Stomach acid: what causes it?

Stomach acid: what causes it?

The stomach produces a high quantity of acid to get the digestion going.

The stomach, champion acid producer

Maintaining enough stomach acid is essential for good digestion. The cells of the stomach have an amazing ability to produce up to 2 litres of hydrochloric acid per day. Have you heard of hydrochloric acid? It’s the same hydrochloric acid that you use at home as a corrosive agent for descaling. This is the acid that rules our stomach!

Acidity is measured in pH: the lower the pH, the higher the acidity; and the higher the pH, the more alkaline the environment is said to be. A pH of 7 is neutral. Stomach pH is maintained between 1 and 3 because of the presence of hydrochloric acid.

This acidity has 2 main functions: to stimulate the digestive enzymes and break down the food and to eliminate bacteria or infectious agents which could enter the body via the food.

The stomach is well equipped to support acidity

Given this high acidity, why doesn’t the stomach feel as if it’s permanently on fire? Nature does things well and has given the stomach special protection against the acidity it contains. The lining of the stomach (inner wall) is covered by protective mucus rich in bicarbonates, alkaline components which neutralise acidity.

However, other digestive organs such as the oesophagus do not have this kind of protection. This is why pain and burning sensations occur when the acid content escapes from the stomach and goes back up along the oesophagus. This is known as gastro-oesophageal reflux or GER.