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The Human Digestive System

Chris Nguyen October 8, 2013

Introduction The purpose of this technical document is to inform students or anyone else the process of the human digestive system. In Tim Taylor’s (n.d.) article on digestion, the digestive system is one of the many complex systems in the human body to grow, strengthen, and support itself. Digestion is an essential part of the body system because it changes the food we eat into smaller molecule of nutrients. According to Taylor (n.d.), "The digestive system is a group of organs working together to convert food into energy and basic nutrients to feed the entire body". Through many medical studies, we are now able to understand each step of the digestive system: ingestion, secretion, mixing and movement, digestion, absorption, and excretion.

Stages and Process



The first stage is the ingestion of the food. According to Melissa Jeffries’ (2008) article, the nose sends a signal to the brain to activate the saliva gland, which is a pre-stage step of the digestive system. The mouth is a part of the digestive system as the food goes through an initial breakdown. The teeth chew down food to be transported to the upper part of the digestive system. To aid the teeth, the tiny bumps in our tongue helps grip our food as it is being chewed and moves it into the esophagus.

2. Secretion The second stage occurs simultaneously with the first. During chewing, a two stage process occurs; while the food is being chewed, saliva is mixed around the food for lubrication. This process makes it easy for food to travel down the esophagus. The second of the two stage processes is the enzyme in our saliva, which breaks down starchy food (Jeffries, 2008). Saliva greatly benefits in digestion and other area. Its absence results in dryness in the mouth, poor oral hygiene, bacterial overgrowth, loss of taste, and difficulties of speech (Dworken, Hightower, Keeton, & Sircus, 2013).

3. Mixing and Movement The third stage is the mixing and movement. Once the food enters the pharynx (throat), then it comes to two passageway; one is the trachea, which leads to the lungs, and the other is the esophagus, which leads to the stomach. The correct path, obviously, is the esophagus, but sometimes food may go “down the wrong pipe”, but this rarely happens (Jeffries, 2008). The autonomic muscle then pushes the food down to the lower end of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter, which opens up to the stomach. After opening, it quickly shuts again to

keep the food from escaping. If the opening happens to fail, heartburn would occur from acid splashing back up to the esophagus (Jeffries, 2008).

4. Digestion The fourth stage is the digestion, which occurs in the stomach, small and large intestine. The stomach absorbs sugar, amino acid, and certain fats. In the stomach, certain glands secrete acid and enzymes to turn food into a blob like substance called chyme (Jeffries, 2008). According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (2013), "The stomach can hold up to one quart of food or liquids without increasing pressure on the stomach". The average size on the stomach is two fists placed next to each other (Jeffries, 2008). Inside the stomach are specific enzymes and mucous that coats the lining inside of the stomach to protect it from its acid to prevent ulcers. This process takes approximately 20 minutes.

5. Absorption The fifth stage is the absorption. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (2013), "The intestines are the main principle organ of the digestive tract". The primary function of the small intestine is to absorb nutrients and water from the chyme. This is done by the digestive fluids from the pancreas and the liver. It is about 1 inch in diameter and 10 feet long. Even though the smaller intestine has a

smaller circumference than the large intestine, it is longer of the two. As food passes through the small intestine, tiny folds (villus) along the intestine absorb specific nutrients, such as carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, water and salt. Ninety percent of food that passes through the small intestines is absorbed during this process (Taylor, n.d.). The absorbed nutrients then move pass the walls of the intestines to be distributed properly in the body.

6. Excretion The final stage is the excretion of the indigestible substances, or defecation. This stage occurs in the colon, or large intestines, which is 2 ½ inches in diameter and about 5 feet long. The waste coming from the small intestine is first in a liquid form. The large intestine continues to absorb extra water and electrolyte from the digestive residue; this produces a solid form known as feces (Dworken, Hightower, Keeton, & Sircus, 2013). It is then releases down to the rectum and anus. Connected to the colon is the rectum. The rectum receives the feces from the colon and holds it until the next bowel movement. Nerves send signals to the brain as to when the feces should be release (Jeffries, 2008). Once rectum receives the signal, it relaxes its muscle to expel the feces.

Other Organs Other organs (liver, gallbladder, and pancreas) also aid in digestion. The liver helps by secreting bile into the small intestine to continue to breakdown the food. The gallbladder then stores and recycles the bile from the small intestine to be used later on for the next digestion of food (Dworken, Hightower, Keeton, & Sircus, 2013). The final digestive enzyme comes from the pancreas which then completes the chemical digestion of the food.

Conclusion This document has shown the detailed process of the human digestive system: ingestion, secretion, mixing and movement, digestion, absorption, and excretion. Food is introduced in the mouth and secretes saliva in order to pass through the esophagus and into the stomach. Through various stages, food is then mixed and moved down into organs in the gut, small/large intestines, to be digested and absorbed. Any indigestible material is then passed down to the large intestine to be excreted out of the system.

digestion: human. (Art). Retrieved from Dworken, H., Hightower, N., Keeton, W., & Sircus, W. (2013). Encyclopeadia Britannica Inc. Retrieved from Human Digestive System: Jeffries, M. (2008, March 12). How the Digestive System Works. Retrieved from HowStuffWorks, Inc: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2012, April 23). Retrieved from National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases: Taylor, T. (n.d.). Innerbody. Retrieved from Innerbody: