Your stomach is designed to produce hydrochloric acid and to contain that acid without any pain. The acid’s job is to break down your food, then pass it along to your small intestine where your pancreatic enzymes complete the breakdown process. This ensures that when the food gets to the place where is it to be absorbed, it is the perfect size and form.
While your stomach is designed to have acid in it, your esophagus (the tube leading from your mouth to your stomach, is not. Acid in your esophagus will cause that burning sensation and can be incredibly painful. When you eat something, or even think about eating something, your brain sends a signal to your stomach to start producing hydrochloric acid. When there is enough acid in your stomach, meaning there is a low pH, this triggers the sphincter at the top of your stomach to close. If that sphincter is closed as your stomach starts churning up your food, the acid will not be pushed back up into your esophagus and there won’t be any pain.
It is well documented that we produce less stomach acid as we get older. We also produce less if our bodies have been under too much stress, whether emotional, physical, or even the stress of eating unhealthy foods. This decrease in acid prevents that sphincter from closing. Now as you stomach churns, the acid is pushed back into your esophagus causing the pain.
If you’re following this, you might now be questioning why many doctors treat heartburn by blocking the one thing that has the potential to actually fix the problem. It is true that if you block the acid production, you will not feel the pain. Is also prevents the acid from eroding your esophagus, which is a good thing, and completely necessary at times! However, it also prevents you from breaking down your food into a useful, absorbable form of energy for your body. This can lead to more stress on the body which can cause even less acid to be produced and you just end up in a downward spiral.
So, if you find yourself with heartburn, consider trying to stimulate your digestive juice with something like the juice of 1/2 of a lemon in water before you eat. You can also chew on DGL (deglycyrrhizinated licorice) instead of tums. DGL can help heal the lining of your esophagus and stomach without blocking your production of acid.