You are on page 1of 7


Digestion is the catabolic process of breaking down

food into smaller components that can be
absorbed by the body cells so the body can use
them to build and nourish cells and provide energy.
The beginning of the digestive tract; and, in fact,
digestion starts here before you even take the first
bite of a meal. The smell of food triggers the
salivary glands in your mouth to secrete saliva,
causing your mouth to water. When you actually
taste the food, saliva increases.
Chewing breaks the food into pieces that are
more easily digested, while saliva mixes with food
to begin the process of breaking it down into a
form your body can absorb and use.
Mucins (mucous) lubricate and help hold chewed
food together in a clump called a bolus.
The tongue contains chemical receptors in
structures called taste buds. It is muscular and can
move food. It pushes food to back where it is

This sphincter opens to let food pass into the

stomach and closes to keep it there. If your LES
doesn't work properly, you may suffer from a
condition called GERD, or reflux, which causes
heartburn and regurgitation (the feeling of
food coming back up).
a hollow organ, or "container," that holds food
while it is being mixed with enzymes that continue
the process of breaking down food into a usable
The stomach stores up to 2 liters of food.
Cells in the lining of the stomach secretes acid and
powerful enzymes that continue the process of
breaking the food down and changing it to a
consistency of liquid or paste. When the contents
of the stomach are sufficiently processed, they are
released into the small intestine.
Gastric glands within the stomach produce
secretions called gastric juice.
The muscular walls of the stomach contract
vigorously to mix food with gastric juice, producing
a mixture called chyme.
Gastric juice
Pepsinogen is converted to pepsin, which
digests proteins. Pepsinogen production is
stimulated by the presence of gastrin in the
blood (discussed below).
HCl (Hydrochloric acid) converts pepsinogen
to pepsin which breaks down proteins to
peptides. HCl maintains a pH in the stomach of
approximately 2.0. It also dissolves food and kills
Mucous protects the stomach from HCl and
Seeing, smelling, tasting, or thinking about food
can result in the secretion of gastric juice.
Gastrin is a hormone that stimulates the stomach
to secrete gastric juice.

Also called the throat, the pharynx is the portion of
the digestive tract that receives the food from your
The respiratory and digestive passages meet in the
pharynx. They separate posterior to the pharynx to
form the esophagus (leads to the stomach) and
trachea (leads to the lungs).
Swallowing is accomplished by reflexes that close
the opening to the trachea.
When swallowing, the epiglottis covers the trachea
to prevent food from entering.
The act of swallowing takes place in the pharynx
partly as a reflex and partly under voluntary
control. The tongue and soft palate -- the soft part
of the roof of the mouth -- push food into the
pharynx, which closes off the trachea.
Small intestine
Made up of three segments the duodenum,
jejunum, and ileum the small intestine is a 22 tube that connects the mouth to the stomach.
foot long muscular tube that breaks down food
Food moves through the esophagus by peristalsis,
using enzymes released by the pancreas and bile
which is a wave of muscle contractions that
from the liver.
pushes the food down the tube.
Peristalsis also is at work in this organ, moving food
Located in the throat near the trachea (windpipe). through and mixing it with digestive secretions from
At the end of the esophagus is the lower
the pancreas and liver.
esophageal sphincter(LES), which closes to
Like the stomach, it contains numerous ridges and
prevent food from re-entering the esophagus.
furrows. In addition, there are numerous
Page 1 of 7

projections called villi that function to increase the

surface area of the intestine. Individual villus cells
have microvilli which greatly increase absorptive
surface area.
The total absorptive surface area is equivalent to
500 or 600 square meters.
Each villus contains blood vessels and a lacteal
(lymph vessel).
Peptidases and maltase are embedded within the
plasma membrane of the microvilli.
Peptidases complete the digestion of peptides
to amino acids.
Maltase completes the digestion of
Absorption is an important function of the small
Active transport moves glucose and amino
acids into the intestinal cells, then out where
they are picked up by capillaries.
Monoglycerides and fatty acids produced by
the digestion of fat enter the villi by diffusion and
are reassembled into fat (triglycerides). They
combine with proteins and are expelled by
exocytosis. They move into the lacteals for
transport via the lymphatic system.
The duodenum is largely responsible for the
continuous breaking-down process, with the
jejunum and ileum mainly responsible for
absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream.
The duodenum begins just beyond the stomach
and curves around the head of the pancreas and
the entrance of the common bile duct, in a Cshaped formation. At the spot where the stomach
and duodenum meet, is a muscle called the
pyloric sphincter which prevents the regurgitation
of material back into the stomach.
The duodenum is responsible for further processing
the material from the stomach (called chyme), by
secreting enzymes which aid in digestion.
Chyme enters through a sphincter. It enters in tiny
spurts. At this point, proteins and carbohydrates
are only partially digested and lipid digestion has
not begun.
The carbohydrates are broken down in the
duodenum by enzymes from the pancreas and
liver into sugars. Fats are broken down in the
duodenum by "lipase" from the pancreas into fatty
acids. Bile and pancreatic juice also enter the
duodenum around its midpoint, and by moving
the chyme in a shaking kind of motion, the
duodenum mixes the chyme with these enzymes
within its lumen, further aiding digestion.
The jejunum is the next portion of the small
intestine, and it has a lining which is specialized in

the absorption of carbohydrates and proteins. The

proteins have been broken down in the stomach
by enzymes called pepsin and acid into amino
acids. Amino acid, sugar, fatty acid particles,
vitamins, minerals, electrolytes and water are small
enough to soak into the villi of the jejunum and
drop into the blood stream. The blood takes all
these nutrients to all the other parts of the body to
provide fuel to do their jobs.
The ileum is the last portion of the small intestine,
and it is responsible for absorption of fats, and bile
salts which are a component of bile. The pores in
the ileum are slightly bigger than those in the
jejunum and allow vitamin B12, vitamins dissolved
in fatty liquids, electrolytes, bile salts and water to
soak through the walls and into the blood stream.
Where the ileum joins the large intestine is a valve,
called the ileocecal valve, which prevents the
back flow of materials into the small intestine. By
the time material reaches this point, it has a rather
pasty consistency.
A more technical name for this part of the process
is "motility," because it involves moving or emptying
food particles from one part to the next. This
process is highly dependent on the activity of a
large network of nerves, hormones, and muscles.
Problems with any of these components can
cause a variety of conditions.
While food is in the small intestine, nutrients are
absorbed through the walls and into the
bloodstream. What's leftover (the waste) moves
into the large intestine (large bowel or colon).
Everything above the large intestine is called the
upper GI tract. Everything below is the lower GI
Contents of the small intestine start out semi-solid,
and end in a liquid form after passing through the
organ. Water, bile, enzymes, and mucous
contribute to the change in consistency. Once the
nutrients have been absorbed and the leftoverfood residue liquid has passed through the small
intestine, it then moves on to the large intestine, or

Colon (large intestine)

The colon is a 6-foot long muscular tube that
connects the small intestine to the rectum. The
large intestine is made up of the cecum, the
ascending (right) colon, the transverse (across)
colon, the descending (left) colon, and the
sigmoid colon, which connects to the rectum.
It receives approximately 10 liters of water per day.
1.5 liters is from food and 8.5 liters is from secretions
into the gut. 95% of this water is reabsorbed.
Page 2 of 7

The large intestine also absorbs sodium and other

ions but it excretes other metallic ions into the
If water is not absorbed, diarrhea can result,
causing dehydration and ion loss.
It absorbs vitamin K produced by colon bacteria.
The appendix is a small tube attached to the
cecum. The cecum is a pouch at the junction of
the small intestine and large intestine. In
herbivorous mammals, it is large and houses
bacteria capable of digesting cellulose. In human
ancestors, the cecum was larger but has been
reduced by evolutionary change to form the
The large intestine is a highly specialized organ
that is responsible for processing waste so that
emptying the bowels is easy and convenient.
Stool, or waste left over from the digestive process,
is passed through the colon by means of peristalsis,
first in a liquid state and ultimately in a solid form.
As stool passes through the colon, water is
removed. Stool is stored in the sigmoid (S-shaped)
colon until a "mass movement" empties it into the
rectum once or twice a day. It normally takes
about 36 hours for stool to get through the colon.
The stool itself is mostly food debris and bacteria.
These bacteria perform several useful functions,
such as synthesizing various vitamins, processing
waste products and food particles, and protecting
against harmful bacteria. When the descending
colon becomes full of stool, or feces, it empties its
contents into the rectum to begin the process of
The last 20 cm of the large intestine is the rectum.

The anus is the last part of the digestive tract. It is a

2-inch long canal consisting of the pelvic floor
muscles and the two anal sphincters (internal and
external). The lining of the upper anus is
specialized to detect rectal contents. It lets you
know whether the contents are liquid, gas, or solid.
The anus is surrounded by sphincter muscles that
are important in allowing control of stool. The
pelvic floor muscle creates an angle between the
rectum and the anus that stops stool from coming
out when it is not supposed to. The internal
sphincter is always tight, except when stool enters
the rectum. It keeps us continent when we are
asleep or otherwise unaware of the presence of
stool. When we get an urge to go to the
bathroom, we rely on our external sphincter to
hold the stool until reaching a toilet, where it then
relaxes to release the contents.

The pancreas secretes digestive enzymes into the
duodenum, the first segment of the small intestine.
These enzymes break down protein, fats, and
carbohydrates. The pancreas also makes insulin,
secreting it directly into the bloodstream. Insulin is
the chief hormone for metabolizing sugar.
It is both an endocrine gland producing several
important hormones, including insulin, glucagon,
somatostatin, and pancreatic polypeptide, and a
digestive organ, secreting pancreatic juice
containing digestive enzymes that assist the
absorption of nutrients and the digestion in the
small intestine. These enzymes help to further break
down the carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids in the
Pancreatic Juice
The rectum (Latin for "straight") is an 8-inch
Pancreatic juice contains sodium bicarbonate
chamber that connects the colon to the anus. It is
which neutralizes the acidic material from the
the rectum's job to receive stool from the colon, to
let the person know that there is stool to be
Pancreatic amylase digests starch to maltose.
evacuated, and to hold the stool until evacuation
Trypsin and Chymotrypsin digest proteins to
happens. When anything (gas or stool) comes into
peptides. Like pepsin (produced in the stomach),
the rectum, sensors send a message to the brain.
they are specific for certain amino acids, not all
The brain then decides if the rectal contents can
of them. They therefore produce peptides.
be released or not. If they can, the sphincters relax
Lipase digests fats to monoglycerides and fatty
and the rectum contracts, disposing its contents. If
the contents cannot be disposed, the sphincter
Types of Pancreatic Enzymes and Their Effects
contracts and the rectum accommodates so that
the sensation temporarily goes away.
A shortage may
Feces is composed of approximately 75% water
and 25% solids. One-third of the solids is intestinal
Lipase works with Lack of needed
bacteria, 2/3s is undigested materials.
bile to break down
fats and fatfat molecules so
soluble vitamins.
Page 3 of 7

they can be

absorbed and
used by the body.


Protease breaks
down proteins. This
enzyme helps keep
the intestine free of
parasites such as
bacteria, yeast

and protozoa.

Diarrhea and/or
fatty stools.
Allergies or the
formation of
toxic substances
due to
digestion of
Increased risk
for intestinal

Ammonia produced by the digestion of proteins

is converted to a less toxic compound (urea) by
the liver.
The gallbladder stores and concentrates bile, and
then releases it into the duodenum to help absorb
and digest fats.

Salivary Glands
The salivary glands in mammals are exocrine
glands, glands with ducts, that produce saliva.
They also secrete amylase, an enzyme that breaks
down starch (a polysaccharide) into maltose (a
Amylase breaks
Bicarbonate ions in saliva act as buffers,
maintaining a pH between 6.5 and 7.5.
(starches) into
Diarrhea due to
3 kinds
sugars which are
the effects of
more easily
undigested starch
The submandibular glands are a pair of glands
absorbed by the
in the colon.
located beneath the lower jaws. The secretion
body. This enzyme
produced is a mixture of both serous fluid and
is also found in
mucus, and enters the oral cavity.
Approximately 70% of saliva in the oral cavity is
produced by the submandibular glands, even
though they are much smaller than the parotid
lies below the diaphragm in the abdominal-pelvic
region of the abdomen.
You can usually feel this gland, as it is in the
The liver has multiple functions, but its main
upper neck and feels like a rounded ball. It is
function within the digestive system is to process
located about two fingers above the Adam's
the nutrients absorbed from the small intestine. It
apple (on a man) and about two inches apart
produces bile, an alkaline compound which aids
under the chin.
in digestion via the emulsification of lipids so they
can mix with water and be acted upon by
The parotid gland is a salivary gland wrapped
enzymes. In addition, the liver is the bodys
around the mandibular ramus in humans. It is one
chemical "factory." It takes the raw materials
of a pair being the largest of the salivary glands.
absorbed by the intestine and makes all the
it secretes saliva into the oral cavity, to facilitate
various chemicals the body needs to function. The
mastication and swallowing and to begin the
liver also detoxifies potentially harmful chemicals. It
digestion of starches.
breaks down and secretes many drugs.
Other Functions of the Liver
The sublingual glands are a pair of glands
detoxifies blood from intestines that it receives
located beneath the tongue, anterior to the
via the hepatic portal vein.
submandibular glands. The secretion produced is
stores glucose as glycogen (animal starch) and
mainly mucus in nature, however it is categorized
breaks down glycogen to release glucose as
as a mixed gland. Approximately 5% of saliva
needed. This storage-release process maintains a
entering the oral cavity come from these glands.
constant glucose concentration in the blood
(0.1%). If glycogen and glucose run short,
proteins can be converted to glucose.
The tongue is a muscular organ in the mouth. The
produces blood proteins.
tongue is covered with moist, pink tissue called
destroys old red blood cells and converts
mucosa. Tiny bumps called papillae give the
hemoglobin from these cells to bilirubin and
tongue its rough texture. Thousands of taste buds
biliverdin which are components of bile.
cover the surfaces of the papillae. Taste buds are
Page 4 of 7

collections of nerve-like cells that connect to

nerves running into the brain.
The tongue is anchored to the mouth by webs of
tough tissue and mucosa. The tether holding down
the front of the tongue is called the frenum. In the
back of the mouth, the tongue is anchored into
the hyoid bone. The tongue is vital for chewing
and swallowing food, as well as for speech.
The four common tastes are sweet, sour, bitter,
and salty. A fifth taste, called umami, results from
tasting glutamate (present in MSG). The tongue
has many nerves that help detect and transmit
taste signals to the brain. Because of this, all parts
of the tongue can detect these four common
tastes; the commonly described taste map of
the tongue doesnt really exist.
The tongue manipulates food for mastication. It is
the primary organ of taste (gustation), as much of
the upper surface of the tongue is covered in
papillae and taste buds. It is richly supplied with
nerves and blood vessels. In humans a secondary
function of the tongue is phonetic articulation. The
tongue also serves as a natural means of cleaning
one's teeth. The ability to perceive different tastes
is not localized in different parts of the tongue, as is
widely believed.
The tooth has two anatomical parts. The crown of a
tooth is that part of the tooth which is covered with
enamel and this is the part usually visible in the
The root is the part embedded in the jaw. It anchors
the tooth in its bony socket and is normally not

Enamel The hard outer layer of the crown. Enamel is

the hardest substance in the body.
Dentine not as hard as enamel, forms the bulk of the
tooth and can be sensitive if the protection of the
enamel is lost.
Pulp Soft tissue containing the blood and nerve
supply to the tooth. The pulp extends from the
crown to the tip of the root.
Cementum The layer of bone-like tissue covering the
root. It is not as hard as enamel.
The four different types of human teeth are :
INCISORS or Cutting
- The 8 incisors are the
very front human teeth
with rather flat surfaces,
a straight sharp
horizontal edge for
cutting and biting the
food and one long,
single, conical root.
CANINE teeth
- The 4 canine teeth are
very strong, pointed
corner teeth for tearing
and shredding, placed
laterally to each lateral
incisor. They are larger
and stronger than the
- characterized by the
large, conical crown
which projects beyond
the level of the other
teeth and one single
root, longer than all
other human teeth
- The upper canine
teeth are sometimes
called eyeteeth.

Bicuspid teeth
- The 8 premolars, used
for chewing food, are
placed lateral to and
behind the canine
teeth, with a flat upper
surface and 1-2 roots.
Their crown has two
pyramidal eminences
or cusps.
- The 12 molars are the
back human teeth.
Molar teeth have a
much different tooth
morphology with large
and flat upper surface
and 2-4 roots. Molars
are the largest of the
permanent teeth, used
for the final chewing
and grinding of the
food before swallowing.
- known as wisdom

Wisdom teeth are the last molars (one at every
side of every jaw) and not a different type of
teeth. The wisdom teeth erupt between the ages
of 17 and 21.
Sometimes they don't erupt properly and they
often cause dental problems because of the
difficulty to clean them.
Temporary (deciduous) teeth
Permanent teeth

Page 5 of 7

Enzymes involved in Digestion

polysaccharides maltose glucose
proteins peptides amino acids
fats fatty acids and monoglycerides

food in the


Presence of
Duodenum food in the

gallbladder to release
bile and the
pancrease to
produce pancreatic
Inhibits the gastric
glands of the
stomach and inhibits
stomach motility

The presence of food in the stomach stimulates
stretch receptors which relay this information to the
medulla oblongata. The medulla stimulates
endocrine cells in the stomach to secrete the
hormone gastrin into the circulatory system. Gastrin
stimulates the stomach to secrete gastric juice. This
pathway of information is summarized below.
stretch receptors medulla oblongata
endocrine cells in the stomach gastrin
circulatory system stomach secretes gastric

An ulcer is an irritation due to gastric juice
penetrating the mucous lining of the stomach or
duodenum. It is believed that ulcers are caused by
the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which, can
thrive in the acid environment of the stomach. The
presence of the bacteria on portions of the
stomach lining prevents it from secreting mucous,
making it susceptible to the digestive action of
Secretin is produced by cells of the duodenum. Its
production is stimulated by acid chyme from
stomach. It stimulates the pancreas to produce
sodium bicarbonate, which neutralizes the acidic
Appendicitis is an infection. The appendix may
chyme. It also stimulates the liver to secrete bile.
swell and burst, leading to peritonitis (infection of
the abdominal lining).

Hormones Involved in Digestion

The hormones listed below, like all hormones, reach
their target cells by the circulatory system.
Stimulus for
Presence of Stimulates the
Gastrin Stomach food in the
stomach to secrete
gastric juice
Stimulates the
pancreas to produce
Chyme from
Secretin Duodenum
sodium bicarbonate
the stomach
and the liver to
secrete bile
Duodenum Presence of Stimulates the


CCK (cholecystokinin)
CCK production is stimulated by the presence of
food in the duodenum.
It stimulates the gallbladder to release bile and the
pancreas to produce pancreatic enzymes.

Page 6 of 7

GIP (Gastric Inhibitory Peptide)

Food in the duodenum stimulates certain endocrine
cells to produce GIP.
It has the opposite effects of gastrin; it inhibits gastric
glands in the stomach and it inhibits the mixing and
churning movement of stomach muscles. This slows
the rate of stomach emptying when the duodenum
contains food.




Summary of Digestive Enzymes

The digestive enzymes in the table below are
summarized according to type of food that they














Fatty acids






Amino acids

The table below shows digestive enzymes grouped

by source of the enzyme.















Fatty acids


Page 7 of 7