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The stomach produces gastric acid or hydrochloric acid (HCl) to lower the pH in the stomach, making the conditions optimum for the pepsin. The cells that line the stomach, called parietal cells, secrete HCl, which gives gastric juices their low pH. HCl does not digest food, but it kills bacteria, helps break down the connective tissue in meat, and activates pepsin, the stomach’s digestive enzyme.
The pH of the stomach is usually between 1 and 3. The enzymes in the stomach work best in acidic conditions – at a low pH. At very acidic and alkaline pH values the shape of the enzyme is altered so that it is no longer complementary to its specific substrate. This effect can be permanent and irreversible and is called denaturation.
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