The stomach is a special organ that is found in the upper part of your abdomen. It is a crescent-shaped muscular structure that is an important component of the digestive system.
It collects food from the oesophagus, secretes digestive enzymes, mucus and an acid that helps to break down food, then passes the broken down food into the small intestine for further digestion.
In this article, we would be going through 8 interesting facts about your stomach to help you understand this special organ and the role it plays in your body.
- It has an incredible storage capacity.
Your stomach serves as the storage tank of your digestive system. If not for the presence of your stomach, you will have to eat continuously. Your stomach can comfortably hold 1-2 litres of food and drink and at full capacity, its muscular walls can stretch to hold up to 4 litres at a time.
This incredible feature helps your body store food while the digestive process goes on, so you can take in a heavy meal all at once. If your stomach was smaller, you would feel full faster and probably have to eat several times a day to keep up with your body’s demand for nutrients.
- It secretes a very powerful acid.
Specialized cells in the wall of your stomach secrete Hydrochloric acid. The pH of the stomach’s acid is 1.5-3.5. pH is the measure of how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The scale ranges from 1-14. Substances with pH values less than 7 are acidic, while those with pH values more than 7 are alkaline. What this means is that the stomach acid is very corrosive.
When scientists tried to test how strong the acid is, they placed razor blades in a sample of the acid and noticed a partial to complete dissolution of the blades.
To protect itself from the strength of this acid, the stomach wall secretes a very thick mucus layer as a barrier. If this mucus layer gets compromised, stomach ulcers develop, which can lead to severe abdominal pain, black stools or bright red blood in stools.
- Its internal surface is very rough.
If you looked at the appearance of the internal part of the stomach, it isn’t a smooth surface. Instead, it is made up of many folds of tissue called rugae. These folds give the stomach a very large surface area for the breakdown of food. It also helps the stomach expand without an increase in pressure.
- A person can survive without it.
Though the stomach is important, a person can do without it. People who have stomach cancers can have their stomachs removed and still survive. In cases like these, because of the absence of the stomach, the oesophagus is joined straight to the small intestine.
The procedure is known as a gastrectomy and the person would still be able to digest food well, though they would need to eat more frequent, smaller meals.
- It defends your body against diseases.
The presence of hydrochloric acid in the stomach helps to protect the digestive system from invading germs. The acidic environment makes it hard for bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms to thrive, hence protecting you from stomach and intestinal infections that can cause diarrhoea and changes in stool.
6. Alcohol is actually absorbed here.
When you think of the stomach, you think of the breakdown of food. However, some absorption actually takes place here. Alcohol is readily absorbed directly into the bloodstream from the walls of the stomach by diffusion.
The effect of alcohol is felt almost immediately while drinking because it does not need to be digested, unlike food which would require breakdown before it can be absorbed into the body.
7. ‘Butterflies in your stomach’ is actually a thing.
Sometimes, we feel a nervy feeling of butterflies in our stomachs when we are anxious. Have you ever wondered why you feel this way when you’re about to address a crowd or at a job interview? Well, it has to do with the effect of the autonomic nervous system on the stomach and small intestines.
When you are nervous, your body activates a ‘flight or fight’ response (as if it was being attacked), which diverts blood from your digestive system to your skeletal muscles. This makes you feel the sudden ‘butterfly’ feeling.
Dr. Charles-Davies Omiete is a medical doctor and founder of 25 Doctors, a platform where you can chat with doctors on the internet.