ChlorineThings in your stomach?
When you have indigestion, you can sometimes feel it creep up your throat. Yes, you have a chlorinated acid in your stomach: the strong hydrochloric acid. What is it doing there?
Hydrochloric acid (whose chemical formula is HCl) is a strong, aggressive acid. Technically-speaking it is very corrosive. But it can also take part in many types of chemical reactions in your stomach:
- HCl breaks down the proteins you eat for use in the synthesis of muscle and body tissue
- It prevents bacterial pathogens descending in your gastro-intestinal tract; these would cause infections that can lead to disease and stomach cancer
- It activates vital substances like hormones and enzymes that help digest food
- It helps absorb crucial nutrients that are in food: vitamins A, C, E, B6 and B12, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron etc.
Can you digest your own stomach then?
If this acid is so aggressive that it can help digest a steak, why doesn’t it digest your stomach, too? Well, the inner layer of your stomach is protected by so-called epithelial cells. They produce and secrete a bicarbonate solution that coats this stomach layer. Bicarbonate is alkaline, a base; it neutralises the acid secreted and this process produces water. The continuous supply of bicarbonate protects your stomach from self-digesting.
By the way, many of the tablets people take when they feel too much gastric acid in their throat contain the same bicarbonate.