Whether you call it stomach acid or gastric acid, most of us probably associate it with stomach problems. But gastric acid plays an important role in our health and well-being. So what is stomach acid, exactly? Read on to find out what it is and why we need it.
Gastric Acid and Digestion
Gastric acid plays a key role in digestion. It contains something called hydrochloric acid – or HCL. The hydrochloric acid in gastric juices makes it possible for our stomach to digest food. Gastric juices also help us absorb the nutrients we need from that food.1
One of the biggest reasons gastric juices are important is they help the body break down protein.
Stomach acid doesn’t do this on its own – rather, gastric juices work with a digestive enzyme known as pepsin. Pepsin breaks down proteins into amino acids, so the body is able to absorb protein.
Cells in the stomach wall release pepsinogen, which combines with gastric acid. When that happens, that creates pepsin. If you don’t have enough gastric acid, the cells in your stomach wall can’t activate pepsin – and as a result, your body can’t digest protein.2
In addition to protein digestion, gastric acid also helps you absorb vitamin B12. The cells in your stomach need gastric acid in order to create pepsin. Pepsin not only breaks down protein, but it also releases B12. It can then enter the bloodstream and get into cells throughout your body.
If you don’t have enough gastric acid, vitamin B12 molecules will remain attached to proteins. It won’t be able to get through your stomach wall to the cells that need them.3
Communication Throughout the Digestive System
Gastric juices are important for your cells – and they also help other areas of your digestive system to work. Gastric acid works as a signaling system of sorts. When stomach acid is present, it signals the pancreas to release its own digestive juices.
Gastric acid also sends a signal that it’s time for peristalsis to start. This is the process in which muscles in the intestines contract. Peristalsis moves food through the digestive tract, and it eventually pushes waste out of the body.4
There are several microbes in food and drinks that enter your stomach – many of which can’t survive the acidic gastrointestinal tract. Sometimes, acidity is a good thing.
Acidic gastric juices kill harmful bacteria and other microbes that can affect your cells and the rest of your body. This helps reduce the chances of you developing a stomach infection. If you have low levels of gastric juices, that can make you more vulnerable to severe illnesses.5
The Surprising Benefits of Stomach Acid
As you can see, gastric juices are important – and they help your cells get the nutrients they need. Gastric juices also help the stomach function properly.
If you have any reason to believe you might not have enough gastric acid, talk to your doctor. Schedule a stomach acid test. This measures how much acid is in your stomach, as well as the acidity of the contents inside the stomach wall.6
Hopefully, the results of the test will show that you have just the right amount. Your stomach, your cells and the rest of your body will thank you.
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