You may have heard things about eating an 'alkaline diet', drinking 'alkaline water' or that we must have our bodies in an 'alkaline state'. And while I understand the premise of these statements and encourage you to eat less processed foods and mostly plants, I believe it is important to know that we don't want our body to be 'alkaline', especially our blood or stomach acid! Let's explore the concept of pH and how a perfectly acidic stomach is essential for digestion and elimination pathways.
You are a unique miracle, created with an incredible body that performs miraculous functions every moment of the day. I am constantly in awe of how our bodies function and continuously work towards balance (homeostasis). One of the miraculous balancing acts your body does is maintain pH levels for each organ and system, avoiding and minimising any departure from the narrow limits of normal pH disruptions to avoid disturbing your bodily functions.
Firstly what is pH? It is the acid-base balance of intracellular and extracellular fluids. The more hydrogen ions (H+) dissolved in a solution, the more acidic it is. The more hydroxide ions (OH-), the more alkaline (basic) a solution is. The pH scale extends from 0 – 14, with 0 being the most acidic, 7 as neutral and 14 most alkaline.
The pH of our bodily fluids differ for example gastric juices (stomach acids) have a value of 1.2 – 3 (1.9 being optimum for digestion), saliva has a pH of 6.35 – 6.85, your blood is tightly regulated between 7.35 – 7.45, and bile (our liver secretion that aids in fat digestion) is 7.6 – 8.6. Urine is 4.6 – 8. The variance is because our kidneys help remove excess acid from the body.
Breathing is essential in maintaining our pH, and our respiratory system has a negative feedback loop to keep our blood pH levels when necessary. Your kidneys are essential in excreting the acids caused by metabolic reactions through your urine. Your body pathways have built-in buffers to maintain the pH through the protein buffer system, carbonic acid-bicarbonate buffer system and phosphate buffer system. It is all incredible!
Let's move on to the importance of stomach acid pH for the digestion and elimination pathways.
The role of your stomach acid is to continue the food breakdown started by chewing. Chewing initiates digestion, and chewing well is important. The enzymes in your saliva (salivary amylase) begin breaking down complex carbohydrates. Many people inhale their food and don't chew enough. Through chewing, signals are sent to the brain to inform the stomach to begin producing stomach acid. Having sufficient stomach acid production is key to exceptional digestion and elimination. Not chewing your food effectively and drinking water with your meals can interfere with this.
Let me explain. As I mentioned, the ideal pH for your stomach acid is around 1.9 (a far cry from being alkaline!). Your stomach lining is adept at handling acidity levels. Water has a pH of about 7, and drinking water with meals may dilute stomach acid. The more plant-based meals you eat, the less likely you want to wash down a mouthful of food with water. Keep water between meals, preferably 20 minutes before or after. If drinking water with meals is a habit you need to break, I encourage you to add some apple cider vinegar or juice of a lemon to the water until you do. This will make the water slightly more acidic and less likely to interfere with neutralising your stomach acid.
Once the food bolus has moved through your oesophagus and landed in your stomach, the stomach acid will continue to break down the food particles. This is where protein begins its digestion process. If your stomach acid is over a pH of 2, the enzyme that breaks down protein becomes inactive. Only small amounts of nutrients are absorbed in the stomach, water, ions, short-chain fatty acids, some drugs (including aspirin) and alcohol.
Ensuring that food is broken down into the smallest particles possible helps improve the absorption and utilisation of nutrients and supports what happens later in the digestive system. Your stomach acid also supports the pH gradient throughout your digestive system.
The food that your stomach acid has broken down then moves into the small intestine, where it is bathed in bicarbonate, just like you have in your kitchen! This increases the pH level, which stimulates more digestive enzymes to be released from the pancreas and the brush border of the small intestine. The brush border is responsible for the absorption of nutrients. This is where the body decides what will be absorbed into the blood and what will continue to the large intestine. As digestion continues through to elimination, the pH rises, and the poo of most healthy people will be a pH of 6.1 – 7.9.
The pH gradient of your digestive tract impacts your bacteria profile, and the 'good bacteria' is less likely to survive. Their survival is important as the bacteria that live in the large intestine are closely acquainted with your immune system's function.
Your stomach acid also helps control viruses and bacteria that may cause stomach infections. If you continue to have poor stomach acid, over time, the lack of breakdown of food will impact the absorption of nutrients causing nutritional deficiencies. Having food that is not adequately broken down enter your small and large intestines allows for fermentation of the large food particles leading to an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine (SIBO).
Some symptoms of poor stomach acid pH include
- Undigested food in poop
Long term impact of poor stomach acid pH may produce symptoms of nutritional deficiencies, including
- Brittle fingernails
- Hair loss
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
- Memory loss
As with many health conditions, symptoms can be similar. If you have concerns, check with your medical professional.
Some suggestions to support a healthy stomach acid pH are
- Eat slowly and chew thoroughly
- Avoid drinking water for 20 minutes on either side of meals
- Eat protein first to help stimulate acid production
- Eat probiotic foods, such as natural Greek yoghurt, miso, kimchi and sauerkraut, to support good bacteria growth
- Avoid highly processed food laden with sugar, salt and fat
I hope this has offered some understanding of how important your stomach acid pH is. Also, how important it is to not only chew your food but also not to waste your time and money on gimmicky products!
As always, remember your reasons, your health, your mission, and the people you love.
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Blog posts are not intended to provide medical advice or take the place of medical advice and treatment from your doctor. Readers are advised to consult their qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Ocea Marie does not take any responsibility for possible health consequences for anyone reading or following the information available on the blog. All readers, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their doctor before beginning any nutrition or supplement program.
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