Stomach acid is a watery and colorless liquid that is secreted from the glands that are located in the lining of the stomach. This liquid is very acidic and helps break down food to make digestion easier.
Stomach acid helps the body more easily absorb nutrients as food moves through the digestive tract. To break down any type of food from meat to fibrous and tough plant material, stomach acid must be very acidic.
The human body is designed to tolerate moderate levels of stomach acid without causing illness or complications. Although these systems may sometimes have problems. Having gastric juice that is more or less acidic than normal can cause other health problems. Read on to find out how strong stomach acid is and what happens when the body produces stomach acid that is too strong or too weak.
How strong is stomach acid?
Stomach acid does many things for the body. Stomach acid breaks down the food you eat into particles that are easier to digest. Stomach acid also acts as the first line of defense against pathogens and microbes that can cause disease. These actions require a liquid that is highly acidic.
To know how strong stomach acid is, you first need to know how the acidity level of liquids is measured. Acidity is measured by the pH scale, which ranges from 0 to 14. The lower the pH level, the more acidic the liquid is. For example, battery acid has a pH of zero, so it is a very strong acid. The pH of liquids with the lowest acidity is 14. These liquids are called alkaline liquids. In the middle of this scale are neutral liquids like pure water.
Stomach acid has a pH between 1 and 2, so it is very acidic. Keep in mind that battery acid can dissolve materials such as metal and bone. Stomach acid, whose pH is one or two degrees higher, can also damage very strong materials such as bones and teeth.
What is stomach acid made of?
The low pH level of stomach acid is largely due to the presence of hydrochloric acid (HCl). However, there is only a very small amount of HCl in stomach acid. Other components of stomach acid include potassium chloride (KCl) and sodium chloride (NaCl).
The cells of the stomach wall secrete these three acidic substances. These cells also produce several enzymes and mucus. Mucus is very important in this process and protects the lining of the stomach so that acid and other components of gastric juice do not damage this sensitive organ.
What happens if stomach acid has very low levels of hydrochloric acid?
Usually, the pH level of stomach acid fluctuates over time. Certain conditions such as medications or stress can interfere with the production of stomach acid.
What are the symptoms of low levels of HCl in gastric juice?
According to the information published on the website healthlineIf hydrochloric acid is low in gastric juice, you may experience the following symptoms:
- stomach discomfort
- Nausea with vomiting
- hair loss
If your stomach acid is chronically low, you may have a condition called hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid). Complications from chronically low acid levels can be significant. The early stages of this condition can lead to difficulty in digesting food and absorbing nutrients needed by the body. If this condition is not treated, it can damage the digestive system. Hypochlorhydria increases the risk of infections and chronic health problems.
Treatment of low stomach acid levels
The exact treatment for low acid gastric juice depends on its likely cause. Your doctor may prescribe an HCl supplement. This supplement can increase the pH level of stomach acid. He may also prescribe pepsin enzyme medications that help increase stomach acidity.
Other treatments for low stomach acid levels include:
- Antibiotics to treat the underlying infection
- Improving diet and increasing supplements
- Medication management
- Stress reduction techniques
What happens if the stomach has high levels of hydrochloric acid?
If the acid level in the gastric juice is too high, the lining of the stomach may lose its effectiveness. High levels of stomach acid can lead to complications such as stomach ulcers and acid reflux.
Symptoms of high stomach acid levels
The most obvious symptoms of high levels of stomach acid are:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal discomfort that may worsen if the stomach is empty
- loss of appetite
- Unreasonable weight loss
Treatment of high stomach acid levels
High stomach acid is usually treated with medication. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) work to reduce stomach acid. The doctor may prescribe these drugs alone or together with other drugs. Other treatments depend on the likely cause of the high acid levels. These treatments may include:
- Change in diet
- Surgery to remove tumors, part of the stomach (gastrectomy) or part of the vagus nerve (vagotomy)
What factor causes the level of stomach acid to rise or fall?
Some diseases, medications and lifestyle factors can cause stomach acid levels to fluctuate. Chronically high or low acid levels can be problematic for your health and well-being. Getting treatment can prevent long-term complications from these cases.
Causes of low stomach acid levels
Certain conditions, such as those listed below, increase the risk of low acid levels:
- Having a premature birth
- Age over 65 years
- Gastric surgery
- Having high levels of stress
- Lack of nutrients, especially zinc
- Helicobacter pylori infection
- Having a chronic disease
Causes of high stomach acid levels
There are factors that can increase the likelihood of high stomach acid levels. These factors include the following:
- Excessive production of certain hormones that stimulate the production of stomach acid
- Return of stomach acid production after stopping drugs that reduce stomach acid
- Helicobacter pylori infection
- Stomach outlet obstruction
- Tumors, but rarely
Tips for optimal stomach acid production
More research is needed on ways to help influence acid production without medication. However, according to a review published in 2019, dietary and lifestyle changes may help people with high stomach acid production. These changes can include the following:
- Eating smaller meals throughout the day instead of large, high-calorie meals
- Avoid lying down for 2-3 hours after eating and avoid eating 2-3 hours before sleep
- Avoid wearing tight clothes that put pressure on the stomach
- Increase the amount of dietary fiber
- Reducing the calorie intake of each meal
- Avoid smoking
- Follow the Mediterranean diet
- Chew food thoroughly
- Drink enough water between meals
- Getting enough sleep
- Maintain a balanced weight
Stomach acid is a very acidic liquid that the body naturally produces to help digest and absorb nutrients from food. The body also produces enzymes and mucus to help protect itself against the power of the acid.
High levels of stomach acid can lead to heartburn, acid reflux and ulcers. Low levels of stomach acid may impair the ability to digest food. If you have symptoms of low or high levels of stomach acid, see your doctor. Both of these conditions can become problematic if they are chronic and not treated well. The specialist examines your symptoms and recommends the best treatment for you. In some cases, they may look for underlying health problems, such as infections, that could be contributing to changes in the stomach’s normal acidity levels.