What is the Purpose of Stomach Acid?
The stomach does indeed contain an acidic solution known as hydrochloric acid, which is used to help digest and break food down. A common mistake is that it is the acid itself which helps to break down the food, which is incorrect as it is the enzymes contained within the digestive tract which facilitate most of the breakdown of food into the respective nutrients and components required by the body.
The purpose of stomach acid
The stomach acid, scientifically called gastric acid, helps to facilitate the digestion process by causing the actual structure of food to be degraded and broken down by causing the “bonds” or cement of the food (which are made up of protein) to disintegrate. In so doing so, the peptide enzymes also secreted and contained within the stomach cavity can then get to work further breaking down these protein bonds. The acidity of the stomach is used to help kill off harmful bacteria and also prevent them from developing in the first place.
Proteins are broken down into amino acids, and the remainder of the food is then prepared for absorption and processing via the intestines (both small and large). The intestines will process the now digested food absorbing the required nutrients and minerals utilized by the body and expelling the waste material that is known as excrement.
Hydrochloric acid is an extremely potent and dangerous acid, which normally poses a significant threat of harm to the various soft tissues and membranes of the body. In a chemical lab, it’s always labeled with a yellow warning sign, and in order to safely store this dangerous solution, the stomach has a very strong and reinforced wall of muscle intended to shield the rest of the body.
Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, takes place when the acid of the stomach manages to move beyond the stomach and into the esophagus, which leads from the mouth to the stomach. However, the common belief is that heartburn is caused by excess acid production, which is in fact false, and whilst this excess production of the gastric juice is a contributing factor, it is not the sole factor for heartburn.
The esophagus as mentioned is very much like a pipe or tube running from the mouth to the stomach and at each end of this tube is a small muscular flap that acts as a valve or trapdoor. In order to prevent the gastric acid entering into the esophagus, the valve located directly above the stomach is kept closed and only opens when food is about to enter into the stomach. Heartburn results when this valve, officially called the lower esophageal sphincter, does not operate properly and allows the acid to travel into the esophagus.
Your stomach is the quartermaster of your body, ensuring adequate nutrients are sent to the right places, and stomach acid plays a vital part in your digestive system, ultimately keeping you alive.