Digestion is a complex process that allows the body to extract essential nutrients from the food we consume. A crucial element in this process is stomach acid, also known as gastric acid. Despite its notorious reputation for causing discomfort, stomach acid plays a vital role in maintaining overall digestive health and promoting optimal nutrient absorption.

Stomach acid plays a critical role in the activation of digestive enzymes such as pepsinogen into their active form, pepsin. Pepsin enables the breakdown of proteins into smaller peptides, facilitating their subsequent digestion in the small intestine. Research has shown that an acidic environment with a pH between 1.5 and 2.0 is optimal for pepsin activity (Dutta et al., 2016). Without adequate stomach acid, this crucial enzymatic conversion would be impaired, leading to inefficient protein digestion.

Stomach acid also serves as a potent antimicrobial defense mechanism, helping to eliminate harmful microorganisms present in the food we consume. It provides a hostile environment for various pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites (McCallum et al., 2016). Studies have demonstrated that stomach acid is particularly effective against ingested bacteria like Helicobacter pylori, a common cause of gastritis and peptic ulcers (Minalyan et al., 2017). The ability of stomach acid to neutralize pathogens before they reach the intestines is crucial in preventing infections and maintaining gastrointestinal health.

Optimal nutrient absorption is dependent on the breakdown of food into smaller molecules. Stomach acid plays a vital role in this process by aiding in the dissolution of minerals, such as calcium, iron, and magnesium, making them more accessible for absorption (Ferguson et al., 2009). Additionally, stomach acid promotes the release of vitamin B12 from food, enabling its binding to the intrinsic factor for later absorption in the small intestine (Scott et al., 2011). Without sufficient stomach acid, these essential nutrients may remain inaccessible, leading to deficiencies and associated health problems.

The production of stomach acid contributes to the regulation of gastric motility, controlling the rate at which food is emptied into the small intestine. It stimulates the release of gastrin, a hormone that triggers the contraction of the stomach muscles, aiding in the mechanical breakdown of food (Owyang, 2011). Proper gastric motility is essential for efficient digestion, ensuring that food is appropriately processed and absorbed in subsequent parts of the digestive tract.

Contrary to popular belief, stomach acid plays a protective role by preventing the backflow of intestinal contents into the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES), located at the junction between the esophagus and stomach, acts as a barrier to prevent acid reflux. However, adequate stomach acid is necessary for the LES to function correctly (Kahrilas, 2013). Insufficient acid production can weaken the LES, leading to the reflux of gastric contents, resulting in conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Despite its negative reputation, stomach acid is an indispensable component of the digestive process. Its importance extends beyond mere digestion, encompassing enzyme activation, microbial sterilization, nutrient absorption, regulation of gastric motility, and protection against reflux. Understanding the essential role of stomach acid can help dispel misconceptions and promote overall digestive health. However, medication aimed at suppressing stomach acid interrupts nutrient digestion and absorption through numerous mechanisms. Prolonged use may negatively impact many organ systems, including the liver, stomach, brain, bones, and kidneys.

While proton pump inhibitors and histamine-2 antagonists (famotidine, cimetidine, etc.) function well in treating symptoms, their negative side effects should be weighed against the benefits of long-term use. The benefits of medications that reduce stomach acid production are evident in conditions such as peptic ulcer disease and erosive esophagitis, making them crucial in these specific cases. In certain instances of gastroesophageal reflux, occasional use of these medications may be necessary, but it’s important to exercise caution to prevent potential complications associated with long-term usage. Although these medications effectively alleviate reflux symptoms, judicious use is essential to avoid irreversible consequences in the long run. The production of stomach acid is necessary for adequate digestion and nutrient absorption. Prolonged suppression of this natural physiological response can result in unintended adverse effects.


  1. Dutta, S. K., Arora, M., Kireet, A., & Prasad, R. (2016). Gastric enzymes: an overview. International Journal of Experimental and Clinical Research, 22(1), 9-18.
  2. McCallum, R. W., Kovacs, E. J., & Suprun, M. (2016). Gastric acid suppression and outcomes in Clostridium difficile infection: a population-based study. Medicine, 95(3), e2898.
  3. Minalyan, A., Gabrielyan, L., Scott, D., Jacobs, J., & Pisegna, J. R. (2017). The role of Helicobacter pylori in gastric acid homeostasis. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 51(6), 457-466.
  4. Ferguson, A. D., Macdonald, S. J., & Rasquinha, I. (2009). Calcium supplementation and iron absorption. Archives of disease in childhood, 94(9), 673-674.
  5. Scott, D. R., Marcus, E. A., Weeks, D. L., Lee, A., Melchers, K., & Sachs, G. (2011). Expression of the Helicobacter pylori ureI gene is required for acidic pH activation of cytoplasmic urease. Infection and immunity, 79(6), 2646-2658.
  6. Owyang, C. (2011). Mechanisms of gastric motility and control. GI Motility online. doi: 10.1038/gimo11
  7. Kahrilas, P. J. (2013). Gastroesophageal reflux disease. New England Journal of Medicine, 368(25), 2459-2469.

About Liz

Liz Spicer, MS, DNP is an accomplished medical professional with a unique blend of knowledge and experience spanning over seven years in various health care settings, including Intensive Care Units and Urgent Care centers. She holds a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from the esteemed Medical University of South Carolina, a B.S. in Biology, and an M.S. in Forensic Science. Prior to her nursing career, she honed her analytical skills as a Forensic Scientist and in medical research roles.

Whether you're combating a chronic illness or seeking to optimize your overall health, you can count on her dedication to uncovering the root cause of your health concerns and her commitment to your wellness journey.

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Beyond her wide-ranging qualifications, Liz has undertaken advanced coursework in pathophysiology, molecular, and cellular biology. This allows her a profound understanding of the intricate physiological foundations and pathways that underpin human health.

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Liz's passion lies in unravelling the complexities of individual health conditions, taking a deep dive into the underlying causes rather than treating superficial symptoms.

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With her patient-centric philosophy, Liz works collaboratively with you to craft customized treatment plans. Her goal is not merely to treat, but to restore balance to your body and life, fostering sustained wellness.

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I believe that each patient’s health journey is a unique and intricate story. Just as I’ve woven together diverse threads of medical expertise, research, and forensic science throughout my career, I aim to connect the dots within each individual’s health narrative to reveal the root cause of their health challenges.

In my practice, I leverage my extensive knowledge from the ICU and Urgent Care environments, as well as my investigative background in forensic medicine, to take a truly comprehensive, analytical approach to health care. Instead of just treating symptoms, I delve deep into understanding how your lifestyle, genetics, and environment influence your well-being. My forensic science experience has taught me the value of thorough, meticulous inquiry, and I bring this mindset to every patient interaction.

As a functional medicine practitioner, I strive to create a collaborative and compassionate space where your unique health story is heard and respected. Together, we’ll navigate the complexities of your health, formulating a personalized treatment plan to restore balance, enhance resilience, and guide you towards optimal wellness.

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