The conversion of a meal to the nutrients required by cells involves the combined activity of one of the most highly developed systems of your body. The digestion of food is a step-by-step process in which many organs function in harmony. Each one makes its individual contribution to the total activity. The complex foods you eat at the dinner table are slowly reduced to simple nutrients, which nourish cells.
Digestion of food requires mechanical action. Food is rolled in the mouth by the tongue and cheeks, and ground between the teeth. It is churned in the stomach and moved through the intestine by a squeezing motion. This mechanical action aids the chemical action on foods by secretions of digestive glands situated in various organs. These secretions contain enzymes, which cause specific chemical changes during digestion.
During digestion, foods are moved through the stomach and intestine by the action of smooth muscle layers in the walls of the organs forming the tube. We call this action peristalsis. The rate of peristalsis is very important in digestion. The food content must be moved slowly enough to allow each organ to perform its mechanical action and chemical changes sufficiently, yet fast enough to prevent decomposition of food by the numerous bacteria present in the digestive system. The movement of food is aided by lubricating mucus, formed by the mucous glands lining the entire digestive tract.
Organs Of Digestion
We classify the organs of digestion into two groups: 1) those which form the accessory organs of digestion. The mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon, or large intestine, form the alimentary canal, which extends through the body for a distance of 30 feet or more. Technically, a substance does not enter the body until it is absorbed by the blood in digested form through the walls of this tube. Indigestible and unabsorbed substances remain in the alimentary canal and enter the colon to be disposed of as intestinal waste, or feces. The liver and pancreas, while classified as accessory organs of digestion, are essential to digestion, undigested foods never enter these organs. Their glandular secretions act on foods in the small intestine.
Living With Your Digestive System
A large population of the world spends lots of money a year for laxatives, tonics, and other preparation to aid digestion. Many people have the idea from different media and displays in drug stores that in recent years the human digestive system has fallen down on its job, that it now requires a variety of chemical crutches to get through a day’s work. The truth of the matter is that a healthy digestive system gets along better without any drugs. All it needs is a little cooperation on your part.
- Eat a balanced diet at regular times. Be sure to include fruits and vegetables to give your colon bulk.
- Eat your meals leisurely; to give you time to chew thoroughly.
- Avoid nervous tension and emotional upsets, especially at mealtime. Arguments and unpleasant discussions at the dinner table interface with normal stomach and intestinal activity.
- Exercise. Walking stimulates activity of the digestive organs.
- Drink one or two glasses of water with each meal to aid digestion and help avoid constipation.
- Establish regular toilet habits, but remember that the time and frequency of bowel habits vary with people.