You probably only talk or think about your stomach in three instances: when it’s full, when it’s growling, and when it hurts. It’s easy to think of your stomach as just a passive sack that holds your Chipotle burrito until it moves on to the intestines, but your stomach is a highly complex organ.
In fact, here are five ways that your stomach helps not just your digestion, but also your overall health:
1. Your stomach prepares food for digestion—before you even eat.
Your stomach is so intelligent that just looking at delicious food kicks your stomach into gear. It begins secreting powerful gastric juices to prepare for digestion. This way, digestion can begin as soon food hits the stomach.
How does it know? You can thank the back-and-forth communication with the central nervous system (see #4).
2. Your stomach helps kill bacteria in your food.
Those gastric juices don’t just help with digestion: They are potent enough to destroy harmful bacteria on the food you eat. This is one of your body’s defenses against foodborne illness. (BTW, here are mistakes that increase your risk of food poisoning.)
3. Your stomach prepares food for nutrient absorption.
Nutrient absorption typically gets credited to the small intestine, but your stomach plays a role here as well. Before food can go to the small intestine, it has to be churned into a paste called chyme in the stomach. This is done by strong muscle movements of the stomach, as well as the gastric juices.
4. Your stomach is part of your “second brain.”
Your central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) get all the love when it comes to your body’s intelligence, but don’t ignore the enteric nervous system (ENS). This is a system of nerve receptors in the digestive tract that can send and receive info with the brain. You might have heard this communication referred to as “the mind-gut connection.”
For example, the ENS can tell your brain when you’re full and should put down your fork. Communication between the ENS and CNS is also behind phenomena like “butterflies in your stomach,” as well as symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
5. Your stomach hits the “eject” button if it senses danger.
Vomiting is unpleasant, but you should still thank your stomach for occasionally propelling your meal backwards. Vomiting is often a protective measure for your health. For example, if a virus has entered your body or you’ve eaten contaminated food, your stomach can sense this, use its muscles to force the food back up, and expel the harmful invader(s).
In other words, your stomach is so much more than a U-Haul for food: It’s a complex organ with a bellyful of tricks to keep you safe.
Want more reasons to love your body?