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Human Digestive System

What you will be learning...

(a) identify the main regions of the alimentary canal and the associated organs: mouth, salivary glands, oesophagus, stomach, duodenum, pancreas, gall-bladder, liver, ileum, colon, rectum, anus (b) *describe the functions of these parts in relation to ingestion, digestion, absorption, assimilation and egestion of food, as appropriate (c) explain why most foods must be digested (d) describe: (i) digestion in the alimentary canal (ii) the functions of a typical amylase, protease and lipase, listing the substrate and end-products (e) describe the structure of a villus (including role of capillaries and lacteals) in absorption (f) State the function of the hepatic portal vein as the route taken by most of the most absorbed from the small intestine (g) state the role of the liver in: (i) carbohydrate and fat metabolism (ii) breakdown of red blood cells (iii) metabolism of amino acids and the formation of urea (iv) breakdown of alcohol, including the effects of excessive alcohol consumption

What are the main organs of the alimentary canal?

Mouth Oesophagus Stomach Small intestine Large intestine Anus Although not part of the alimentary canal, the liver, gall bladder and pancreas are closely associated with it. They play an important role in digestion by secreting digestive enzymes.

Recall. . .

5 Digestion Processes (IDAAE)

Ingestion: taking in of food into the body. Digestion: breaking down of food into simpler substances Absorption: diffusion of food from small intestine into the blood Assimilation: using digested nutrients to make new material Egestion: removal of undigested waste material

Mechanical / physical digestion physically breaks down the food in the mouth (chewing). Smaller pieces of food increase surface area for digestion. It also takes place in the stomach (churning of food by the muscular stomach walls) Chemical digestion uses enzymes to chemically break down complex food substances into their simplest form. e.g. amylase Starch maltose

Chemical digestion: Starch (carbohydrate) digestion: in mouth and small intestine. Protein digestion: in stomach and small intestine Fat digestion: only in small intestine Why must food be digested??? Large molecules of food are unable to pass through cell membranes, thus must be broken down into small molecules so that they can diffuse through cell membranes into the blood stream

Mouth (Ahhh....)
Mouth ingests food Teeth masticates food into small pieces to increase surface area for digestion Saliva (pH 7) moisten and soften food Starch maltose Tongue mixes food with saliva and rolls food into a bolus before swallowing Saliva - water, mucus, salivary amylase
Salivary amylase


What Happens During Breathing and Swallowing?

Normally, air passes into the trachea (windpipe) while food passes into the oesophagus. During breathing, the larynx is lowered and the glottis is open.
pharynx air larynx (voice-box) glottis trachea (windpipe) oesophagu s


What Happens During Breathing and Swallowing?

During swallowing, the larynx is raised and the glottis is covered by the epiglottis. This prevents food particles from entering the trachea.
epiglottis glottis larynx (voice-box) trachea (windpipe) oesophagu s

pharynx food particles


What Happens During Breathing and Swallowing?

Occasionally, small particles of food or water may get into the larynx or trachea.
food particles larynx (voice-box) trachea (windpipe)


What Happens During Breathing and Swallowing?

This automatically induces violent coughing to force the food particles or water out and to prevent choking.
larynx (voice-box) trachea (windpipe)

food particles


Minimal digestion Carries food from mouth to stomach by peristalsis Oesophagus has circular and longitudinal muscles which are antagonistic. When circular muscles contract, longitudinal muscles relax and vice-versa.


Part of the gut wall

The two layers of muscles cause rhythmic, wave-like contractions of the gut walls. Such movements are known as peristalsis. circular Peristalsis:

enables food to be mixed with the digestive juices; and moves the food along the gut.
longitudinal muscles 15

Wall here dilates Direction of movement of food

Wall here constricts. Circular muslces contract; longitudinal muscles relax

Circular muscles relax Longitudinal muscles contract 16


Move the food down!

When circular muscles contract, longitudinal muscles relax. Gut wall constricts i.e. gut becomes narrower and longer. Food is squeezed or pushed forward. Gravity and slippery mucous lining helps push food down too.


Stores food temporarily Stomach muscles churns and mixes food (also by peristalsis) with gastric juice to form chyme. Gastric juice contains hydrochloric acid (HCl) and enzymes like rennin and pepsin HCl is very acidic (pH2), thus it kills bacteria and other microorganisms, as well as stopping the action of salivary amylase Provides acidic medium for gastric enzymes to work Only protein digestion here

HCl converts inactive pepsinogen and prorennin to their active forms


The stomach is guarded at the entrance and exit points by sphincter muscles which control the amount of food entering and leaving the stomach.

Small Intestine
Subdivided into duodenum, jejunum and ileum In the small intestine, chyme stimulates
1. Pancreas to secrete pancreatic juice 2. Gall bladder to secrete bile 3. Intestinal glands to secrete intestinal juice

All three juices secreted are alkaline, pH 8.5


Pancreatic and intestinal juice contain many digestive enzymes. Bile does not contain enzymes. Bile emulsifies fats, increasing the surface area for lipase action

bile duct

2 bile

1 pancreatic juice pancreatic duct

3 intestinal juice

Starch Protein Fats
pancreatic amylase proteases lipase

maltose polypeptides fatty acids + glycerol


maltase Maltose glucose Polypeptides protease amino acids lipase Fats fatty acids + glycerol Lactose lactase glucose + galactose Sucrose sucrase glucose + fructose

Note that the small intestine is the main site of digestion of food and absorption of nutrients.



Large Intestine (colon)

Large inverted U shaped tube. No digestion takes place here Absorbs water and minerals salts Stores the faeces (dead cells, mucus, germs, undigested food)


Is the colon the main region for water absorption? No! About 94% of the total amount of water passing through the alimentary canal is absorbed by the small intestine! The large intestine absorbs most of the remaining 6% of water. Rectum temporarily stores faeces Anus egests (= removal of undigested matter) faeces

Organs associated with the alimentary canal

These organs do not digest food but aid in digestion Gall bladder Pancreas Liver


Gall bladder
Temporarily stores bile (smelly green substance) secreted by liver. Secretes bile in the presence of chyme. Bile breaks up large fat droplets into very small fat droplets to increase surface area for lipase action (Emulsification) Bile emulsifies fats *Bile is not an enzyme, so it is not affected by temperature

Connects to small intestine by pancreatic duct Produces pancreatic juice Secretes hormones like insulin (controls blood glucose concentration) and glucagon (controls carbohydrate metabolism)


Produces bile, which is stored in the gall bladder

Small intestine is very long (~5 m) Internal surface of the small intestine has many folds. On these folds, there are many finger-like projections called villi These 3 adaptations increase surface area for absorption
Adaptations of the small intestine



Blood capillaries transport sugars and amino acids away from the small intestine

One cell thick epithelium for efficient absorption of food particles

Lacteal fatty acids and glycerol recombine in the epithelium to form fat which then enters the lacteal as fine fat droplets

This continual transport of digested food substances maintains the concentration gradient for the absorption of digested food substances.33

The concentration of simple nutrients (e.g. glucose, amino acids, fatty acids and glycerol) is higher in the lumen of the small intestine then in the blood capillaries that pass through the villi. Thus, nutrients diffuse across a region of high concentration (lumen of the small intestine) to the bloodstream, which has a lower concentration. Note that absorption by active transport is also possible. The blood capillaries in the small intestine unite to form larger blood vessels, which unite to form the hepatic portal vein, which transports the nutrients to the liver.

What happens to amino acids and glucose after absorption?

Molecules pass into the epithelial cells Through walls of capillaries in the villus and into bloodstream The capillaries join up to form veins Veins unite to form 1 large vein: Hepatic Portal Vein Hepatic portal vein carries blood to liver Liver stores or alters products of digestion Products released from liver into general blood circulation


Glucose is used by all cells as a source of energy. Excess glucose returned to liver and stored as glycogen. Insulin stimulates liver to convert glucose into glycogen. When the body needs energy, glycogen is converted back to glucose.

Amino Acids
Amino acids which enter the cells are converted into new protoplasm that is used for growth and repair. Amino acids used to form enzymes and hormones. Excess amino acids deaminated by liver.


What happens to fatty acids and glycerol after absorption?

Molecules pass into the epithelial cells

Recombine into fats again in the epithelial cells

Fats enter the lacteals

Lymph (fluid in lacteals) + fat = chyle

Lymphatic vessels discharge chyle into 38 bloodstream

Blood carries fats to all parts of the body, especially to the liver. When there is enough glucose, fats are not broken down but are used to build protoplam. When there is insufficient glucose, fats are broken down to provide energy. Excess fats stored in adipose tissues.


Villi absorption by diffusion


From intestine 40

To liver

After travelling through the blood stream to the rest of the body, cells can now make use of
glucose as source of energy amino acids to build new cytoplasm and tissue cells fatty acids to build new cell membranes


Functions of the Liver

1. Regulation of blood glucose concentration
70-90mg of glucose / 100cm3 of blood (normal conditions)

2. Production of bile
Liver produces bile which is stored in the gall bladder

Functions of the liver

3. Iron storage
Red blood cells are destroyed in the spleen and their haemoglobin is sent to the liver to be broken down. The iron released is then stored in the liver. Bile pigments are also formed from the breakdown of haemoglobin.

4. Protein synthesis
Liver synthesizes proteins found in blood plasma, e.g. albumins, globulins, fibrinogen


Functions of the liver

5. Deamination of amino acids
Excess amino acids are transported to the liver, where their amino groups are removed and converted to urea.


6. Detoxification

Functions of the liver

Liver cells contain alcohol dehydrogenase to break down alcohol. Excessive alcohol is harmful. Alcohol stimulates acid secretion in the stomach and increases risk of gastric ulcers. Prolonged alcohol abuse may lead to liver cirrhosis (destruction of liver cells), which can lead to liver failure and death.

7. Heat production