Understanding Digestion

Understanding Digestion
Our body requires essential nutrients to function. We acquire our energy through the consumption of food, which is then gradually broken down to the molecular level to be taken up by the cells of our body. The process by which food is converted into energy is complex and fascinating. It starts with digestion and this process will be reviewed.
The digestive system is the body’s organ system responsible for digestion, absorption and defecation. It includes the gastrointestinal tract and the organs that produce and store chemicals needed in digestion. The gastrointestinal tract includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine and the large intestine. The liver and pancreas produces chemicals that aide in the breakdown of food for absorption. The gall bladder stores bile, which is produced in the liver.
The small intestine includes the duodenum, jejunum and the ileum. The large intestine is also called the colon and includes the right, left and transverse colon. The first part of the colon is called the cecum, which is located on the right colon and is also the location of the appendix. The colon terminates on the left side with the sigmoid which transitions to the rectum and the anus is the exit from the body.
Digestion starts in the mouth with the chewing or mastication of food. Saliva contains enzymes, which aid in the breakdown of the food. This food bolus is transported to the stomach through the esophagus. It remains in the stomach for 1-2 hours where gastric juices and stomach peristalsis continue the process of breaking down the food into a mixture called chime. From here it enters the duodenum and then passes through the rest of the small intestine. In the small intestine the food is further mixed with chemicals and hormones from the pancreas and liver. The food is now broken down into nutrients, which are then absorbed into the blood. The remaining substance is transported to the large intestine where undigested carbohydrates maybe further degraded by bacteria in the colon through fermentation. Reabsorption of water and minerals occur in the colon and the left over product is waste (feces) and is expelled through the anus via a process called defecation.
The small intestine is responsible for the absorption of the bulk of the nutrients. The large intestine reabsorbs the water and mineral, preventing dehydration. The process of fermentation creates gas in the intestine and when a large amount of undigested carbohydrates arrive in the colon the result is excessive flatulence and bloating. This occurs in individuals who may have a deficiency in certain digestive enzymes such as lactase.
The process of digestion is important in maintaining a normal body function. Problems can occur in any step in the process contributing to problems such as heartburn, ulcers, diarrhea, pain, flatulence, malabsorption and nutritional deficiencies.

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