Introducing the Digestive System

Your digestive system may never win a Tony, Oscar, or Emmy, but it certainly deserves your applause for its ability to turn complex food into basic nutrients. Doing this requires not a cast of thousands but a group of digestive organs, each designed specifically to perform one role in the two-part process. Read on.

The digestive organs

Although exceedingly well-organized, your digestive system is basically one long tube that starts at your mouth, continues down through your throat to your stomach, and then goes on to your small and large intestines and past the rectum to end at your anus.

In between, with the help of the liver, pancreas, and gallbladder, the usable (digestible) parts of everything that you eat are converted to simple compounds that your body can easily absorb to burn for energy or to build new tissue. The indigestible residue is bundled off and eliminated as waste.

Figure 2-1 shows the body parts and organs that comprise your digestive system.

Figure 2-1:

Your digestive system in all its glory.

Figure 2-1:

Your digestive system in all its glory.

Digestion: A two-part process

Digestion is a two-part process — half mechanical, half chemical:

  • Mechanical digestion takes place in your mouth and your stomach. Your teeth break food into small pieces that you can swallow without choking. In your stomach, a churning action continues to break food into smaller particles.
  • Chemical digestion occurs at every point in the digestive tract where enzymes and other substances, such as hydrochloric acid (from stomach glands) and bile (from the liver), dissolve food, releasing the nutrients inside.
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