The Digestion Process (Organs and Functions)
Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP
Dr. Balentine received his undergraduate degree from McDaniel College in Westminster, Maryland. He attended medical school at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine graduating in1983. He completed his internship at St. Joseph's Hospital in Philadelphia and his Emergency Medicine residency at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center in the Bronx, where he served as chief resident.
The energy required for all the processes and activities that take place in our bodies is derived from the foods we ingest. The digestive system allows us to utilize food from such diverse sources as meat from an animal and the roots of a plant, and utilize them as an energy source. Whether it is the ability to coordinate the chewing of the food without injuring our tongue and lips or the propulsion of the food from the stomach into the duodenum while releasing the appropriate enzymes, our digestive system allows us to manage the process without much thought and often while performing other tasks.
What is digestion?
The process of digestion is a fascinating and complex one that takes the food we place in our mouth and turns it into energy and waste products. This process takes place in the gastrointestinal tract, a long, connected, tubular structure that starts with the mouth and ends with the anus. The food is propelled forward within the system, altered by enzymes and hormones into usable particles and absorbed along the way. Other organs that support the digestive process are the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. The time it takes for food to travel from entering the mouth to be excreted as waste is around 30 to 40 hours.
The mouth is the entry point for food, but the digestive system often gets ready before the first piece of food even enters our mouth. Saliva is released by the salivary glands into our oral cavity when we smell food. Once the food enters the mouth, chewing (mastication) breaks food into smaller particles that can be more easily attacked by the enzymes in saliva. Our teeth can perform a cutting as well as grinding function to accomplish this task. The tongue assists in mixing the food with the saliva and then the tongue and roof of the mouth (soft palate) help move the food along to the pharynx and esophagus.
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