The Stomach: A Very Complex Organ

Many Factors Are Involved In The Balance Between Proper Digestion And Stomach Problems.

My medical dictionary describes the stomach as a distensible saclike organ connecting the esophagus and the duodenum (throat and small intestine).  The stomach is a major protein-digesting organ and lies just below the diaphragm, to the right of the spleen and partly under the liver.  The stomach is made up of three parts, the fundus (base of a hollow organ, the part farthest from the opening), antrum (the cavity, the part adjoining the pylorus) and pylorus (the lower part of the stomach that leads to the duodenum). 

The Stomach sits at a slight angle, with the inlet at the cardiac orifice (throat) and the outlet at the pyloric sphincter (beginning of the small intestine).  The angle allows food to be bathed in the stomach acid solution (hydrochloric acid and pepsin) while being moved around or churned by the muscular action of the outer layers of the stomach.  It has the capacity to hold about 2-3 quarts of solid or liquid material and secretes up to 2 quarts of digestive juices per day that are between 1.5 and 3 pH (very high acid). The stomach continues the digestive process that starts in the mouth.  Gastric juices, hydrochloric acid and pepsin are secreted by glands in the mucosal lining and contribute to the digestive process.  The semi-liquefied and partly digested food is passed on to the duodenum.

There are about 35 million glands in the stomach consisting of two basic types.  The first type secretes acids.  The parietal cells secrete hydrochloric acid and the chief cells secrete pepsin.

The pH factor of hydrochloric acid (HCl) is 0.8 and is a major protein digestive enzyme.  The inability to produce HCl is generally seen as a consequence of aging, but some authorities feel it’s not age connected, but directly related to years of stomach abuse.  My own personal experience in years past would bear that out.  I thought indigestion was part of life until I changed my diet and eating patterns about 25 years ago. Now, I have indigestion so seldom, maybe once a year, that I can point directly to the cause, because I ate it.

Pepsin is the other major protein-digesting stomach acid.  Pepsin works best in a stomach pH environment of about 2. If pH gets as high as 5, which is not unusual for people on antacids, pepsin is inactivated.  High amounts of HCl and the lowering of stomach pH aid in digestion of meat collagen by pepsin.  Without pepsin the digestion of meat is drastically reduced.  This scenario leads to constipation and possibly colon cancer.

Stimulation of the vagus nerve will increase HCl and pepsin secretions in the stomach (more with pepsin than HCl).  The vagus nerve is the tenth cranial nerve and supplies nerve impulses to the muscles used for swallowing.  Sensory branches of the vagus nerve carry sensations of taste from the mouth to the brain.  The sensation of swallowing and food entering the stomach causes the antrum to produce gastrin.  When the circulation of gastrin reaches the gastric glands, it causes them to increase the secretion of pepsin three fold and HCl eight fold.  Smelling food and strong thoughts of food can increase the production of digestive stomach juices.  When you think about pickles and your mouth begins to water, your stomach is doing the same with HCl and pepsin.

The second type of stomach gland is the pyloric gland.  It secretes mucus that protects the stomach wall from being digested by HCl and pepsin.  Other mucus cells secrete small amounts of lipase (a fat-digesting enzyme), an intrinsic factor and a gel-like alkaline substance that adds protection to the stomach wall and acts as a lubricant in the digestive tract.  Without these elements for protection, a hole would be eaten in the stomach wall in about three hours.

The intrinsic factor combines with vitamin B-12 and aids its being absorbed in the small intestine.  Most cases of B-12 deficiencies can be traced to poor assimilation of B-12 due to inadequate amounts of the intrinsic factor, as opposed to insufficient dietary B-12.

When a beer belly, or prolapsed abdomen exists, nothing is correctly positioned below the stomach to hold it in place.  This allows the stomach to bulge out at the bottom, making a pocket for stomach acids to collect in.  This increases the likelihood of an ulcer in the lower parts of the stomach, in the region of the pylorus or in the duodenum.  This can also lead to pockets of food being left in the stomach, which results in putrefaction, indigestion and other digestive tract problems.

Antacids can result in overproduction of HCl and pepsin, A.K.A. acid rebound.  Habitual use of antacids eventually depletes the stomach’s ability to produce digestive juices. 

Many stomach problems may be due to a misalignment of the sixth thoracic vertebra, which is covered in my articles on the spinal column.