The stomach is the foundation of good overall health.
According to traditional Chinese medicine theory, the stomach is seen as the foundation of good health, as it is the most important postnatal source of Qi (vital energy). It is responsible for receiving and digesting food, while its paired organ, the spleen, is responsible for transforming and transporting nutrients to other parts of the body. When these functions are disrupted, it can lead to the accumulation of heat or dampness in the digestive system, which can cause symptoms such as acid reflux, bloating, and indigestion.
Is stomach acid really the cause?
In this blog, we will focus on stomach acid, also called gastric acid, as the cause of stomach disorders in Western medicine, and the perspective of Chinese medicine on it.
Confusion related to gastric acid is very common, and a lot of damage has been done by recklessly lowering or reducing body’s production of gastric acid with medications (antacids, proton pump inhibitors). The most common misconception is probably that high stomach acid is the cause of most digestive problems. Contrary to popular belief, stomach acid is not the cause of most digestive problems! In fact, many digestive issues, such as acid reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), are caused by a lack of stomach acid rather than an excess. The problem is that the symptoms of both excessive and deficient gastric acid secretion are very similar, making it easy to misdiagnose and mistreat them.
Stomach acid is a crucial component of the digestive system. It is a highly acidic solution that is produced by the cells lining the stomach, and it plays a vital role in breaking down food and killing harmful bacteria. When the stomach doesn't produce enough acid, it can cause food to sit in the stomach for too long, leading to fermentation and the production of gas. This can result in symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, and heartburn.
Simple tests for stomach acid level can be done at home.
If you are dealing with symptoms such as acid reflux, GERD, or heartburn, you can start exploring the level of your stomach acid at home with a simple test. It is vitally important to make sure that your gastric acid is truly too high before starting to take medications, as they can make certain digestive issues worse by reducing the amount of acid. This can lead to a variety of problems, including bacterial overgrowth, malabsorption of nutrients, and an increased risk of infection.
Immediately after eating a meal, drink two spoonfuls of apple cider vinegar (or dilute two to three spoonfuls in one deciliter cup of water) slowly and observe the reaction:
1. If the symptoms disappear, it means that you have insufficient amounts of acid;
2. If it gets worse, the cause could be inflammation or an ulcer, and not necessarily too much hydrochloric acid;
If there is a burning sensation, neutralize it with a half teaspoon of baking soda in water!!!
Observing of belching and bloating:
If there is still belching present after 4 or 6 hours after eating, it is a sign that the food has stagnated in the stomach. Belching comes from the stomach, and you can smell the contents that are still in the stomach. A reason for belching could be insufficient acid levels or inappropriate stomach contractions (in approximately 70 % of cases!), and not excessive levels of acid!
Bloating is a sign that the stomach has not processed food properly, and due to insufficient acid levels, many bacteria, parasites, and yeast can enter the intestines and "have their party" there.
How to determine if you have excessive levels of stomach acid:
Observe what happens when you drink a glass of wine, juice, coffee, or black tea. If your symptoms worsen, it could be due to excessive acid secretion. The same can happen after consuming vinegar, other alcoholic beverages, chocolate, spicy and deep-fried foods, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. It is important to note that having high levels of gastric acid is not very common in the general population. This means that lowering stomach acid is rarely the optimal choice.
Gastric acid from the perspective of Chinese medicine
In traditional Chinese medicine, gastric acid problems are often associated with patterns of disharmony in the stomach and spleen systems. These patterns are commonly known as "stomach fire" with "upward reversal of heat".
Causes of stomach issues in Chinese medicine
According to Chinese medicine, the causes of stomach issues can be categorized into three main factors: external, internal, and emotional.
External factors include exposure to environmental factors, such as cold, dampness, and heat. These factors can affect the stomach's function and lead to symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
Internal factors include constitutional imbalances, such as deficiency or excess. For example, a deficiency of stomach Qi can lead to poor digestion, bloating, and fatigue, while excess stomach heat can cause acid reflux, heartburn, and nausea.
Emotional factors (stress) are also considered significant contributors to stomach issues. In Chinese medicine, emotions are believed to affect the organs' function, and each organ is associated with a specific emotion. The emotion associated with the stomach is worry, anxiety, and overthinking. When emotions are unbalanced, they can lead to symptoms such as poor digestion, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
Treatment of stomach issues in Chinese medicine
If you want your stomach disorders to be addressed holistically, taking into account factors such as diet, lifestyle, emotional state, and constitution, then choosing a Chinese medicine practitioner would be a wise choice. Some of the main treatment modalities for treating stomach disorders used in Chinese medicine are acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary therapy.
Self-care for stomach health
In addition to professional treatment, you can follow some dietary guidelines for stomach care. Dietary therapy is an essential aspect of Chinese medicine and can play a crucial role in treating stomach issues. In Chinese medicine, food is considered medicine. General dietary guidelines for maintaining a healthy stomach or treating stomach issues include:
- Eating warm, cooked foods that are easy to digest.
- Avoiding cold and raw foods, which can impair digestion.
- Avoiding greasy and spicy foods, which can lead to excess stomach heat.
- Eating at regular intervals and avoiding overeating.
- Eating sesonal, local and, organic foods.
- Not eating too late.
Other recommendations for natural stomach care:
- Drink warm water half an hour before eating.
- Do not drink water during a meal and for 1.5 hours after eating to avoid diluting stomach acid.
- Do not eat at least two hours before bedtime.
- Manage your stress levels and pay attention to your emotions.
- Have regular meals and eat mindfully and with pleasure.
- Chew your food at least 30 times before swallowing it.
- If you suffer from insufficient stomach acid or if you have been on antibiotics due to a Helicobacter pylori infection, it is important to strengthen your intestinal flora with prebiotics and probiotics. For example, consume fermented foods such as whey, kefir, kimchi, and probiotic yogurt. Prebiotic Molkosan, a concentrated fermented whey by A. Vogel, is a good choice in almost every digestion-related problems; in addition, it helps to strenghten intestinal flora and balance the secretion of stomach acid.
- For first aid, use a natural remedy called Iberogast. It contains a combination of nine herbs that work for various stomach complaints.
Self-care is probably the most important factor when it comes to the health of your stomach. Never try to take a quick fix here; rather, strive for holistic treatment. As mentioned in the beginning, the stomach is the foundation of your health and your vital energy that will determin the quality of your life.
*Disclaimer: The information posted here is provided for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
**Source of the non-Chinese medicinal part:
A. Dolinar, S. Loncar: Konec zgage in ostalih zelodcnih tezav. (The end of heartburn and other stomach complaints.) (2016)