Using Acids to Support Alkalinity

Posted in: Aging    Detoxification    Digestion    Nutrition    Weight loss    

It might sound counter-intuitive but most of us need more acid (in the right place) to prevent painful acidity, and promote appropriate alkalinity in the body!

There is an increasing awareness of the role that bodily pH plays in supporting optimal health.  Increased acidity of body tissues has been linked to inflammation, allergies, and osteoporosis to name a few.  Promoting a healthy balanced pH throughout our tissues is not difficult, but to get to the root cause of why the tissues are too acidic in the first place, and how to correct that imbalance for life, we must consider stomach acid.

The Role of Stomach Acid

When we prepare for a meal our senses come alive – touching the food as we slice and chop it, smelling and hearing it as it cooks, seeing it transform from mere ingredients into a nourishing meal (or having a meal beautifully presented to us on a plate).  Through the activity of cooking our brain receives the sensory inputs and prepares the body for digestion in anticipation.  The digestive tract is woken up with signals from our senses leading to the release of hydrochloric acid and some enzymes from the stomach.  The gall bladder prepares to squeeze out bile to help with fat digestion, the small intestine shimmies residual contents along to the colon to receive the new nutrition, and the pancreas adds even more enzymes into the mix.

Properly digested proteins break down into amino acids that the body absorbs easily and can use as needed – tissue repair, neurotransmitter production, etc.  But proper protein digestion requires lots of stomach acid, otherwise the protein stays too big and bulky to be digested by our enzymes (think of enzymes as scissors and the protein as a ball of yarn.  The scissors aren’t able to do their specific snips deep within the ball of yarn, but once it is unwound then they’re good to go!).

Sufficient stomach acid also allows for minerals that are integrated in the food matrix to detach and be free for absorption into the blood stream, and minerals in the blood are used to buffer acids and maintain the right pH of blood.  Plenty of minerals absorbed into the bloodstream means that there are plenty of minerals available to store in bone tissue.

The Problem with Not Enough Stomach Acid

Poor protein digestion is a major contributor to excess acidity in the body.  If there is not enough stomach acid available when proteins are eaten then the protein is not properly digested into amino acids and the minerals (which buffer acids in the blood) stay trapped within the food.  The undigested protein passes into the intestines where it begins to rot and breaks down into components that are not useful amino acids but are toxic compounds that are able to cross the barrier of the intestines and enter the blood stream.

As acidic toxins enter the blood stream the pH of the blood begins to lower, but key to survival is a very narrow range of pH in the blood, as any variance – either too acidic or too alkaline – is dangerous.  As the pH of the blood drops the body fights to keep it in balance by storing some acids in tissues, and by buffering the blood by using minerals.  The body’s mineral reservoir is bone so over time this change in pH contributes to osteoporosis.

So by supporting the production of stomach acid, the proteins that we eat then break down into a form that enzymes are able to further digest into amino acids.  The digestion of protein also leads to the release of minerals from the food making them free for absorption.  Through proper protein digestion there are less toxic compounds taken up by the body, and there are minerals absorbed that can be used to ensure a healthy pH of the blood.   These minerals can then be used as needed and added to our bones contributing to bone strength.

The Foods Themselves

When wood is burned in a fire it leaves ash behind.  Likewise, when food is burned in our “digestive fire” it leaves a residue “ash”.  Some food ashes are alkaline, namely foods that are rich in minerals such as fruit and veg, nuts and seeds, and whole grains.  Food ashes that tend to be more acidic are those that are high in refined sugar as well as animal proteins from meat or dairy.


So what to do?

To Restore or Support an Alkaline Internal Environment

Take supplemental acid before a meal, particularly a meal that is rich in protein.  Lemon juice in water, kombucha (fermented tea), or apple cider vinegar in added to a little water (not too much so the acid is not overly diluted)  sipped before a meal is a good practice.

Bitter flavours stimulate the body to produce more of its own stomach acid, hence the European tradition of sipping an aperitif before a meal.  Aperitif’s are classically alcohol based, but often contain bitter herbs as part of their flavour palate.  Herbal bitters in tincture or tea, and bitter foods such many of the greens used in salad will also help to stimulate acid secretion through the bitter taste reflex without the addition of alcohol.

Focus on foods that are rich in minerals and alkaline to the body such as organic vegetables.

Keep foods that increase acidity in the body through their “ash”, such as animal proteins, in balance with lots of plants.

Eat mindfully!  When we eat while on the run (walking, driving, rushing), in front of a TV or computer, or while feeling any sort of stress, the body is not in the right state to support digestion.  A stimulated nervous system moves blood away from the digestive tract, while space to eat calmly allows the digestive juices to flow.  Turn off distractions and chew well in order to shift from “fight or flight” into “rest and digest” mode.

To Summarize

Choose the best quality food that you can afford, take time to savour and enjoy it, help your digestion through the inclusion of sour and bitter foods, and chew thoroughly.  There is an old saying to “Drink your food and chew your drink” – chew so well that food becomes liquid, and drink in small sips allowing the beverage to come to body temperature.

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