Gastric juice: a barrier against infectious diseases

Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2005 Feb;96(2):94-102. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-7843.2005.pto960202.x.


All vertebrates produce gastric acid. Its main function is inactivation of ingested microorganisms. The majority of microbiological pathogens ingested never reaches the intestine because of the gastric barrier. Although gastric hypochlorhydria is fairly common due to atrophic gastritis, gastric surgery or use of inhibitors of gastric acid secretion, the resulting susceptibility to infection has not been studied extensively. Drug-induced blockade of acid secretion leads to gastrointestinal bacterial overgrowth; the clinical significance of this is still controversial. Gastric acidity is known to protect against non-typhoid salmonellosis and cholera and it is suspected that it protects against several parasitic diseases as giardiasis and strongyloides. There is a lack of studies focusing on the impact of the gastric acidic barrier on viral infections. Concerning prion infections only a single study has been performed, demonstrating a possible role of gastric acidity in the protection against foodborne prion disease in mice. The combination of malnutrition and hypochlorhydria may contribute to the high prevalence of gastrointestinal infections in developing countries. Further studies are needed to evaluate the clinical consequences of impaired gastric acidity with respect to susceptibility to infections.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Communicable Diseases / etiology*
  • Gastric Juice / chemistry
  • Gastric Juice / physiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Hydrochloric Acid / chemistry
  • Hydrochloric Acid / pharmacology
  • Pepsin A / chemistry
  • Pepsin A / pharmacology
  • Pepsin A / physiology


  • Pepsin A
  • Hydrochloric Acid