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In Depth: Digestive

The human digestive system is the means by which tissues and organs receive nutrients to function. The system breaks down food, extracts nutrients from it, and converts these into energy.

The digestive tract begins this involuntary process once you swallow food. Saliva begins breaking the food down, and this is continued by other enzymes in the tract. As digestion continues, the food is moved from organ to organ through muscular contractions called peristalsis.

The largest parts of the digestive system include:

  • Esophagus: A hollow organ in the neck and chest area that connects the mouth and stomach. Muscles here propel food to the stomach, even if a person is upside down.
  • Stomach: A large organ that holds and digests food through a cocktail of enzymes and acids. Food remains here for fewer than four hours.
  • Liver: This organ helps filter toxins from the blood and produces bile, which helps break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.
  • Gallbladder: This sac-like organ stores bile produced by the liver.
  • Pancreas: This organ produces insulin, which aids in breaking down sugars.
  • Small intestine: The small intestine receives food from the stomach and begins to break down the food while absorbing the majority of its nutrients.
  • Large intestine: This organ is filled with billions of harmless bacteria that turn food into feces while removing water and electrolytes for the body’s use.
  • Rectum: At the end of the large intestine, this small space is a temporary storage area for feces.
  • Anus: This is the external opening of the rectum where feces are expelled.

The connection between all of these organs and their fluids requires a delicate balance that can easily be disrupted by numerous factors, including diet, stress, disease, and more.

Common digestive problems include:

  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Acid reflux
  • Food poisoning
  • Flatulence

Other problems are connected to serious conditions that affect portions of the digestive system, including:

  • Celiac disease
  • Hepatitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Diabetes
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Cancers: colorectal, stomach, pancreatic, intestinal, and more

Because your body must function solely on what you feed it, a healthy diet is important. 

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