Functions of the Digestive System

The digestive system is essential for every living organism. It is mainly responsible for the breakdown of food that was ingested, and for the distribution of the important vitamins and minerals or any nutrients needed for the proper functioning of the body.  It is also the one responsible for the elimination of wastes from the body.

The digestive process is a long course which starts even from the point when we begin salivating when we smell something delicious. Food plays an important role in our lives as it provides fuel or energy to the body in order for it to function properly. The digestive system breaks down the food into smaller molecules in order for the nutrients and vitamins to be properly absorbed by the different parts of the body so that these could be utilized as energy.

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Important Parts of the Digestive System

The process of digestion starts long before we even start to chew on our food; it begins when we start to salivate upon smelling a mouth-watering odor. The saliva within the mouth plays a major role in the digestive process as it contains a component that could help break down the food into the molecules that could be absorbed by the body. Below are the different parts of the digestive system and the processes that happen in each during digestion:

  • Mouth

The mouth or the oral cavity is where the food initially enters. The mastication of the food is the first attempt to break down the food into smaller pieces. The saliva contains the enzyme amylase which helps soften the food and breaks down some nutrients as well.

  • Pharynx

After chewing, the food would be swallowed and passed on to the pharynx. The pharynx has an epiglottis that would serve to protect the trachea while food passes through. This would prevent any episodes of choking.

  • Esophagus

From the pharynx, the food would then go to the esophagus. The esophagus has inner and outer muscles that would help push the food down towards the stomach where more intensive digestion would take place.

  • Stomach

The stomach is where the major breakdown of food happens. This organ looks like a pouch in the shape of a fat letter J. The stomach contains various muscles that would penetrate the food for better digestion, and the gastric acid, pepsin, which would break down the food into smaller molecules. Pepsin also helps maintain the proper temperature and acidity level within the stomach and eliminates any foreign matter which had been taken in with the food.

  • Small Intestines

The small intestine is the part of the digestive system wherein majority of the absorption of important nutrients takes place. The small intestines have components with which the digested food would be mixed. One of these important components is the bile. The bile helps separate the fatty foods from the nutrients so the nutrients would be absorbed faster into the body. The small intestines also have small, hair like projections called the villi. The villi help create an increased surface area of the small intestines so absorption would be much more effective. The pH level in the small intestines is also much more basic than in the stomach for optimum nutrient absorption.

  • Large Intestines

The large intestines would screen the final absorption of some nutrients. Other food products not absorbed by the body would become hard and turn into feces. The feces, which are the waste products of digestion, would now be passed on to the rectum where they will be eliminated from the body.

The digestive system as a whole measures 12 meters long, the longest part of which is the intestines. Digestion of food is, likewise, not a swift process as it takes around a day or two before the whole course is completed and the essential nutrients are absorbed in the different parts of the body.

Common Problems of the Digestive System

Below are the most common problems related to the digestive system that an individual can suffer from:

  • Diarrhea – This occurs when the food eaten contains harmful foreign microorganisms or substances that the stomach failed to destroy. These would alter the digestion process and would result to watery stool.
  • GERD – GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease is a condition wherein the acid from the stomach backflows into the esophagus giving the person the feeling of hyperacidity with a strong taste of acid in the mouth. This could happen due to the lack of food intake, medications taken or infection in the stomach.
  • Infections of the intestines – Common infections of the intestines include invasion of bacteria such as Salmonella, P. aureginosa and E. coli, among others. Some microorganisms could destroy the intestines’ villi which would result to the poor absorption of nutrients.
  • Appendicitis – This pertains to the inflammation of the appendix brought about by the obstruction of some wastes which have not been eliminated. This would cause the appendix to have a low blood supply and become inflamed.

The condition of the digestive system has a great impact on one’s health. Keeping it in optimum condition will help ensure that we get the nutrients we need to be healthy. The best way to take care of it is by eating a healthy diet and drinking lots of water.

Digestive system picture


Digestive system diagram

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