The stomach, as a part of the digestive tract, plays a role in digesting food. Food travels from mount and esophagus to the stomach that chemically breaks down the food. The stomach secretes protein-digesting enzymes that require acidic environment in order to be produced and to properly perform their function. Acidic pH in the stomach is provided by hydrochloric acid that is secreted by the stomach to aid in digestion of foods. The role of hydrochloric acid is to give optimum pH required for the enzymes to work. Additionally, hydrochloric acid provides protective mechanism to the body by killing bacteria, viruses and parasites. The stomach breaks down the proteins when hydrochloric acid mixes with pepsinogen to produce pepsin.
In the stomach, pH of hydrochloric acid is low as 1 to 2. This pH can even dissolve solid metal. However, stomach is protected from hydrochloric acid due to secretion of a thick mucus protective layer. This layer prevents the cells of the stomach to be affected by hydrochloric acid. Additionally, sodium bicarbonate acts as Buffering agent that prevents damage to the stomach cells.
Low Hydrochloric Acid SecretionDecreased secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach is a condition known as hypochlorhydria. On the other hand, achlorhydria represents total absence of hydrochloric acid in gastric secretion. Hypochlorhydria can occur due to vitamin and nutrient deficiency, bacterial infection (Helicobacter pylori), improper use of heartburn medications or gastric bypass surgery. Decreased hydrochloric acid in the stomach causes several symptoms such as foul smelling stool and gas, bloating and belching, diarrhea, undigested food in the stool, iron and other mineral deficiency, drowsiness after a meal and other. Hypochlorhydria can also lead to chronic intestinal infections. Hypochlorhydria, as well as achlorhydria can be treated with acid supplements or intake of foods that can help in digestion process or encourage secretion of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Such foods are cayenne pepper, vinegar and digestive enzyme supplements.
Excess Hydrochloric Acid Secretion
If there is too much hydrochloric acid in the stomach, it can result in conditions such as Zollinge-Ellison syndrome and hypercalcemia. Excess amount of the strong acid in the stomach is caused by increased gastrin levels that stimulate secretion of hydrochloric acid. This condition causes stomach aches and stomach ulcers. Pain in the stomach is also present due to excess amount of the acid, which leads to appetite loss. The condition can be treated with antacid medications or solutions. Spicy foods must be eliminated from the diet since such foods make the symptoms worse.