The Importance of Balance in the Gastric System
In order to function in a healthy way, our gastric system requires a balance between aggressive factors, such as stomach acid, and protective factors, such as mucus. Both of these factors play an essential role in the health of our gastric system.
The Role of Aggressive Factors
Aggressive factors in our gastric system include stomach acid and the digestive enzyme, pepsin. While we often hear about the problems associated with an excess of stomach acid, the presence of this acid is vital for proper digestion to occur.
Stomach acid (primarily hydrochloric acid) has two essential roles in the digestive process:
- It triggers the release of pepsin, a digestive enzyme that breaks down proteins into smaller peptides.
- It sterilizes food particles before they enter the gastrointestinal tract.
Without this acid, our bodies would not be able to break down the food that enters the gastric system, which can have a devastating effect on our health.
The Role of Protective Factors
The gastrointestinal tract is covered by a thin layer of mucus, around 1.5mm thick. This mucus layer acts a protective barrier, preventing harmful bacteria, pathogens and free radicals from passing through the lining. These elements can cause significant damage to the gut in a number of ways, including oxidation of the cells, inflammation, and infection.
Our defensive mucus layer helps to neutralize the acid in the gut, ensuring that pH levels remain at an optimal level for effective digestion to take place.
Maintaining a Healthy Gut Balance
As you can see, a healthy gastric system relies on both aggressive and protective factors working together to promote gut health and sustain optimal digestive function. This means having sufficient levels of stomach acid to sterilize food and trigger pepsin release, and having a fully-functioning mucus layer to protect our gut from damage and disease.
So, what should we be focusing on when aiming to improve our gastric health?
Given the vital importance of the gastrointestinal mucus layer, it is clear that maintaining an optimal level of this protective mucus is central to a healthy gastric system. Rather than trying to disrupt the balance by reducing stomach acid, we should focus instead on increasing our gastric system’s production of mucus, in order to ensure our gut is healthy and protected.
Just as with many areas of our health, it’s all about balance.
References are available on request