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Mouth and Oesophagus
Digestion begins in the mouth with the grinding of food and admixture of saliva. An enzyme called ptyalin in the saliva already begins to split starches into simple sugars. The food is then forced to the back of the mouth and into the oesophagus, or gullet. Here is where peristalsis begins. This is a kneading “milking” constriction and relaxation of muscles that propels material through the digestive system. To prevent back-flow of materials and to time the release of proper enzymes – since one enzyme cannot do another enzyme’s work – the digestive tract is equipped with valves at important junctions.
This is the biggest bulge in the digestive tract, as most of us are well aware. But it is located higher than you might think, lying mainly behind the lower ribs, not under the navel, and it does not occupy the belly. It is a flexible bag enclosed by restless muscles, constantly changing form. Virtually nothing is absorbed through the stomach walls except alcohol.
An ordinary meal leaves the stomach in three to five hours. Watery substances, such as soup, leave the stomach quite rapidly. Fats remain considerably longer. An ordinary meal of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats is emptied from the average stomach in three to five hours. Stomach glands and specialized cells produce mucuous, enzymes, hydrochloric acid, and a factor that enables vitamin B12 to be dissolved through intestinal walls into the circulation. A normal stomach is definitely on the acid side, and gastric juice, the stomach’s special blend, consists of many substances:
Pepsin The predominant stomach enzyme, a potent digester of meats and other proteins, it is active only in an acid medium.
Renin Curdles milk.
HCl [Hydrochloric acid] Produced by stomach cells and creates an acidic state.
The stomach is not absolutely indispensable to digestion. Most of the process of digestion occurs beyond it.
Small Intestine Virtually all absorption of nutrients occurs in the small intestine. Twenty-two feet long, here is where digestion is completed and virtually all absorption of nutrients occurs. It has an alkaline environment, brought about by highly alkaline bile, pancreatic juice, and secretions of the intestinal walls. The alkaline environment is necessary for the most important work of digestion and absorption. The duodenum, which begins at the stomach outlet, is the first part of the small intestine. This joins with the jejunum [about ten feet long], which joins with the ileum [ten to twelve feet long]. When semi-liquid contents of the small intestine are moved along by peristaltic action, we often say we hear our stomach “talking”. Actually our stomach lies above these rumblings [called borborygmi], but even with the truth known it’s doubtful the phrase will change.

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