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Home Food Information Health Issues The Digestive System

The Digestive System

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The Digestive System
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Digestion starts in the mouth where food is broken down to enable its absorption and assimilation into the body. Saliva helps to swallow and gulp it, as it enters the esophagus (the pipe connecting the mouth and the stomach).

Saliva contains an enzyme which acts on food while it is in the mouth. Mastication of food by the teeth softens the food to prepare the work, to be carried out in the stomach. Gastric juice in the stomach is essential for  the production of mucus in the stomach.  Thus people who eat in a hurry, do not masticate their food, are laying the foundation stone for their future problems.

A rhythmic involutary contraction of muscles that begin in the esophagus, continue along the wall of the stomach and the rest of the organs that follow. This results in the production of chyme, (more of which is discussed later) which gets absorbed into the blood as it passes through the small intestine where most of the digestion of food takes place.  

The waste products of digestion are defecated from the anus via the rectum.

There are several organs involved in the digestion of food and the largest structure of the digestive system is the gastrointestinal tract.

Thus  what starts at the mouth and ends at the anus, covers a distance of about nine ) metres.


The salivary glands, teeth and the tongue are in the mouth, which consists of two regions:
the vestibule and the oral cavity proper.

The vestibule is the area between the teeth, lips and cheeks and the rest is the oral cavity proper is lined with  a mucous membrane that produces a lubrication.  

The roof of the mouth is called the palate and it separates the oral cavity from the nasal cavity. The palate is hard at the front of the mouth since the overlying mucosa is covering a plate of bone; it is softer and more pliable at the back being made of muscle and connective tissue, and it can move to swallow food and liquids. The surface of the hard palate allows for the pressure needed in eating food, to leave the nasal passage clear.

The lips are the mouth's front boundary.  At either side of the soft palate are the muscles which also reach into regions of the tongue. Muscles in the mouth, raise the back of the tongue and also close both sides to enable food to be swallowed.

Salivary glands

These mainly serve the digestive process and play an important role in the keeping the teeth healthy.   Without the lubrication from these glands, speech would be impossible.  

There are other glands on the surface of the tongue that encircle taste buds on the back part of the tongue. They produce a serous fluid which contains lipase (lingual lipase). Lipase  offers an early defense (outside of the immune system) against microbes in food, when it makes contact with these glands on the tongue tissue.

Our sense of smell and taste, and visual stimulus that food on the table provides, can stimulate the secretion of saliva providing the necessary fluid for the tongue to work with and also to ease swallowing of the food.  That is why Chefs spend a lot of effort on decorating the food laid on the table.


The tongue is a sensory organ, and the sensory information is received via the taste buds on its surface. If the taste is agreeable the tongue will go into action, manipulating the food in the mouth which stimulates the secretion of saliva from the salivary glands.  The first part of the food to be broken down is the starch of carbohydrates.

Taste is formed by specialised receptors of taste cells, contained in structures called taste buds in the mouth. Taste buds are mainly on the upper surface  of the tongue. Taste perception is vital to help prevent harmful or rotten foods from being consumed.  The brain can distinguish between the chemical qualities of the food.

The five basic tastes are referred to as those of saltiness, sourness, bitterness and sweetness.  Pungency is a component of main Indian dishes.  These tastes are what the ingredients in a recipe provide.  The detection of saltiness and sourness enables the control of salt and acid balance. The detection of bitterness warns of poisons – many of a plant's defences are of poisonous compounds that are bitter. Sweetness guides to those foods that will supply energy.   Sour tastes are acidic which is often found in bad food, the brain has to decide very quickly whether to eat the food or not.  Acid like vinegar is added for the digestion of meat and fish, and tamarind is used for vegetables in Indian recipes.   All the ingredients in Indian cooking have come down from the knowledge of Ayurveda, in the historical developement of the civilization of india.  They are closely linked with our digestive system.  The olfactory receptors are located on cell surfaces in the nose which bind to chemicals enabling the detection of smells. It is assumed that signals from taste receptors work together with the signals from those in the nose, to form an idea of complex food flavours.


Teeth are complex structures made of materials specific to them. They are made of a bone–like dentin, which is covered by the hardest tissue in the body—enamel. Teeth have different shapes to deal with different aspects of mastication employed in tearing and chewing pieces of food into smaller and smaller pieces. Incisors are used for cutting or biting off pieces of food; canines, are used for tearing, premolars and molars for chewing and grinding. Mastication of the food with the help of saliva and mucus results in the formation of a soft bolus which can then be swallowed to make its way down the upper gastrointestinal tract to the stomach. Dental health is maintained by the salivary secretion of gingival crevical fluid.  The digestive enzymes in saliva also help in keeping the teeth clean by breaking down any lodged food particles.  Dental hygiene is often neglected and can cause great harm to the body through irregular digestion of food.




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