What is the maximum stomach capacity?
In humans, the stomach in physiological conditions has an average capacity of 0.5 L if empty, and has an average capacity, if completely full, of about 1-1.5 L. After a normal meal, it generally expands to contain approximately 1 L of bolus, but it can also expand to contain up to 4 L and more, but compressing the other organs of the abdominal cavity, and often also of the chest. If a liquid is gradually inserted into the stomach, the walls of a large habitual eater can withstand up to about 7 L, with serious risks of compression of nearby organs and vessels and with the possibility of breaking the walls.
Can the walls of the stomach break?
Certainly yes, and it was the purpose of some terrible medieval torture; there are several cases in the scientific literature. For example, in 1984 a woman who arrived in the emergency room of the Liverpool hospital had an extremely dilated belly, similar to that of a woman in the ninth month of pregnancy according to the doctors’ notes, but it was soon discovered that his stomach contained meat, eggs, mushrooms, carrots, a cauliflower, bread, ten peaches, four pears, two apples, four bananas, plums, grapes and milk for a total of just under nine pounds of food. Her stomach broke shortly thereafter and the woman died from the sepsis that resulted. More recently in Miami, a woman suffering from bulimia was found dead with a broken stomach: the “coup de grace” after the gargantuan binge was baking soda, since this substance works by reducing stomach acid but also by creating gas that forces you to erupt. In the case of this woman, the gas was not expelled and because of the considerable pressure that was created and the stomach broke. Bicarbonate, in extreme cases, can also inflate the stomach out of all proportion to push the diaphragm towards the lungs and cause suffocation.
Why is it difficult for the stomach to break under normal conditions?
There are times when hunger and gluttony would lead us to eat anything, but our body knows our gluttony and prevents us. The stomach has receptors that – when its walls are under stress due to a too abundant lunch – send signals of satiety to the brain and the latter in turn “orders” us to stop eating and simultaneously relaxes the valve between the esophagus and the stomach : so a little air can come out giving us relief, but if we stubbornly gorge ourselves again the signs of discomfort become more and more evident with pain, nausea up to vomiting. A healthy stomach, in other words, before bursting forces us to regurgitate everything that we have introduced “by force”.