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Digestive System


Food taken into the mouth is first prepared for digestion in a two step process known as mastication. In the first stage, the teeth tear and break down food into smaller pieces. In the second stage, the tongue rolls these pieces into balls (boluses). Sensory receptors on the tongue (taste buds) detect taste sensations of sweet, salt, bitter, and sour, or cause the rejection of bad-testing food. The olfactory nerves contribute to the sensation of taste by picking up the aroma of the food and passing the sensation of smell on to the brain.

The sight of the food also stimulates the salivary glands. Altogether, the sensations of sight, taste, and smell cause the salivary glands, located in the mouth, to produce saliva, which then pours into the mouth to soften the food. An enzyme in the saliva called amylase begins the break down of carbohydrates (starch) into simple sugars, such as maltose. Ptyalin is one of the main amylase enzymes found in the mouth; ptyalin is also secreted by the pancreas.

The bolus of food, which is now a battered, moistened, and partially digested ball of food, is swallowed, moving to the throat at the back of the mouth (pharynx). In the throat, rings of muscles force the food into the esophagus, the first part of the upper digestive tube. The esophagus extends from the bottom part of the throat to the upper part of the stomach.

The esophagus does not take part in digestion. Its job is to get the bolus into the stomach. There is a powerful muscle (the esophageal sphincter), at the junction of the esophagus and stomach, which acts as a valve to keep food, stomach acids, and bile from flowing back into the esophagus and mouth.

Additional topics

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