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Is Heartburn Really Due to Too Much Acid?

One of the most common complaints people tell me about in the office is heartburn or GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease). It is so common that heartburn drugs are always at the top of the list of prescribed drugs, and tops on the list of over the counter medication.

But, is it really due to a lack of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach?

I have explained this situation so many times in the office I have lost count. And every time I get done, the patient looks at me in disgust. NOT at me, but at the pharmaceutical companies and medical profession (Note: I am not against medical doctors, but in many cases what they are promoting just doesn’t make an ounce of sense).

You see, the VAST MAJORITY of heartburn is NOT caused by too much acid production by the stomach, and I am about to explain why.

The first thing we have to understand is pH. PH is the measurement of acidity and alkalinity. In the stomach we want a very low pH. This helps us to digest food, especially proteins. There are cells in the stomach that produce acid. By the time this acid mixes with the contents in the stomach it is at pH of about 2-3, VERY acidic!

The pH of most people’s stomach is nowhere near this, yet people are continually being prescribed “acid-blockers”. Often the pH can be 4, 5, 6, or even 7.

Picture from www.eoearth.org

And this is very important…

The pH scale is LOGARITHMIC. Think Richter scale and earthquakes here. Moving from a pH neutral of 7 down to a 6 is 10x, not just 1. So, a pH of 6 compared to 7 is 10 times more acidic. While a pH of 5 is 100 times more acidic than 7.

In the human body it takes a tremendous amount of energy to convert water into hydrochloric acid (HCl). Who do you know who has extra energy just lying around? Most people are fatigued, and tired. It’s ridiculous to think that the human body just starts making more HCl just for the fun of it.

Most people are too busy dealing with all the tremendous amounts of stress we have in our lives.

I mean your body has to concentrate water 1,000,000 times in order to create HCl at a pH of 1!

Here is what happens instead.

The average person’s body is extremely stressed. Some people admit it, others simply don’t have a clue because they have “always been that way”. But lab analysis and neurological stress testing with my Neuroinfiniti equipment clearly shows what is really going on under the surface.

People are stressed to the max and it’s taking a toll!

So, the body is stressed and it stops producing as much acid. Food starts to rot in the GI tract because the acid is not there to break it down, and the enzyme pepsin needs a low pH (high acid) environment to work properly to break down protein. The rotting food creates organic acids that build up and irritate the esophagus creating the heartburn.

And why do these acids get into the esophagus when normal stomach acid doesn’t?

Well, the valve (sphincter) between the esophagus and the stomach is pH dependent. When the pH is nice and low, it’s stays tightly closed. But, when the pH starts to rise because of stress and a poor diet, the valve becomes loose and allows acids to flow through. Now the organic acids from the rotting food and the acid that is in the stomach gets through to the esophagus and burns it creating the heartburn feeling.

Do you get the drift?

You might need to re-read this several times. The whole process is a vicious cycle.

And what are people prescribed? Acid blockers, or something like Tums or Rolaids. It soothes the pain, but it only serves to make the problem worse, further perpetuating the problem.

If you further decrease the acid in the stomach (moving towards the right of the picture above), less and less food will be digested properly compounding the problem. And we all know that proper digestion is critical for a good quality of life. It’s how we extract nutrients and power our amazing bodies.

So you see, heartburn is NOT due to too much acid (in the vast majority of cases), but instead too little acid being produced.

Without healthy digestion, it doesn’t matter how good of food you eat because you are not utilizing it properly.

Here is a test for you.

If you feel reflux or heartburn after eating take 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in 4-8 oz. of water and drink it. If your symptoms get better, there is a good chance you are experiencing insufficient acid production. If it makes it worse, you might have an ulcer and need further evaluation.

And again, the ulcer was created because of the rotting food and imbalanced GI tract to begin with. The same rules apply, you will just need to be evaluated by a properly trained doctor such as an applied kinesiologist like myself in order to help heal the ulcer and take care of any infections that have been allowed to fester.

So, before reaching for the pill, or even if you are already on one, ask yourself if the logic of it really makes sense. Is your body truly creating too much stomach acid?

If you are like any of the  patients I have shared this with, you are probably going to be a little disgusted that nobody ever explained this to you.

Now you know…


{ 48 comments… add one }
  • Kathleen February 7, 2013, 11:58 am

    Hi…thanks for this informative (and timely) article. I am confused about one point, however, and ask for some clarification. You say “the enzyme pepsin needs a low acid environment to work properly to break down protein”. Do you mean a low pH, which is more acidic? If so, I can make full (and grateful) sense of the whole bit of info…otherwise it’s not so cohesive.

    Thanks for your clarity.


  • Dr. Larsen February 7, 2013, 12:23 pm

    Hi Kathleen, yes, you are absolutely right. I must have worded it wrong in the article. I will go back and change that. All enzymes work best in a certain pH range, and the stomach enzymes work best in a low pH or HIGH acid environment.

  • Dr. Larsen February 7, 2013, 12:36 pm

    And..I just corrected it, so all future readers don’t have to worry about the confusion.

  • Brooke February 19, 2013, 6:39 pm

    Is there anything you recommend for a pregnant 36 yr old? I’m 17 weeks. I believe my nausea and burning stomach (upper stomach, no heartburn tho) are related to acid reflux (though I haven’t experienced this before being pregnant). Drinking Limonata (18 percent lemon juice) helps so I believe it is a case of too little acid.

    Is there anything else I should or can be doing?

  • Dr. Larsen February 19, 2013, 9:39 pm

    Hi Brooke, I can’t exactly give advice over the internet like this, but one thing that happens in pregnant women is what is called a hiatal hernia. The valve between the esophagus and stomach that is supposed to be closed unless a person is swallowing food, gets stuck open. A good Applied Kinesiologist will know how to correct this, or at least help you minimize the symptoms. The pressure of the growing baby tends to push on it.

  • ikaika February 21, 2013, 2:55 am

    you are trully an idiot DOC..our stomachs are already acidic, there is no such a thing of our stomach acid levels are too high causing unproper digestion..we don’t need to add more acid to our diet. our bodies naturally make acid no matter what we eat, so what are you trying to say, you sound part of the illuminati..trynna kill off more and more people.. in fact a higher alkalinity is what reduces these modern day diseases and sicknesses and cancers. no matter what, our body will produce acid to break down food and the reason i have heartburn is kuz of acid, not kuz i have too little acid..wtf kind of doctor are you, where did you study..adding acidic foods to your diet just increases heartburn, adding alkalinity to your diet reduces acid, so eating higher alkaline foods wont stop your stomach from producing enough acid to break foods down, it automatically does..most people in the us have a low ph level which means ACIDIC, because we have such poor diets. you are a whack doc, either you got it wrote the wrong way, or you need to go back to school..
    but to everyone, dont eat acidic foods, and don’t listen to this guy…try to reduce meats and find a ph scale of foods and that should help you live longer, if you follow it, and reduce heartburn, LIKE ME, ALOHA!!!

  • Dr. Larsen February 25, 2013, 2:12 pm

    The comment from ikaika is quite amusing. I posted it here just to show how belligerent people can be (and how nasty). This person obviously did not truly read the article, but was instead ready for attack from the get go. But, I will respond anyway…

    The stomach pH being too high is a very real phenomenon. Stress causes a decrease in parasympathetic activity, which is what our bodies use for rest, recovery, growth, healing, and repair. Instead, our body energy gets shunted to the fight or flight response (sympathetic activity). When this occurs, the body shuts down digestion to the bare minimum. All energy gets put towards the muscles and other activity needed for survival.

    The Heidelberg capsule test has been used to prove the pH in the stomach has risen in most people. In fact a medical doctor actually did the study on over 2000 people and found that not one person had a stomach pH that was too acidic. My apologies, but I do not have the reference for that, it was something that I learned at a conference, but have since forgotten where I put the reference.

    ikaika is right about having an alkaline diet though. It is definitely what people need. Our TISSUES are too acidic, which is a situation ripe for cancer and other disease. For those of you who actually read the article you will no doubt notice that I was not talking about an acid or alkaline DIET, but instead the effects of stress and our modern lifestyle on the pH of the stomach. An acidic diet further promotes the degradation of the GI Tract. So, by all means, get an alkaline diet rich in plant foods!

    Many people are suffering from heartburn, with the true underlying cause being stress, which turns down production of hydrochloric acid. The point of this article was to show the science behind why.

  • Kathleen March 11, 2013, 9:39 pm

    Hi again … I have another question for you from this cycle of acidic confusion I’m in! Given the scenario of too little HCL causing the organic acid, does that acid act like too much HCL would, as in bubbling up (through my hiatal hernia) and burning stomach and esophagus?

    Does the organic acid respond to an antacid the same way, or is there a different tack one can take to dilute this potentially dangerous burning? My experience has been more like the antacid doesn’t do any good, and instead causes more distress. How does one deal with the organic acid? I usually have a mixture of the burning feeling along with an almost nauseous one.

    Thanks once more for your reply.


  • Dr. Larsen March 12, 2013, 10:20 am

    Hi Kathleen,

    Yes, an acid is an acid and will behave the same (burning). The solution in most cases is to not try to stop the acid, it’s to get your stomach and G.I. tract into a healthy state. When the pH of the stomach is decreased (more acidic) your food will digest properly and not rot in the stomach, creating the organic acids. Plus, the cardiac sphincter (the valve between the esophagus and the stomach) will start to function as it was intended to. This will prevent the acids from coming up into the esophagus.

    Taking antacids to try to dilute the acids, and decrease burning is just a temporary feel good (not in your case, but in many). The solution is to acidify the G.I. tract. We often use HCL capsules to accomplish this during meals.

    I do not know what your specific scenario is and cannot give specific advice. I would make sure to find a practitioner in your area who understands this. They will be able to help you get your stomach back in working order.

  • Sarah March 18, 2013, 5:21 pm

    Thanks for that, I’ve had insomnia for years due to depo provera ( amongst the other problems its given me ) the stress from this has given me chronic acid, a consultant I’ve seen suggested an endoscopy as he’s convinced I have reflux, I however was not. I’ve had some water & vinegar earlier and the heart burn’s gone away quite quickly, where the 1000mg of zantac did didley squat last week. I started taking the cider vinegar in water a while ago as it helps suppress the histamines and my sniffling but I didnt do it regularly enough, that’s going to change, I’ve forwarded this onto my Dad who has ‘reflux’.
    Thanks again

  • Dr. Larsen March 19, 2013, 9:48 am

    Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for the comment. Yes, rarely is reflux due to too much production of stomach acid. Any stress on the body, including harsh drugs like depo provera, deplete the body. And, digestion is one of the first systems to be affected. It’s VERY energy dependent.

  • rebecca April 7, 2013, 4:21 pm

    Will this technique help people (like me) who have a hiatal hernia? Thank you for your thoughts.

  • Dr. Larsen April 8, 2013, 11:04 am

    Hiatal hernia can be a part of this problem, yes. Many times the cardiac sphincter can be manipulated by an Applied Kinesiologist so that it functions better.The stomach acid and the general health of the digestive tract must be taken into consideration though for long lasting results.

  • concerned April 15, 2013, 11:42 am

    Hi, thanks for this great article. My partner has acid reflux, and he is trying out a very low-carb diet that was recommended to him. He is also taking probiotics. It sounds like a good idea, but I am concerned that he is eating way too much meat and animal proteins, which are acid forming in the body. He is also still drinking coffee… I know that acid-forming foods are not creating more acid in the stomach for digestion, but are acid-forming or alkaline-forming foods at all related to acid reflux?

    Another thing is that he tried taking HCL with pepsin but one tablet alone caused a burning sensation, so he stopped. Apple cider vinegar in water doesn’t create a burning sensation, but he feels that it makes his reflux worse. What could this mean?

    Thanks for your response!

  • Dr. Larsen April 15, 2013, 1:22 pm

    While I can’t give specific advice over the internet, I can tell you this. If somebody tells me they tried HCL capsules and it caused a burning sensation, then it tips me off that they have an ulcer.The increased acid is burning the unprotected ulcerated tissue. The vinegar would probably do the same thing at a high enough dose.

    The first thing I would do is cut the coffee out. I test for this in the office on patients because a lot of people have trouble with coffee.

    Your partner needs to see somebody well versed in Applied Kinesiology. Dysfunction throughout the body causes digestive distress and an Applied Kinesiologist will be able to pinpoint exactly what is going wrong, including finding subclinical infections, which are usually prevalent. A place to start would be http://icakusa.com. There you will find a listing of Professional Applied Kinesiologists. There are many more, but this will list some.

    I hope this helps. Each person is drastically different, and requires the right combination for the combination lock, to get well in the fastest and most efficient route possible.

  • line April 18, 2013, 5:21 pm

    Hi,im hiv positive and take 4 meds a day,i v been surfering from acid reflux for two yrs now my doc priscrib pantoprasol and i also take sucralfate 1 mg but still feel thesame, i v this burning in my stomach and chest, i feel tideness in my chest, wen i eat chocolate sugar or wine or liquor i feel like hell, im in pain is the any help solutions for me

  • Dr. Larsen April 19, 2013, 9:07 am

    Hello line,

    There are always solutions if you are willing to do the work to discover them. With the drugs you are on, and the condition you have, your journey may be more difficult, but there is always hope if you have a pulse and the will to move forward. Never give up.

  • Patrick Young April 27, 2013, 4:01 am

    I’ve known about the need for supplemental HCL for over 20 years, thanks to Dr. Bruce West.
    9 out of 10 times, the sufferer is unable to sustain adequate amound to acid with repetitive challenges with a base substance like baking soda. Using a special wireless sensor that is swallowed, the researcher can monitor stomach acid levels easily. The challenge consists of drinking baking soda every 15 minutes for an hour or so. What goes wrong is that the initial acid response is OK , but with each succeeding challenge, the release of stomach acid diminishes. ,
    So the error mainstrem doctors made is the symptoms of reflux and the wrong assumption that th problem is too much acid. When acid drops off sharply, food lingers undigested in the stomach, causing gas formation, bloating and pain. This is the predominant cause, not excessive acid.

    Yet in all this time, I haven’t found one mainstream source, John Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical, etc. that have correctly identify the problem. What is going on? Are they so sold into
    anti-acids that facts just don’t register? Are they been doing it wrong for so long, they can’t imagine that the use of anti-acid can makes thing worse? This is fundamental to my criticism of mainstream medicine. If they can’t get this relatively simple condition right, can they get anything right? Can anyone provide some answers?

  • michaela April 29, 2013, 7:59 am

    Hello, is it possible to have gastritis and lack of hydrochloric acid at the same time?
    Or is the stomach ulcer a proof that I have too much acid ?

  • Dr. Larsen April 29, 2013, 11:03 am

    I just don’t know why there is no mainstream source talking about this Patrick. I guess once you get down a particular path you will fight for it to the end. It’s no different than anything in life, whether the earth is round or flat, etc. When you read Guyton’s Textbook of Medical Physiology the fact speak for themselves.

  • Dr. Larsen April 29, 2013, 12:05 pm


    It’s definitely not proof that you have too much acid. It is only proof that your digestive system has been dysfunctional for quite some time. There are many different stressors that disrupt the digestive system….emotional stress, chemicals and heavy metals, too much sugar and grain, trans fats, low intake of vitamins and minerals, etc.

    In most cases this causes a decrease of hydrochloric acid output from the body, due to the accumulated stress on the body. A stressed body does not put energy into digestion, cell repair, DNA repair, etc. It puts it towards survival. Things that are going to keep the body alive in the short term. With a chronically stressed society, we are seeing more and more of the accumulated damage this causes.

    Your food has most likely been rotting in the GI tract. The acids that come off this rotting food cause the ulcers. This along with the decrease in production of the protective mucus of the stomach (remember, the body won’t put as much energy towards digestion when it is stressed) causes the sensitive tissue of the GI tract to be exposed.

  • Kerry May 16, 2013, 1:50 pm

    I have noticed that due to some bladder issues I have I have moved to a more alkaline diet including drinking more high pH water as it helps my bladder. At the same time the acid reflux came out of no where. Could there be a correlation to going more alkaline in my diet and acid reflux staring due to low acid levels in my stomach? I tried 2 HCL pills with a steak dinner and felt some hotness (no burning) in my stomach and some reflux buring in my esophagus and into my throat which didn’t last long.

    Here is the strenth of what I took : Betaine HCI…650 mg, Pepsin…162 mg (in each pill – I took 2)

    Did I go overboard with the HCL?

    I have no stomach pain and would assume I don’t have an ulcer but just curious as to your thoughts…

  • Dr. Larsen May 16, 2013, 3:43 pm

    Hi Kerry,

    I don’t usually find a problem with high alkaline water and stomach pH. You may have just taken too much HCL to start. Sometimes people have to work their way into it. Another common thing is having Interference Fields that are affecting the stomach. This would be some type of scar or trauma site, usually on the front side of the body from the head to the pubic bone. These IF’s can reflex to the stomach and sedate it. The only way I know of correcting this issue is to do mud packing to the trauma sites and other areas that need to be mud packed. Once this is accomplished, the stomach will often work much better. We use a special kind of mud from Premier Research Labs to accomplish this.

  • Kerry May 17, 2013, 8:34 am

    I have been on a no dairy, no wheat, no meat diet for the last week eating mainly non starchy vegetables, salads and nuts/legumes to counteract what’s going on in my stomach per a nutritionist. I am aware this can take some time to see any results as I don’t want to take prilosec however I get heartburn with just about everything I eat or drink including water. I have lost 8 pounds in one week and am a small framed gal as it is who now weighs 122 down from 130 and 5’4″. Am I smart to stick with the plan I am on?

  • Dr. Larsen May 17, 2013, 12:20 pm

    Hi Kerry,

    You are really going to need to see a practitioner that can do some testing directly with you and find out what is really going on. An Applied Kinesiologist or Quantum Reflex Analysis practitioner would be the best.

  • Gladys June 22, 2013, 11:52 pm

    Very important for health this knowledge.
    Thanks Dr.. Larsen

  • Dr. Larsen June 24, 2013, 8:36 am

    You are right about that Gladys. Thanks for the comment.

  • Michelle June 26, 2013, 2:50 pm

    I had gallbladder removal surgery last week. Over the last two months my digestion took a sudden turn for the worse after switching to clean eating and losing 40lbs. I developed heartburn and heart palps at nights even though I ate clean and hours before bed. Discovered a large stone in my gallbladder and had an egd which showed a “perfect upper gi”. Gallbladder removed and found to be very inflammed and stuck to my liver.

    My problem has still not abated. I just don’t seem to be digesting my food. I go to bed on an empty stomach and belch all night long with the feeling of food lodged in my esophagus. Of course doc wants me on rx ppi and I declined. I have a slight burn in my esophagus throughout the day off and on. I am going to try hcl tonight. My question is how will I tell of the burn is the same as I’ve been having or from the hcl?

  • Dr. Larsen June 27, 2013, 9:04 am

    Hi Michelle,

    Nice job on switching to a healthier lifestyle and losing 40 pounds. It sounds like your body wasn’t ready for such a drastic change in eating habits. With the sad state of American health, I have found that the process goes much smoother if the person is getting help from a knowledgeable practitioner who can test them to find out exactly what their body needs to balance. Your gallbladder may have been too far gone at that point anyway though to save it.

    It’s hard to tell sometimes where the burning is coming from. HCL is very important, but especially if a person has an injury, trauma, surgery, etc. anywhere from their head to their pubic bone, the stomach won’t be as strong as it should be. In these cases we need to administer mud packs to clear up any interference fields that are sedating the stomach. Once this is done, the stomach now has full power and the HCL will work much better.

    My suggestion as always is to find a practitioner that is proficient in Quantum Reflex Analysis (QRA) or Applied Kinesiology (AK).

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  • Petra Hudson March 7, 2014, 6:12 pm

    Hi Dr. Larsen, Appreciate your article. I guess I am confused. My tendency is high alkalinity. High 7’s into 8 range. I have been on Calcium Lactate which has helped me considerably with the ph to lower it. I had a very bad virus and was sick for almost 3 months. I stopped all of my supplements because I just couldn’t deal with them. I am feeling much better although I went through a bad spell of nausea for about 5 days and now I have on and off heartburn. The basic question is can you have heartburn symptoms because of high alkalinity. This is where my confusion was about your article. Appreciate your response.

    Thank you…

  • Dr. Larsen March 8, 2014, 8:48 am

    Hello. Well, I can’t give advice specifically over the internet like this, but I am going to talk in generalities. The pH I was talking about in the article is the STOMACH pH. The stomach pH MUST be very low or it sets the body up for trouble. Your pH is probably not very good in the stomach by default. Most people don’t have a good stomach pH because of the lifestyles we live in.

    Now, your overall pH. I am guessing you either checked your saliva or your urine pH. In general, saliva is not a good indicator of pH. It is too easy to change it from food and drink. Urine is the best pH to check because, urine is a product of running the body’s metabolism. Your urine pH should be between 6.4 and 7.0 on a first morning urine test after 5:00 am. If you are highly alkaline on this test, this means that your body has gone so acid that it is buffering with ammonia and minerals from the bone. Once you start remineralizing your body, the pH will turn very acid, then it will start to climb back up into the right range. A high alkaline urine pH is more serious than a really acidic one, because like I mentioned, it has already gone really acidic and the body is trying desperately to buffer it.

  • Brett August 16, 2014, 5:04 pm

    Thanks for this post. I love your logic – have Gerds usually 1-2 attacks pretty bad a day – with sweats – I can feel the acid in my stomach or maybe lack of acid creating a burning sensation – waiting to see a specialist. (no heart problems had that checked jog 3-5 times a week) Most traditional site say don’t have Lemons or citrus of any kind and yet Lemons are very high in alkaline – a bit confusing. Have also been taking Nexium which has not helped at all – I’m a big believer in not taking synthetics pill of any kind – improving health through diet and exercise. Stress has been on the forefront after losing my father recently to cancer. My question is can I do anything to slow down these debilitating attacks while I waiting for the gerd specialist. I know you can only generalize here.
    Could taking a good probiotic help? Foods to add or avoid? Thanks.

  • Dr. Larsen August 17, 2014, 12:10 pm

    Well, you need to get to the root of the problem. Not sure a GERD specialist is what you are looking for. You stated yourself that you are not a big believer in taking synthetic pills of any kind. I imagine that is what you are going to get from a medical doctor. GERD is a major sign that your HEALTH is failing. You have lost your ability to digest your food and disinfect it. You need to find somebody in your area that can get to the root of your FAILING HEALTH.

  • Chelsea March 26, 2015, 5:59 pm

    I am very confused. I was always taught it was umportant to have a high ph level. What I am understanding from this article is that I should now strive to have a low ph level (high acidic). Am I understanding correctly?

  • Dr. Larsen March 27, 2015, 11:52 am

    Yes, high tissue pH, but low stomach pH. Two completely different things. The pH of different parts and systems of the body must be different.If the stomach pH is too high, putrefaction occurs and food rots in the GI tract. Obviously not good. Acid tissue pH in the rest of the body is a whole different problem.

  • Darlene September 19, 2017, 5:14 pm

    Why is citrus one of the things to avoid when you have heartburn issues, since citrus turns alkaline in your body?

  • Dr. Larsen September 19, 2017, 6:18 pm

    It isn’t one thing to avoid. I don’t think I said that in this article, did I? Most people need to create MORE acid in their stomach.

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