause.

The pyloric sphincter also plays a part.  The chyme needs to reach a certain acidity level before the pyloric sphincter will allow it to pass through to the small intestine.  So if it can’t pass through, the same problems as above can occur.  If it does pass through, it can feed bad bacteria further south.

How to fix it:

Going back to echo Part 1…Rest and Digest!  This is huge.  If you’re stressed, this really important acid won’t be released.

Chew your food!

If you’ve been taking an antacid pretty frequently, you can retrain your stomach to produce proper acid like taking some apple cider vinegar about 5 minutes before eating a meal (try 1-2 teaspoons mixed in 4-8 ounces of water), starting your day with room temperature lemon water, or even taking a regimen of hydrochloric acid supplements and wean off as needed.  *There’s a really simple hydrochloric acid test you can do on your own.  Also, please do not take this post as advice to suddenly stop any reflux prescriptions/medications.  Always talk with your doctor first. 

Up next, we will explore the small intestine, and a bit about the pancreas and gall bladder.

In good health,

Michelle

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