During digestion the large food molecules are broken down into smaller molecules by enzymes. The three most important groups of enzymes secreted into the gut are:
- Amylases that split carbohydrates like starch and glycogen into monosaccharides like glucose.
- Proteases that split proteins into amino acids.
- Lipases that split lipids or fats into fatty acids and glycerol.
Glands produce various secretions which mix with the food as it passes along the gut.
These secretions include:
- Saliva secreted into the mouth from several pairs of salivary glands (see diagram 11.3). Saliva consists mainly of water but contains salts, mucous and salivary amylase. The function of saliva is to lubricate food as it is chewed and swallowed and salivary amylase begins the digestion of starch.
- Gastric juice secreted into the stomach from glands in its walls. Gastric juice contains pepsin that breaks down protein and hydrochloric acid to produce the acidic conditions under which this enzyme works best. In baby animals rennin to digest milk is also produced in the stomach.
- Bile produced by the liver. It is stored in the gall bladder and secreted into the duodenum via the bile duct (see diagram 11.14). (Note that the horse, deer, parrot and rat have no gall bladder). Bile is not a digestive enzyme. Its function is to break up large globules of fat into smaller ones so the fat splitting enzymes can gain access the fat molecules.
Diagram 11.14 - The liver, gall bladder and pancreas