Click on the different parts of the digestive system to get a description of how that organ helps with the process of digestion.


The mouth has three major weapons for starting the breakdown of our food so that our bodies can use it as energy. Teeth are responsible for grinding, mashing and chewing the food. They are strong and solid. The tongue has power to move and mush the food, but the tongue has quite a bit of mobility as well. It can sweep left or sweep right to gather up all of the food and mix the food with saliva. The tongue actually molds the food that will then be swallowed. Without making the food into the manageable mass, it would be very difficult for us to take a break during chewing and swallowing to breathe. The tongue is the main player in swallowing. It pushes the food out of the mouth and into the esophagus. TOP

The Salivary Glands begin chemical digestion. The salivary glands function in chemical digestion by secreting chemicals called enzymes. Each enzyme in the digestive system is specially made to look for only one type of food. Once the enzyme finds that type of food, it begins breaking it down into pieces that the body can use for fuel. The enzymes in the saliva are specially made to begin attacking and digesting carbohydrates. TOP


The Esophagus is a tube about 25 centimeters (approximately 10 inches) long that connects the mouth to the stomach. When food moves down the esophagus, it goes toward the stomach. Gravity helps a little bit to get the food down to your stomach, but a much more powerful force helps to move the food along. The esophagus is a muscular tube and the muscles in the food actually squeeze the food into the stomach. The muscles are strong enough to push the food up to your stomach if you were eating upside down! TOP


Surprisingly, the stomach is not very big. When the stomach is empty, it has a volume big enough to hold about 2 cups or 1/2 liter. The stomach can stretch to fit a lot more food. The stomach can hold a full meal and drink. See if you could fit your whole lunch into a 1/2 liter!! In order for the stomach to be able to stretch and shrink so often, it must be very muscular. It squeezes and churns the food mixing it with digestive juices (acids and enzymes). A normal meal stays in the stomach for about 2-3 hours. A big meal may stay in your stomach for 5 hours or more. TOP


The whole purpose of the digestive system is to break food down into usable components, and then get it to the parts of the body that need those components. Not only do the small intestines do a whole lot of digesting, but they also are responsible for transferring all of the broken down carbohydrates, proteins and fats into the blood stream so that the body can use them for energy. The nutrients are absorbed by small finger like projections called villi. Your small intestine is 20-25 feet long! The small intestine is twisted, folded and turned many times. In fact, it kind of resembles a big bowl of spaghetti. It is only slightly more organized. The small intestine takes up a good part of our abdomen. Actually, when most people think they're patting themselves on the stomach, they usually are patting the part of their abdomen that contains the small intestine. TOP


The large intestine is the end of the road for food digestion. The main job of the Large Intestine is to remove the water from the leftover undigested food. When the water is removed from the liquid paste it turns into solid waste. TOP


The liver cleans up dead blood cells. It stores sugars and vitamins for the body's future use, and it removes toxic substances such as alcohol or some drugs. The liver also serves a very important role in the digestion of fats. The liver actually makes a liquid, known as bile, helps to break the fats into smaller pieces so that the enzymes that break down fats have more surface area to work on. TOP


The pancreas does not actually digest any of the foods that you eat, but makes most of the enzymes that do. The pancreas sends the enzymes to the small intestine through a tube called the pancreatic duct. TOP

Hillendale Health Main Index

Digestion | Respiration | Nervous | Circulatory

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