What do you know about stomach acid and the role it plays in digestion?
Every organ in the human digestive system plays a very vital role in the conversion of what we eat into nutrients that the body can utilise.
The stomach is a hollow, J-shaped muscular organ that receives broken down food in the mouth through the oesophagus (also known as the “food pipe” or “gullet”).
The main function is to crunch the food (digest the food furthermore) before it proceeds to the intestine.
In order for the process to occur, the muscles of the stomach wall crunch the food with the help of enzymes and acid secreted.
The acid secreted in the stomach is called Gastric acid. It can also be called “Gastric Juice” or “Stomach acid”.
Here are 7 interesting facts you didn’t know about the acid in your stomach.
1. Gastric Acid Is Strong Enough To Destroy A Razor Blade.
Gastric juice is a colorless, watery solution produced by the parietal cells (also known as the oxyntic cells) found in the upper two-thirds (the body) of the stomach. It has a baseline pH of 1.5. Although, it could range from 1.5 -3.5.
It consists of mainly hydrochloric acid (HCl) and quantities of potassium chloride(KCl) and sodium chloride (NaCl). A study conducted to assess the in vitro effects of the stomach acid on metal objects have shown a partial to complete dissolution of razor blades.
In fact, this acid is so corrosive that it can digest the stomach’s wall. This is why the stomach wall defends itself from its own acid by secreting thick mucus that serves as a mechanical barrier.
If this mechanical barrier is broken down, stomach ulcers could form. Ulcers can be very painful and can lead to the presence of black poop or bright red blood in stools.
2. About 1.2 -1.5 Litres Of Gastric Acid Is Produced In A Day.
The stomach secretes about 1.2 to 1.5 litres of gastric acid per day. Gastric secretion is regulated by the autonomous nervous system and hormones in the stomach.
The thought, smell, or taste of food causes the vagus nerve to stimulate the G-cells located in the lower one-third (antrum) of the stomach to secrete gastrin. Also, the arrival of protein diet to the stomach further stimulates gastrin output.
Gastrin stimulates the release of histamine from enterochromaffin-like cells in the body of the stomach. Finally, the histamine stimulates the parietal cells to secrete the acid.
3. Gastric Acid Secretion Reaches Adult Level At Age 2.
Acid secretion in the stomach is present at birth and reaches adult levels by age 2. Acid output can be maintained throughout life except in conditions that produce hyperacidity and hypochlorhydria (low production of gastric acid).
4. The Role Of Gastric Acid In Digestion Was Established By Dr. Williams Beaumont.
In the 1820s and 1830s, Dr. William Beaumont observed the process of digestion and to extract gastric acid, verifying that acid played a crucial role in digestion. He used the stomach of Alexis St. Martin who was accidentally shot in the stomach had a fistula (hole) in his stomach.
5. Gastric Acid Is Essential For Protein Breakdown.
The acid in the stomach creates a low pH environment in the stomach. This affects protein in the stomach in two steps.
Firstly, it causes proteins from food to lose their characteristic folded structure. This exposes the protein’s peptide bonds. Protein diet in the stomach stimulates the chief cells to secrete a proenzyme(inactive) called pepsinogen for protein breakdown.
Secondly, gastric acid converts pepsinogen to the active enzyme, pepsin. Pepsin breaks the bonds linking amino acids in protein by a process known as proteolysis.
6. Gastric Acid Promotes The Release of Vitamin B12 For Absorption.
Dietary vitamin B12 is normally bound to proteins in food and is provided by food products of animal origin.
Pepsin and the acid in the stomach will degrade these food proteins and release vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 with the help of haptocorrin (Vitamin B12 binding protein) as well as the intrinsic factor (also secreted by parietal cells of the stomach) move to the small intestine for its absorption.
7. Gastric Acid Destroys Microorganisms In Food.
Most microorganisms do not survive in highly acidic content. Thus, gastric acid prevents food poisoning by limiting yeast, parasites, viral and bacterial infections.
The presence of this strong acid breaks down these germs, making us less likely to come down with intestinal infections, diarrhea, vomiting and strangely coloured stools.
Dr. Zainab Abiola Pedro is a senior content editor at 25 Doctors, a website where you can ask doctors medical questions online.
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