Protein Digestion

b2ap3_thumbnail_Dollarphotoclub_75699870.jpgAll living things are composed of proteins, which are chains of specific groups of amino acids linked together by chemical bonds. There are essential amino acids, which the body cannot make, and nonessential and conditional proteins, which the body can synthesize. According to the University of Arizona, protein production is so vital to survival, if a sufficient amount of just one essential amino acid is not obtained from food, the body takes that amino acid from muscle tissue and other sources of protein within the body.

The best dietary sources for amino acids are animal-based proteins, such as meat, eggs or dairy products, because they each contain all the essential amino acids. Amino acids are also found in plant-based foods, including vegetables, beans, grains, nuts and seeds. However, plant sources must be combined because they do not contain all the essential amino acids. An example is rice and beans, which form a complete protein when combined.
The fairly large protein molecules must be broken apart into amino acids. While the mechanical breaking down of proteins begins in the mouth (yes, chew, 20-30 times), the chemical digestive process happens primarily in the stomach, where hydrochloric acid (HCl) and other gastric juices are produced to help digest, i.e. break apart large protein molecules. This acid also disinfects stomach contents—an important protective barrier. As the name implies, HCl is extremely acidic. In an ideal situation, your stomach acid will take your food, which is at a fairly neutral pH of around 7, to a pH level of 1.5 to 3. Stress, excess carbohydrate consumption, nutrient deficiencies, carbonated beverages and excess alcohol can prevent HCl production. Low HCl means a low pH in the stomach which not only prevents proper protein digestion but also creates an environment favorable to Candida, prions, bacteria, viruses, and parasites, which are all little proteins. Proper pH helps the body to digest theses microorganisms and they become food.

If HCl levels in the stomach are not low enough, i.e. not between pH 1.5 and 3, protein molecules cannot properly be broken down. This often leads to GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, resulting in the inability of the body to break down food properly. The food gets rancid and putrefies causing reflux or backward flow into the esophagus. The esophagus lining cannot handle acidic foods from the stomach and burning results. Antacids raise the pH, of the rancid food, to neutral and stop the burning in the esophagus but make the digestive condition in the stomach too alkaline. The lack of the proper amount of stomach acid prevents the triggering of other important digestive processes further down the line.

The key takeaway: don’t eat in a rush and when you are stressed—and if you are, take some relaxing measures, make sure you take enough time before meals to salivate and calm down, chew thoroughly and eat slowly. If you know that your HCl levels are off, support with the appropriate supplements and nutrients (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., if you want to test for this). If you are experiencing difficulties with digestion and food allergies, I suggest reading the Food Allergies posy as well as the Stomach acid book—which is actually a really fun read!

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