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3.1: Digestion at a Glance

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    Digestion is the process of breaking down food to be absorbed or excreted. The gastrointestinal (GI, digestive) tract, the passage through which our food travels, is a "tube within a tube." The trunk of our body is the outer tube and the GI tract is the interior tube (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)) Thus, even though the GI tract is within the body, the actual interior of the tract is technically outside of the body. This is because the contents have to be absorbed into the body. If it's not absorbed, it will be excreted and never enter the body itself.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): The digestive tract, also known as the gastrointestinal tract, is a "tube within a tube"

    A number of organs are involved in digestion, which collectively are referred to as the digestive system (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)).

    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): The digestive system. (Public Domain; via WPClipart)

    The organs that form the gastrointestinal tract (mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine (aka colon), rectum, and anus) come into direct contact with the food or digestive content (Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\)).

    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): The gastrointestinal or digestive tract. (Public Domain; via WPClipart)

    The journey through the gastrointestinal tract starts in the mouth and ends in the anus as shown below:

    Mouth PharynxEsophagus Stomach Small Intestine Large Intestine Rectum Anus

    Query \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Query \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    In addition to the GI tract, there are digestion accessory organs (salivary glands, pancreas, gallbladder, and liver) that play an integral role in digestion (Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\)). The accessory organs do not come directly in contact with food or digestive content.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Digestion accessory organs. (Public Domain; via WPClipart)

    There are a number of enzymes that are involved in digestion. We will go through each one in detail, but this table should help give an overview of which enzymes are active at each location of the GI tract.

    Query \(\PageIndex{3}\)

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Digestive enzymes
    Location Enzyme/Coenzyme
    Mouth Salivary amylase

    Lingual lipase

    Stomach Pepsin

    Gastric lipase

    Small Intestine

    Pancreatic alpha-amylase

    Brush border disaccharidases

    Pancreatic lipase



    Cholesterol esterase


    Brush border peptidases

    This page titled 3.1: Digestion at a Glance is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Brian Lindshield via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.

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