Gastric acid. It is indispensable for the digestion of our food, absorption of nutrients and the destruction of unwanted pathogens. But no matter how badly we need it, our stomach juices can also play tricks on us: from infants to the elderly, and everybody in between. How important exactly is the role of stomach acid in the digestive process?

The stomach is high up in the digestive tract. After all, the only 'stations' that precede it are the mouth (where saliva and chewing do key preliminary work) and the esophagus, which carries food to the stomach. In addition to producing stomach acid through the stomach wall, the stomach also kneads the stomach acid through the food pulp itself. This process is obviously very important in the chain of digestion, specifically as it activates and influences the lower processes, including the production of bile salts.

Did you know the following facts about heartburn?

  • Gastric acid production starts as soon as you see or smell food. Once you start chewing and saliva production is underway, this signal is reinforced and your stomach is ready for what is to come once you swallow.
  • Gastric acid consisting of hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride, sodium chloride, digestive enzymes, mucilage (to protect the stomach itself against the hydrochloric acid) and the "intrinsic factor", which together with the pepsin allows for absorption of vitamin B12.
  • The pH of stomach acid fluctuates during the day, but ideally is around 1.5. That's quite acidic—consider that battery acid has a pH of 0!
  • An average person produces about 1.5 liters of stomach acid per 24 hours.
  • With an average pH of 1.1, the Egyptian vulture has the most acidic stomach acid of all mammals. This is no luxury, since the carcasses vultures eat are a source of pathogens. The guanaco (a type of llama) has the least acidic stomach acid, with an average pH of 7.3.

Too much or too little stomach acid?

With age and in stressful times, stomach acid production decreases. When the stomach wall secretes too little gastric acid, food remains too long in the stomach and the intestines. Food passes through the digestive tract only when the proper pH-value of the food slurry is reached. Normally, a meal stays put in the stomach for up to 3 hours before being passed through the pylorus to the duodenum. Delayed emptying, however, leads to gas formation, with resulting complaints such as burping, acid regurgitation and bloating. But more general discomforts such as stomach pain, bad breath and a burning sensation in the hypogastric (stomach and chest) area can also be part of this.

Confusingly, the discomforts of too little and of too much stomach acid are very similar. Belching, acid regurgitation, stomach pain, flatulence, bad breath and a burning sensation in the stomach and chest area: they belong to both syndromes. It is therefore good to be aware of actual causes before these inconveniences can be effectively addressed.

Fortunately, most stomach acid complaints can be tackled effectively and naturally through diet and lifestyle, whether you have a shortage or excess of stomach acid.

The following habits are known to induce stomach acid complaints:

  • Overweight and tight clothing
  • Carbonated and alcoholic beverages, but also strong tea and coffee drinks
  • Frequent chocolate consumption
  • Sharp herbs and sour or spicy foods
  • Heavy, sugary or high-fat meals
  • Smoking
  • Stress, especially prolonged stress

What helps prevent heartburn is reducing or stopping these habits. Habits that offer support to prevent heartburn symptoms include:

  • Varied and fiber-rich food, consumed at a leisurely pace.
  • Schedule your last meal several hours before bedtime so that your stomach is not full when you get into bed.
  • Chew your food properly so your saliva can do some 'preparatory’, pre-digestive, work. Easy to remember: Chew once for every tooth per bite.
  • Get sufficient exercise
  • Drink enough water (preferably not at the same time as a meal)

Reflux and your esophagus

In addition to optimizing your stomach acid production as much as possible to support digestion, it is also good to look at the preceding station: the esophagus. The esophagus is often mistakenly thought of as nothing more than a tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Yet there are aspects of the esophagus that are important in the overall digestive process:

  • The esophagus is indeed tubular, but also very muscular and lined with mucous membrane. The muscles enable the peristaltic movement that carries food to the stomach.
  • The esophagus contains 2 sphincter muscles. The upper sphincter keeps food from entering your windpipe when you swallow. The lower sphincter, which closes the entrance to the stomach, opens as soon as food is being offered.
  • We are not born with optimally functioning esophageal sphincters. In babies, the action of the sphincter of the esophagus is not quite optimal, causing the common problem of milk reflux, and it is important to avoid choking.
  • When the upper sphincter is not functioning properly, you can choke. When the lower sphincter is not functioning properly, gastric juice can enter the esophagus. This is called reflux, an often-described phenomenon during pregnancy.

With reflux, the lining of the esophagus becomes irritated, causing like a burning sensation in the abdominal area or behind the sternum (hence the term 'heartburn'). In addition to optimizing stomach acid, you also want to look at maintaining your mucous membranes. This, too, can be done in a natural way through nutrition. Vitamin B2 (riboflavin), for example, is known for its contribution to the maintenance of properly functioning mucous membranes. Riboflavin can be found in animal products such as meat (especially liver), fish, dairy and eggs, but also in flax seed, mushrooms and some nuts. Of course, specifically formulated dietary supplements, including B2, can also help in maintaining healthy mucus membranes.

Benesco™: a unique and patented dietary supplement

benesco™ was developed by Epinutra. Bene means 'good' in Portuguese, and that's what the name of this nutraceutical is based on: it combines the good stuff of nature with science to maintain normal mucous membranes. After careful research into the most natural, safe and effective ingredients, benesco™ (yes, without a capital letter!) was established with the goal of supporting mucous membranes in general, and those of the esophagus in particular. Two of these ingredients are quercetin and riboflavin.

Unlike many other products which focus on the inconveniences of surplus stomach acid, benesco™ maintains the effectiveness of gastric acid. At the end of the day (meal), digestion and absorption of nutrients and the neutralization of pathogens should not be compromised. Benesco™ does not contain bicarbonates that change pH levels, nor substances which form a layer on top of the stomach acid. Benesco™ naturally tackles the problem at the source, in the esophagus. You do not have to fear any unpleasant side effects: there are no changes in the stomach or the stomach acid itself.

Benesco™ is a sugar-free lozenge with fresh mint taste that dissolves in the mouth and causes the active ingredient to be released over time wherever needed. The advantage of lozenges over capsules is that, by sucking, the effective ingredients mix with saliva. For example, the saliva now passes the esophagus mucous membranes with quercetin and riboflavin on the way to the stomach. BenescoTM was developed with pregnant women in mind; it is particularly suitable for the 80% of pregnant women who experience discomfort from reflux.

Last year, we conducted a satisfaction survey in collaboration with Epinutra into the effect of benescoTM among 100 pregnant women. The report showed that over 70% were satisfied with benesco™! Curious about what benesco™ can do for you? You can order this unique nutraceutical here - exclusively from Ergomax.