Peter Hibberd, M.D., is a doctor whose advice is based on more than 28 years of hospital outpatient and inpatient experience. He is an experienced emergency medicine physician, surgeon, and consultant. Dr. Hibberd is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He is also a fellow and active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, an active member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and a member and fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Hibberd has earned numerous national and international professional certifications, memberships, and awards.

Should I Take Acid Supplements to Improve Digestion?

Wednesday, 09 June 2010 04:57 PM

Question: Can a deficit of stomach acid trigger heartburn and a sour stomach? Is it possible that you may need to take acid supplements to make your system work better? It is my understanding that if there is not enough acid in the stomach you do not receive the nutrients and vitamins in your food. Is this true? Also, which tests can find the root cause of acid reflux?
Dr. Hibberd's Answer:
Acid Reflux refers to a condition in which stomach acid is inadvertently allowed to pass back up the esophagus (the tube leading to the stomach from our mouth). Reflux is usually prevented by a competent lower esophageal sphincter. It is essentially a check valve to prevent stomach contents from traveling up when the stomach contracts and forces food out of the stomach into the small bowel.
Acid "supplements" are not recommended. It is true that our gastric acid secretion does enhance digestion, but supplementation will only damage unprotected tissues such as our esophagus and our airways. Ph balance in our stomach enhances digestion and provides some protection from bacterial growth. Indeed, some medications and supplements are complemented by an acid medium to dissolve completely.
Acid reflux is easily detected by a ph probe test and is seen easily by endoscopy. Less sensitive measures include imaging techniques such as an esophogram (which uses a thin, water soluble contrast called gastrograffin that is swallowed). An upper GI study is not sufficiently sensitive for mild reflux because of the (thickened barium) contrast material used, which is more effective for gastric and upper small bowel imaging.

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