Creative Eldering: Your Stomach

You are probably a little more acquainted with your stomach than most of your other internal organs. When you are hungry you feel that gnawing empty feeling in the “pit of your stomach”.  Sometimes this even comes along with sound effects of your stomach “growling”. If you have overindulged and eaten a larger quantity than your stomach could easily handle, you have felt that “Oh my stomach is too full feeling”.  When you have nausea, no matter what the reason, or even feel like you are on the verge of losing your stomach’s contents, you are certainly aware of the location of your stomach.

You have probably even seen cartoon-like renderings of the human stomach if you have seen ads for stomach antacids in magazines, on television, or even online.  The simplest visual metaphor I can suggest for getting a sense of what your stomach’ s shape is like, is to look at a picture of a bota bag (a goatskin canteen that hails from Spanish travelers of centuries past), or simply pull your old bota bag out of your hiking and camping gear.  Hold it upside down next to the left side of your abdomen, and you will have a template of a very full human stomach. The larger end of the leather canteen is a gently curved bulge that looks similar to the highest end or fundus of your stomach.  The nozzle at the small and of your wineskin (bota bag) that allows a small amount of liquid out at a time is analogous to your stomach’s pylorus segment and your pyloric sphincter at the distal (or far) end of your stomach near its junction with your small intestine.  This is the area where an ounce or two of partly digested food described as chyme exits your stomach and pours into your small intestine. A little later another ounce or two of partly digested chyme leaves your stomach, and so on. It may take as few as 1 to 2 or as many as 6 to 8 hours for your stomach to fully process and empty the contents of a full meal.  This is dependent on the type and amount of food consumed, and the efficient functioning of your stomach. If you are making sufficient digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid for your stomach’ s function, your digestion and stomach emptying will be more efficient.

Your stomach has two other sections.  The body is the largest and the main part of your stomach which holds much of the volume of food and liquid.  A small entrance into your stomach from your esophagus is called the Cardia and is simply a bridge between your esophagus to your body and fundus (the large areas) of your stomach.  The Cardia area is not analogous to any structures on your bota bag but is best described as the narrow tube that allows swallowed foods and liquids entrance into the wider segments of your stomach.

The wall of your stomach is made of four layers, the same four layers that also exist in your intestines.  The innermost layer of your stomach is mucosa, gastric mucosa. This layer directly contacts the food and liquids you have ingested and may be subject to a stomach or gastric ulcer (if certain conditions exist.)  Because your mucosa layer is exposed to hydrochloric acid (HCl) it is more durable and has more mucus-secreting cells for protection than other parts of your gastrointestinal system.

The next layer is the submucosa which is made of quite fibrous connective tissue. It provides a “scaffolding” for the nerves and blood vessels that serve your stomach.

Next is the muscular layer, called muscularis externa.  Your stomach has three layers of muscle tissues each orientated in a different direction.  The outermost layer is the lengthwise or longitudinal layer and is very similar to that in your intestines.  This is the layer that helps with peristalsis action to move food and its byproducts through your entire digestive system towards elimination.

The circular layer of muscle squeezes your stomach and assists with the forward movement of your chyme towards your small intestine.

You also have a layer of muscle in your stomach called the inner oblique layer.  This is the layer that stirs, churns, and physically helps break down food from your most recent meal.  This layer of muscle can give you that empty stomach feeling and contribute to the growling sounds. The inner oblique layer of muscle only exists in your stomach, not in your esophagus or your intestines.

The fourth layer of your stomach wall is the serosa.  It is actually the outside layer made of tough connective tissue and it also secretes some mucus to lubricate and for the slight movement between your stomach and surrounding structures, with minimal friction.

The lining of your stomach wall is covered with specialized cells and countless glands that can secrete enzymes, natural biochemicals, and components that augment digestion.  Specialized glands and cells in your stomach wall secrete hydrochloric acid, while other cells secrete bicarbonate (to control the acidity and protect your stomach’ s lining).  Your stomach wall also has mucus-secreting cells that protect the stomach lining from stomach acid and also help prevent ulcers. Your stomach also has specialized cells that secrete hormones that participate in the digestion process.  Some required digestive hormones are produced in other areas of the body and travel through the bloodstream to the stomach.

The bottom line is that your stomach is intricately designed for proper function and actually knows when to create more acidity and when to create more alkalinity for its own welfare and proper function.  Think carefully about altering those functions with medications since these medications have serious repercussions and may cause unanticipated problems. Read more about the problems of proton pump inhibitor medications and about natural alternatives for stomach complaints on pages 332-335 in my book, YOUR BODY CAN TALK, second edition.  You may also wish to search the archives of this publication for my article titled Digestive Discomfort published in September 2019.  I hope that this article has more closely acquainted you with YOUR STOMACH.

Article written by Susan L. Levy, D. C.
Author of “Your Body Can Talk, 2nd Edition” and “Your Aging Body Can Talk”  |

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