gastric juice, thin, strongly acidic ( p H varying from 1 to 3), almost colorless liquid secreted by the glands in the lining of the stomach. Its essential constituents are the digestive enzymes pepsin and rennin (see rennet), hydrochloric acid, and mucus. Pepsin converts proteins into simpler, more easily absorbed substances; it is aided in this by hydrochloric acid, which provides the acid environment in which pepsin is most effective. Rennin aids the digestion of milk proteins. Mucus secreted by the gastric glands helps protect the stomach lining from the action of gastric juice. Gastric secretion is stimulated by a number of hormones and chemical substances, by the presence of food in the stomach, and by a number of psychological factors, such as the smell of a favorite food. A decrease or total absence of gastric juice secretion may be a congenital abnormality or a concomitant of advanced age. Certain cells of the stomach lining secrete a substance known as intrinsic factor, which is necessary for the absorption of vitamin B12; absence of this substance results in pernicious anemia, or B12 deficiency (see vitamin).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.