DigestionPage 1 of 3
Your Digestive System and How It Works
- Why is Good Digestion Important?
- How is Food Digested?
- How is the digestive process controlled?
- Aids For Digestion
The digestive system is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus. Inside this tube is a lining called
the mucosa. In the mouth, stomach, and small intestine, the mucosa contains tiny glands that produce juices to help digest food.
Two solid organs, the liver and the pancreas, produce digestive juices that reach the intestine through small tubes. In addition, parts
of other organ systems (for instance, nerves and blood) play a major role in the digestive system.
Why is Good Digestion Important?
When we eat such things as bread, meat, and vegetables, they are not in a form that the body can use as nourishment. Our food and drink must
be changed into smaller molecules of nutrients before they can be absorbed into the blood and carried to cells throughout the body. Digestion is the process
by which food and drink are broken down into their smallest parts so that the body can use them to build and nourish cells and to provide energy.
How is food digested?
Digestion involves the mixing of food, its movement through the digestive tract, and the chemical breakdown of the large molecules of food
into smaller molecules. Digestion begins in the mouth, when we chew and swallow, and is completed in the small intestine. The chemical process varies
somewhat for different kinds of food.
Movement of Food Through the System
The large, hollow organs of the digestive system contain muscle that enables their walls to move. The movement of organ walls can propel food and
liquid and also can mix the contents within each organ. Typical movement of the esophagus, stomach, and intestine is called peristalsis. The action of peristalsis
looks like an ocean wave moving through the muscle. The muscle of the organ produces a narrowing and then propels the narrowed portion slowly down the length of the
organ. These waves of narrowing push the food and fluid in front of them through each hollow organ.
The first major muscle movement occurs when food or liquid is swallowed. Although we are able to start swallowing by choice, once the swallow begins,
it becomes involuntary and proceeds under the control of the nerves.
The esophagus is the organ into which the swallowed food is pushed. It connects the throat above with the stomach below. At the junction of the
esophagus and stomach, there is a ringlike valve closing the passage between the two organs. However, as the food approaches the closed ring, the surrounding
muscles relax and allow the food to pass.
The food then enters the stomach, which has three mechanical tasks to do. First, the stomach must store the swallowed food and liquid. This
requires the muscle of the upper part of the stomach to relax and accept large volumes of swallowed material. The second job is to mix up the food, liquid,
and digestive juice produced by the stomach. The lower part of the stomach mixes these materials by its muscle action. The third task of the stomach is to
empty its contents slowly into the small intestine.
Several factors affect emptying of the stomach, including the nature of the food (mainly its fat and protein content) and the degree of muscle
action of the emptying stomach and the next organ to receive the contents (the small intestine). As the food is digested in the small intestine and dissolved
into the juices from the pancreas, liver, and intestine, the contents of the intestine are mixed and pushed forward to allow further digestion.
Finally, all of the digested nutrients are absorbed through the intestinal walls. The waste products of this process include undigested parts
of the food, known as fiber, and older cells that have been shed from the mucosa. These materials are propelled into the colon, where they remain, usually
for a day or two, until the feces are expelled by a bowel movement.
Production of Digestive Juices