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The digestive system uses mechanical and chemical activities to break food down into absorbable substances during its journey through the digestive system. Visit this site for an overview of digestion of food in different regions of the digestive tract. The processes of digestion include six activities: ingestion, propulsion, mechanical or physical digestion, chemical digestion, absorption, and defecation. The first of these processes, ingestion, refers to the entry of food into the alimentary canal through the mouth. In chemical digestion, starting in the mouth, digestive secretions break down complex food molecules into their chemical building blocks (for example, proteins into separate amino acids).
Food that has been broken down is of no value to the body unless it enters the bloodstream and its nutrients are put to work.
In defecation, the final step in digestion, undigested materials are removed from the body as feces. Digestive System: From Appetite Suppression to Constipation Age-related changes in the digestive system begin in the mouth and can affect virtually every aspect of the digestive system. Pathologies that affect the digestive organs—such as hiatal hernia, gastritis, and peptic ulcer disease—can occur at greater frequencies as you age. Neural and endocrine regulatory mechanisms work to maintain the optimal conditions in the lumen needed for digestion and absorption. The walls of the alimentary canal contain a variety of sensors that help regulate digestive functions. The walls of the entire alimentary canal are embedded with nerve plexuses that interact with the central nervous system and other nerve plexuses—either within the same digestive organ or in different ones.
The digestive system ingests and digests food, absorbs released nutrients, and excretes food components that are indigestible.
Offer a theory to explain why segmentation occurs and peristalsis slows in the small intestine. The smell of food initiates long reflexes, which result in the secretion of digestive juices. Digestive Enzymes and Herbs for Energy - Enzyme Essentials ExcellZyme Transformation Formula . Gallstones (commonly misspelled gall stones or gall stone) are solid particles that form from bile cholesterol and bilirubin in the gallbladder.The gallbladder is a small saclike organ in the upper right part of the abdomen. Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape Cholelithiasis »Gallstones are concretions that form in the biliary tract, usually in the gallbladder.
Scientific studies have confirmed the numerous health benefits obtained from eating enzyme-rich living foods. Digestive enzymes are needed for all chemical reactions in the body that are associated with digestion. Try adding sprouted grains to stir-frys, soups, rice and vegetable dishes and salads, or add some alfalfa or sprouted mung beans to sandwiches. The gastrointestinal tract (GIT) consists of a hollow muscular tube starting from the oral cavity, where food enters the mouth, continuing through the pharynx, oesophagus, stomach and intestines to the rectum and anus, where food is expelled. The primary purpose of the gastrointestinal tract is to break food down into nutrients, which can be absorbed into the body to provide energy.
In the case of gastrointestinal disease or disorders, these functions of the gastrointestinal tract are not achieved successfully. The gastrointestinal tract is a muscular tube lined by a special layer of cells, called epithelium. The innermost layer of the digestive tract has specialised epithelial cells supported by an underlying connective tissue layer called the lamina propria. Areas such as the mouth and oesophagus are covered by a stratified squamous (flat) epithelium so they can survive the wear and tear of passing food. The submucosa surrounds the muscularis mucosa and consists of fat, fibrous connective tissue and larger vessels and nerves.
This smooth muscle layer has inner circular and outer longitudinal layers of muscle fibres separated by the myenteric plexus or Auerbach plexus. The outer layer of the GIT is formed by fat and another layer of epithelial cells called mesothelium. Insalivation refers to the mixing of the oral cavity contents with salivary gland secretions. The parotid glands are large, irregular shaped glands located under the skin on the side of the face.
The sublinguals are the smallest salivary glands, covered by a thin layer of tissue at the floor of the mouth.
The stomach is a J shaped expanded bag, located just left of the midline between the oesophagus and small intestine.
Most of these functions are achieved by the secretion of stomach juices by gastric glands in the body and fundus. The lining of the small intestine is made up of numerous permanent folds called plicae circulares. The large intestine is horse-shoe shaped and extends around the small intestine like a frame. The caecum is the expanded pouch that receives material from the ileum and starts to compress food products into faecal material.
The liver is a large, reddish-brown organ situated in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. The gallbladder is a hollow, pear shaped organ that sits in a depression on the posterior surface of the liver’s right lobe. It is made up of numerous acini (small glands) that secrete contents into ducts which eventually lead to the duodenum. For information on nutrition, including information on types and composition of food, nutrition and people, conditions related to nutrition, and diets and recipes, as well as some useful videos and tools, see Nutrition. For more information on stomach cancer, including different types of cancer affecting the stomach, see Stomach Cancer.
About myVMCVirtual Medical Centre is Australia’s leading source for trustworthy medical information written by health professionals based on Australian guidelines.
Please be aware that we do not give advice on your individual medical condition, if you want advice please see your treating physician. Note the route of non-fat nutrients from the small intestine to their release as nutrients to the body.
There, the food is chewed and mixed with saliva, which contains enzymes that begin breaking down the carbohydrates in the food plus some lipid digestion via lingual lipase.
This act of swallowing, the last voluntary act until defecation, is an example of propulsion, which refers to the movement of food through the digestive tract. Mechanical digestion is a purely physical process that does not change the chemical nature of the food. These secretions vary in composition, but typically contain water, various enzymes, acids, and salts.
This occurs through the process of absorption, which takes place primarily within the small intestine.


Problems in the small intestine may include duodenal ulcers, maldigestion, and malabsorption.
These regulatory mechanisms, which stimulate digestive activity through mechanical and chemical activity, are controlled both extrinsically and intrinsically. These include mechanoreceptors, chemoreceptors, and osmoreceptors, which are capable of detecting mechanical, chemical, and osmotic stimuli, respectively. The main digestive hormone of the stomach is gastrin, which is secreted in response to the presence of food. The six activities involved in this process are ingestion, motility, mechanical digestion, chemical digestion, absorption, and defecation.
By slowing the transit of chyme, segmentation and a reduced rate of peristalsis allow time for these processes to occur. It is covered by the acrosomecap (shown in blue), which contains digestive enzymes that help the sperm penetrate the egg.
The body needs a regular supply of these enzymes to help break down proteins, carbohydrates and fats in foods, so the body can absorb and use them for energy, growth and repair. There are various accessory organs that assist the tract by secreting enzymes to help break down food into its component nutrients. Patients may develop symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, malabsorption, constipation or obstruction. The contents of the tube are considered external to the body and are in continuity with the outside world at the mouth and the anus. The lamina propria contains blood vessels, nerves, lymphoid tissue and glands that support the mucosa. Simple columnar (tall) or glandular epithelium lines the stomach and intestines to aid secretion and absorption.
At its outer margin there is a specialized nerve plexus called the submucosal plexus or Meissner plexus. Neural innervations control the contraction of these muscles and hence the mechanical breakdown and peristalsis of the food within the lumen. It is lined by a stratified squamous oral mucosa with keratin covering those areas subject to significant abrasion, such as the tongue, hard palate and roof of the mouth. They are found in the floor of the mouth, in a groove along the inner surface of the mandible. They produce approximately 5% of the saliva and their secretions are very sticky due to the large concentration of mucin.
It extends from the pharynx to the stomach after passing through an opening in the diaphragm.
It is divided into four main regions and has two borders called the greater and lesser curvatures. Some cells are responsible for secreting acid and others secrete enzymes to break down proteins. It averages approximately 6m in length, extending from the pyloric sphincter of the stomach to the ileo-caecal valve separating the ileum from the caecum. The duodenum serves a mixing function as it combines digestive secretions from the pancreas and liver with the contents expelled from the stomach.
Partly digested food from the stomach is further broken down by enzymes from the pancreas and bile salts from the liver and gallbladder.
Each plica has numerous villi (folds of mucosa) and each villus is covered by epithelium with projecting microvilli (brush border).
It consists of the appendix, caecum, ascending, transverse, descending and sigmoid colon, and the rectum. It is surrounded by a strong capsule and divided into four lobes namely the right, left, caudate and quadrate lobes. Chewing increases the surface area of the food and allows an appropriately sized bolus to be produced.
It includes both the voluntary process of swallowing and the involuntary process of peristalsis.
There, most nutrients are absorbed from the lumen of the alimentary canal into the bloodstream through the epithelial cells that make up the mucosa. A slice of pizza is a challenge, not a treat, when you have lost teeth, your gums are diseased, and your salivary glands aren’t producing enough saliva.
Problems in the large intestine include hemorrhoids, diverticular disease, and constipation.
However, most digestive processes involve the interaction of several organs and occur gradually as food moves through the alimentary canal ([link]). Extrinsic nerve plexuses orchestrate long reflexes, which involve the central and autonomic nervous systems and work in response to stimuli from outside the digestive system. Gastrin stimulates the secretion of gastric acid by the parietal cells of the stomach mucosa. Eating fresh, raw foods containing living enzymes assists digestion, as these food enzymes take the place of some of our body’s digestive enzymes and spares the need to make them in such concentrated amounts. Therefore, a diet rich in processed foods places a greater demand on the bodya€™s energy and digestive enzyme supply. Thus the salivary glands, liver, pancreas and gall bladder have important functions in the digestive system. Secondly, digestion occurs mainly in the stomach and small intestine where proteins, fats and carbohydrates are chemically broken down into their basic building blocks.
Gastrointestinal problems are very common and most people will have experienced some of the above symptoms several times throughout their lives. Although each section of the tract has specialised functions, the entire tract has a similar basic structure with regional variations. Depending on its function, the epithelium may be simple (a single layer) or stratified (multiple layers).
The inner lining is constantly shed and replaced, making it one of the most rapidly dividing areas of the body! Mastication refers to the mechanical breakdown of food by chewing and chopping actions of the teeth. They are situated below the zygomatic arch (cheekbone) and cover part of the mandible (lower jaw bone). These glands produce a more viscid (thick) secretion, rich in mucin and with a smaller amount of protein. The wall of the oesophagus is made up of inner circular and outer longitudinal layers of muscle that are supplied by the oesophageal nerve plexus. The first section is the cardia which surrounds the cardial orifice where the oesophagus enters the stomach. The small intestine is compressed into numerous folds and occupies a large proportion of the abdominal cavity. The wall of the colon is made up of several pouches (haustra) that are held under tension by three thick bands of muscle (taenia coli). Numerous goblet cells line the glands that secrete mucous to lubricate faecal matter as it solidifies.


The organ is approximately 15cm in length with a long, slender body connecting the head and tail segments. Peristalsis consists of sequential, alternating waves of contraction and relaxation of alimentary wall smooth muscles, which act to propel food along ([link]).
It includes mastication, or chewing, as well as tongue movements that help break food into smaller bits and mix food with saliva.
Lipids are absorbed into lacteals and are transported via the lymphatic vessels to the bloodstream (the subclavian veins near the heart).
Swallowing can be difficult, and ingested food moves slowly through the alimentary canal because of reduced strength and tone of muscular tissue.
Conditions that affect the function of accessory organs—and their abilities to deliver pancreatic enzymes and bile to the small intestine—include jaundice, acute pancreatitis, cirrhosis, and gallstones. Stimulation of these receptors provokes an appropriate reflex that furthers the process of digestion. Short reflexes, on the other hand, are orchestrated by intrinsic nerve plexuses within the alimentary canal wall. You can reap several positive health effects from incorporating sprouted foods including fruits and vegetables in your diet. Food is propelled along the length of the GIT by peristaltic movements of the muscular walls. Smaller molecules are then absorbed across the epithelium of the small intestine and subsequently enter the circulation.
The tongue, a strong muscular organ, manipulates the food bolus to come in contact with the teeth.
The enzyme serum amylase, a component of saliva, starts the process of digestion of complex carbohydrates.
The fundus is the superior, dilated portion of the stomach that has contact with the left dome of the diaphragm. The inner surface of the stomach is contracted into numerous longitudinal folds called rugae.
After further digestion, food constituents such as proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are broken down to small building blocks and absorbed into the body’s blood stream.
Pancreatic enzymes include carbohydrases, lipases, nucleases and proteolytic enzymes that can break down different components of food. Although there may be a tendency to think that mechanical digestion is limited to the first steps of the digestive process, it occurs after the food leaves the mouth, as well.
Neurosensory feedback is also dampened, slowing the transmission of messages that stimulate the release of enzymes and hormones. This may entail sending a message that activates the glands that secrete digestive juices into the lumen, or it may mean the stimulation of muscles within the alimentary canal, thereby activating peristalsis and segmentation that move food along the intestinal tract. These two plexuses and their connections were introduced earlier as the enteric nervous system. If there are many or they are large, they may cause pain when the gallbladder responds to a fatty meal. This comprises layers of smooth muscle which can contract to change the shape of the lumen. It is also the sensing organ of the mouth for touch, temperature and taste using its specialised sensors known as papillae. The final function of the oral cavity is absorption of small molecules such as glucose and water, across the mucosa. The final portion, the ileum, is the longest segment and empties into the caecum at the ileocaecal junction. Some are responsible for absorption, whilst others secrete digestive enzymes and mucous to protect the intestinal lining from digestive actions.
Peristalsis is so powerful that foods and liquids you swallow enter your stomach even if you are standing on your head.
The mechanical churning of food in the stomach serves to further break it apart and expose more of its surface area to digestive juices, creating an acidic “soup” called chyme. Short reflexes regulate activities in one area of the digestive tract and may coordinate local peristaltic movements and stimulate digestive secretions. These GI hormones are secreted by specialized epithelial cells, called endocrinocytes, located in the mucosal epithelium of the stomach and small intestine.
Finally, undigested material and secreted waste products are excreted from the body via defecation (passing of faeces). From the mouth, food passes through the pharynx and oesophagus via the action of swallowing. This occurs due to nerve signals that tell the salivary glands to secrete saliva to prepare and moisten the mouth.
Immunoglobins are secreted help to fight microorganisms and a-amylase proteins start to break down complex carbohydrates. In addition, the liver has synthetic functions, producing albumin and blood clotting factors. The Islets produce insulin, glucagon and other substances and these are the areas damaged in diabetes mellitus. Segmentation, which occurs mainly in the small intestine, consists of localized contractions of circular muscle of the muscularis layer of the alimentary canal. For example, the sight, smell, and taste of food initiate long reflexes that begin with a sensory neuron delivering a signal to the medulla oblongata. These hormones then enter the bloodstream, through which they can reach their target organs. However, its main roles in digestion are in the production of bile and metabolism of nutrients. Bile is released from the gall bladder by contraction of its muscular walls in response to hormone signals from the duodenum in the presence of food. The exocrine (secretrory) portion makes up 80-85% of the pancreas and is the area relevant to the gastrointestinal tract.
These contractions isolate small sections of the intestine, moving their contents back and forth while continuously subdividing, breaking up, and mixing the contents. The response to the signal is to stimulate cells in the stomach to begin secreting digestive juices in preparation for incoming food.
All nutrients absorbed by the intestines pass through the liver and are processed before traveling to the rest of the body. By moving food back and forth in the intestinal lumen, segmentation mixes food with digestive juices and facilitates absorption. In contrast, food that distends the stomach initiates short reflexes that cause cells in the stomach wall to increase their secretion of digestive juices. Here, bile salts break down lipids into smaller particles so there is a greater surface area for digestive enzymes to act.



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