Food – Gatekeepers to the Stomach

It is impossible to operate a machine to the height of its ability if it is not understood. The most important machine to understand is the human body, since it helps us to carry out every daily task no matter how minute or extravagant. Many mysteries about this incredible creation have unfolded recently which allows us to better care for its needs. The stomach plays a huge role in the body, and its processes are better understood now which helps us to work with our bodies to allow maximum performance.

The stomach has two “gatekeepers” or sphincters which help it to regulate what comes and goes. The upper sphincter is located next to the heart and is innovatively dubbed the cardiac sphincter. The lower gatekeeper, the pyloric sphincter, is located by the small intestine. These two regulators are made of circular fibers which create a doughnut-like opening to and from the stomach.

The cardiac sphincter is responsible for keeping food, liquids, and digestive juices in the stomach once it has been swallowed. It has two helpers: gravity and the diaphragm. Since gravity is a reinforcement, we can help make the job a little easier by remaining upright after eating. If we don’t, the food just ingested puts a tremendous amount of pressure on both the sphincter and the diaphragm. Just like anything else that is put under too much pressure on a regular basis, the sphincter and diaphragm will both weaken. If the sphincter is damaged, the stomach is no longer able to keep its gastric contents to itself, and the esophagus reacts to the abuse by developing what is known as esophageal gastric reflux disease. This is a condition where the stomachs contents move back up into the esophagus, over time causing the lining of the esophagus to deteriorate due to the acidic nature of the regurgitated food. The drug companies love this as they make millions of dollars in sales each year in helping people with heart burn and an ulcerated esophagus due to weakened cardiac sphincters and diaphragmatic hernias.

The pyloric sphincter controls food exiting the stomach. About three times a minute, it allows less than one teaspoon of liquid and small food particles out of the stomach. This is signaled by sensors in the stomach and the duodenum (the first small part of the small intestine following the stomach) which detect the size of the food mass, the temperature, the chemical makeup and the size of particles within the chime (the semi-liquid mass of food in the stomach). If the chime is too hot or cold, the mass must be cooled or warmed. Hence, it is important to not drink hot or cold liquids with meals. The mass must also have a chemical composition that will digest our food. This means that the digestive juices need to be strong enough to bring about digestion. If they are weakened sufficiently with liquids, the liquids must be passed out of the stomach before digestion can occur, or excess gastric juices must be secreted. This is another reason we should not drink liquids with our meals. The size of particles in the food mass must also be small enough to allow final digestion and absorption in the small intestine. Therefore, it is important to chew your food well or empting of the stomach will be delayed.

So lay off the pillow after dinner; don’t confuse your tummy by throwing in a drink with dinner, and chew, chew, chew! Remember: do unto your stomach as you would have your stomach do unto you!