digestive system

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

digestive system

digestive system, in the animal kingdom, a group of organs functioning in digestion and assimilation of food and elimination of wastes. Virtually all animals have a digestive system. In the vertebrates (phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata) the digestive system is very complex. It consists of the gastrointestinal tract (gut), an extensive tube extending from the mouth to the anus, through which the swallowing, digestion, and assimilation of food and the elimination of waste products are accomplished.

The Human Digestive System

In the digestive system, ingested food is converted into a form that can be absorbed into the circulatory system for distribution to and utilization by the various tissues of the body. This is accomplished both physically, by mastication in the mouth and churning of the stomach, and chemically, by secretions and enzymes of the gastrointestinal tract. Beginning at the mouth, all food passes through the alimentary canal (pharynx, esophagus, stomach, and intestines) before it reaches the anus, where undigested matter is eliminated as waste. The outer walls of the digestive tract are composed of layers of muscle and tissue that undergo waves of contraction (peristalsis), thereby pushing the food along its digestive path. The inner lining contains glands that secrete the acids and enzymes necessary to break down food into a form utilizable by the body.

Digestion begins in the mouth, where chewing reduces the food to fine texture, and saliva moistens it and begins the conversion of starch into simple sugars by means of an enzyme, salivary amylase. The food is then swallowed, passing through the pharynx and down the muscular esophagus, or gullet, to the expanded muscular pouchlike section of the gastrointestinal tract, the stomach. Specialized cells in the stomach secrete digestive enzymes and gastric juices, which act on the partially digested food. The stomach also physically churns and mixes the food. The stomach secretions include the enzyme pepsin, which acts on proteins; hydrochloric acid, essential for the action of pepsin; and an enzyme, gastric lipase, which begins the breakdown of fats. The gastric juices of young children contain, in addition to those just mentioned, the enzyme rennin, which acts on milk. Some foods, including simple sugars and alcohol, are absorbed directly through the stomach wall and do not remain in the stomach. Most food, however, is not absorbed in the stomach and passes into the duodenum (first section of the small intestine) in the form of a thick liquid called chyme.

Digestive enzymes from the pancreas and bile from the liver act on the chyme in the duodenum. These enzymes include pancreatic lipase, which breaks down fats into glycerol and fatty acids; pancreatic amylase, which continues the breakdown of starches and most other carbohydrates into disaccharides; and trypsin and erepsin, which break down whole and partially digested proteins (proteoses and peptones) into amino acids, the end products of protein digestion. Bile is essential for emulsifying large fat globules into smaller ones that are more easily digested by pancreatic lipase. In addition, intestinal juices are secreted by small glands in the intestinal wall called the crypts of Lieberkühn. Like the pancreatic juices, intestinal juices contain enzymes that continue the digestion of proteins and fats and also contain three enzymes that break down disaccharides into glucose, galactose, and fructose (simple sugars). The digested food is absorbed into the circulatory and lymphatic systems through small fingerlike projections of the intestinal wall, called villi. Undigested material passes into the large intestine, where most of the water is absorbed and the solid material, or feces, is excreted through the anus.

Bibliography

See J. E. Morton, Guts: The Form and Function of the Digestive System (1967); H. W. Davenport, Physiology of the Digestive Tract: An Introductory Text (3d ed. 1971).

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

digestive system
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.