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Hydrochloric Acid in Stomach

Hydrochloric Acid in Stomach

Hydrochloric acid is an important component of gastric acid that helps in the process of digestion. This HealthHearty article provides details regarding the normal levels of hydrochloric acid in stomach, along with what happens when there is excessive or inadequate secretion of this acid.
Dr. Sumaiya Khan
The stomach is an important part of the digestive system. This is the organ that is responsible for digesting the ingested food. The enzymes present in the stomach, which help digest the food, require an acidic pH to function properly. This is where the hydrochloric acid (HCl) comes into play.
Gastric acid, the digestive fluid, produced in the stomach, contains hydrochloric acid, potassium chloride (KCl), and sodium chloride (NaCl). The main function of hydrochloric acid in stomach is to provide an optimum pH for normal functioning of the digestive enzymes. It triggers the release of enzymes such as pepsin. It helps convert pepsinogen to pepsin, that helps break down the proteins in the stomach. Hydrochloric acid in the stomach functions primarily to sterilize the food. It helps prevent harmful bacteria from entering the digestive tract.
How Does the Stomach Protect Itself from Self Digestion?
Did you know that the pH concentration of hydrochloric acid in stomach is as low as 1 to 2? This pH is low enough to melt a solid metal! However, a thick protective layer of mucus prevents the acid from harming the cells of the stomach. Furthermore, sodium bicarbonate buffering prevents the acid from damaging the stomach.
Low Hydrochloric Acid
As mentioned earlier, the hydrochloric acid in the stomach has many important functions, and so, inadequate secretion of hydrochloric acid can lead to several health problems. Decreased production of hydrochloric acid is known as hypochlorhydria, whereas complete absence of hydrochloric acid is known a achlorhydria. This decreased production of hydrochloric acid can occur due to several medical conditions, specific gastric surgery, vitamin and nutrient deficiency, aging, alcohol/substance abuse, and stress.

Some of the common symptoms of low hydrochloric acid in stomach are listed below:
Offensive smelling stool (due to the presence of undigested food)
Delayed gastric emptying, constipation
Upper abdominal bloating and general flatulence
Heartburn, nausea
Drowsiness after meal
Frequent hunger pangs
Increased susceptibility to infections of the gastrointestinal tract, as the hydrochloric acid also works as a disinfectant.
As acidic pH promotes absorption of iron, those who suffer from inadequate secretion of hydrochloric acid often develop iron deficiency anemia. The treatment for hypochlorhydria or achlorhydria involves treating the underlying condition and dietary alterations. The person should include food items that will either assist in the digestion process, or will stimulate the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. He/she may incorporate cayenne pepper, vinegar, digestive enzyme supplements, etc. in his/her diet.
Too Much Hydrochloric Acid
Excess amounts of hydrochloric acid in the stomach can also lead to a lot of health problems. This condition arises in certain diseases like Zollinger-Ellison syndrome and hypercalcemia. Elevated levels of the hormone gastrin can raise the levels of gastric acid, because the hormone is responsible for instigating the cells into secreting more gastric acid. Stress, overeating, or eating foods that upset your stomach, etc., can lead to excessive production of HCl in your stomach.

The stomach acid symptoms include:
Stomach pain due to the presence of excessive acid
Heartburn, burning sensation in the stomach as well as esophagus
Stomach ulcers
Loss of appetite due to stomach pain
Eating spicy food may further aggravate the pain. For stomach acid relief, antacids, either in the form of solutions, or in the form of drugs and medicines, can be taken. However, in case of persistent excessive secretion of hydrochloric acid, it is best to consult a doctor, and get the condition properly diagnosed and treated. Although problems related to the release and imbalance of hydrochloric acid in the stomach are rare, it is best to visit a doctor, and get the condition treated at the earliest, so as to prevent any further complications.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.