Pari­etal cells: vomit, cave­men and fur trap­pers

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health -

What are they? Large cells in the wall of the stom­ach that make acid. They sit inside in­den­ta­tions called gas­tric pits. Here they pump out the strong stom­ach acid so it mixes with food. The acid is made in re­sponse to food in the stom­ach, but also to see­ing food, smelling it and even just think­ing about it.

What does stom­ach acid do? It helps us digest food; any­one who has vom­ited or had acid re­flux will know just how strong it is. So why doesn’t the acid burn away the stom­ach wall? Be­cause the wall is pro­tected by a layer of mu­cus made by cells at the top of the gas­tric pits. What have pari­etal cells got to do with cave­men? Pari­etal comes from the Latin word pari­etalis, which means be­long­ing to the wall’’. Paint­ings made by cave­men on the sides of cave walls are called pari­etal art.

And a fur trap­per?

‘‘ The re­al­i­sa­tion that stom­ach juice con­tains acid that helps di­ges­tion in part came from nine years of ex­per­i­ments in the US on a fur trap­per called Alexis St Martin. In 1822, St Martin was ac­ci­den­tally shot in stom­ach, leav­ing a hole through which food splilled out of his side.

Re­mark­ably, he sur­vived, but still with the hole in his side.

This al­lowed his doc­tor — William Beau­mont— to ex­per­i­ment, for ex­am­ple by dan­gling food on a string into St Martin’s stom­ach and then pulling it out to see what had hap­pened to it. St Martin lived un­til he was 83.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Nathalie Gar­cia

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