The Human Body

The Human Digestive System

If a human adult’s digestive tract were stretched out, it would be 6 to 9 m (20 to 30 ft) long. In humans, digestion begins in the mouth, where both mechanical and chemical digestion occur. The mouth quickly converts food into a soft, moist mass. The muscular tongue pushes the food against the teeth, which cut, chop, and grind the food. Glands in the cheek linings secrete mucus, which lubricates the food, making it easier to chew and swallow. Three pairs of glands empty saliva into the mouth through ducts to moisten the food. Saliva contains the enzyme ptyalin, which begins to hydrolyze (break down) starch—a carbohydrate manufactured by green plants.

Once food has been reduced to a soft mass, it is ready to be swallowed. The tongue pushes this mass—called a bolus—to the back of the mouth and into the pharynx. This cavity between the mouth and windpipe serves as a passageway both for food on its way down the alimentary canal and for air passing into the windpipe. The epiglottis, a flap of cartilage, covers the trachea (windpipe) when a person swallows. This action of the epiglottis prevents choking by directing food from the windpipe and toward the stomach.

The Esophagus
The Stomach
The Small Intestine
The Large Intestine