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45. The digestive system: the function

The digestive system, or gastrointestinal tract, begins with the mouth, where food enters the body, and ends with the anus, where solid waste material leaves the body. The primary function of the organs of the digestive system are threefold.

First, complex food material which is taken into the mouth must be digested mechanically and chemically, as it travels through, the gastrointestinal tract.

Second, the digested food must be absorbed by passage through the walls of the small intestine into the blood stream so that the valuable energy—carrying nutrients can travel to all cells of the body.

The third function of the gastrointestinal tract is to eliminate the solid waste materials which are unable to be absorbed by the small intestine.

In the man the food in the mouth is masticated, that is to say it is bitten and broken up by the teeth and rolled into the bolus by the tongue.

The act of swallowing is divided into three stages.

The first stage is under voluntary control. The food which has been transformed into a soft, mass by the act of mastication is brought into position upon the root of the tongue, and by the action of the lingual muscles is rolled backwards towards the base of the tongue.

The second stage is brief and is occupied in guiding the food through the pharynx and past the openings that lead from it. The muscular movements during this stage are purely reflex in nature. The third stage involves the passage of the food down the eso phagus. The food is seized by peristaltic wave which, traveling along the esophagus, carries the material before it into the stomach. The cardiac sphincter which guards the lower end of the esophagus and which at other times is kept tonically closed re laxes upon the ap proach of the bolus which is then swept into the stomach by the wave of constriction which follows.

Peristalsis is a type of muscular contraction characteristic of the gut and consists in waves of contraction, these running along the muscles, both circular and longitudinal, towards the anus.

If the food is fluid it enters the stomach six seconds after the beginning of the act, but If It is solid it takes much long er, up to fifteen minutes, to pass down the esophagus.

In the stomach the food is thoroughly mixed by the series of contractions, three or four a minute, the contraction waves pass ing from the middle of the stomach to the pylorus. These tend to drive the food in the same direction, but the pylorus being closed, there is axial reflex, owing to which the food is well mixed. After a time – a bout a minute when water has been swallowed – the pylorus relaxes at each wave, allowing some of the stomach contents to enter the duodenum. Fat stays in the stomach longer than carbo hydrate, but all food leaves generally in three or four hours. In the small intestine the food continues to be moved by peristalsis, the latter controlled by the deep nerve plexus. The small intestine undergoes segmentation movements, the food contents being thoroughly mired The wall becomes constricted into a number of segments and then about five seconds later the constrictions disappear, there being another set exactly out of phase with the first. The large intestine undergoes infrequent powerful contractions, food having entered it. From the large intestine the food enters the rectum.

New words

voluntary control – добровольный контроль

soft – мягкий

mastication – перетирание

position – положение

root – корень








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