Although many of us only think about our stomachs in relation to food, the human digestive system consists of an incredibly complex network of organs inside the body. Each step plays a role in the breaking down of the delicious food you may have eaten during your last meal, with food and liquid undergoing constant change as it makes its way from your mouth to the other end. In this article we take a look at this process and break down the steps to give you a better idea of all of the interesting things that happen in the digestive system every single day.
Where it all starts
Before we begin examining all of the digestive bits, it’s worth noting how complex all of these bits make the whole -- due to so many moving parts contributing to the complexity of the digestive tract, it’s often not easy to find where an issue may lie. For this reason, targeted investigative procedures, such as a colonoscopy, are often crucial to find out what’s really going on. It all starts in your GI tract, where freshly chewed food makes its way down your body through process called peristalsis. This involves the large, hollow organs of your GI tract pushing down food and liquid with the use of a handy layer of muscle that allows the tract walls to move. During this process the muscle behind the food contracts in order to squeeze the food forward, while muscles in front relax to bring the food forward. This funky GI tract adventure begins with you swallowing down food and the epiglottis folding over your windpipe to prevent you from choking on your meal. Once swallowing commences the brain sends signals to the muscles of the esophagus and peristalsis commences and food will soon find itself in the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring-like muscle at the end of your esophagus, which relaxes and allows the passing of the grub into the stomach. It’s here that stomach muscles combine food and liquid with highly acidic digestive juices, after which it empties its contents (called chyme) into your small intestine.
Continuing the journey
In the small intestine muscles combine chyme with digestive juices from the pancreas, liver, and intestine, and pushes the mixture forward for further digestion. As this occurs the walls of the small intestine absorb water and precious nutrients into your bloodstream – specifically, it helps in the breakdown of proteins, fats and carbohydrates, with special bacteria in the intestines creating enzymes that are used to digest these carbohydrates. The pancreas creates enzyme-laden digestive juice that breaks down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, while the liver creates bile that aids in the digestion of fats and some vitamins. After this, waste products end up in the large intestine. These waste products will be made up of undigested food, fluids, and older cells from the lining of your GI tract. In the large intestine water is absorbed and changes the waste from liquid into the stool that eventually finds itself in your toilet courtesy of the rectum, the last stop on the wild digestive journey.
Be impressed by what happens inside of you
Every part of the digestive tracts working in unison to get the most out of the food you eat is certainly an impressive health thing to understand, and to know this entire process happens every single time you eat or drink something – no matter how big or small it may be – is quite mind boggling. Next time you take a bit of your dinner, take a moment to consider all of the interesting things about to happen to your food!