There are two main purposes that your digestive system serves: first, it converts food into the nutrients your body needs, and second, it gets rid of the waste that’s left over.
A number of different organs work together to achieve these goals, including the mouth, stomach, liver, intestines and gallbladder.
While you probably knew about that, there are a number of things that you likely don’t know about your digestive system.
In order to demystify this important part of your body, here are some little-known facts about the system that converts food into fuel for your body.
1. Food Doesn’t Need Gravity To Get To Your Stomach
The muscles in your esophagus are strong enough to usher food to your stomach even if you were hanging upside down!
There are three functional zones that make up your esophagus – the upper esophageal sphincter, the esophageal body, and the lower esophageal sphincter.
The act of the muscles in your esophagus moving food down to your stomach is called peristalsis(1).
2. Digestive Enzymes Can Be Found In Laundry Detergents
Digestive enzymes have many uses beyond just digesting your food. Enzyme technology plays an important role in the diagnosis, treatment, biochemical investigation and monitoring of a number of diseases, but they also have other, every-day uses, such as in laundry detergent(2).
3. Your Stomach Is Not The Center Of Digestion
Most people believe that the stomach does the lion’s share of the work when it comes to digesting your food, but it’s actually your small intestine, which makes up two thirds of the digestive tract, that does most of the actual digestive work.
The small intestine not only dissolves the food, it absorbs nutrients from the food and passes them on to the bloodstream.
4. The Small Intestine Has A Huge Surface Area
Roughly 22 feet long, and about an inch in diameter, you’d think that the surface area of the small intestine would be about 6 square feet. However, it’s actually closer to 2,700 square feet large – that’s about the size of a tennis court!
The surface area of the small intestine is so large because of folds in the walls of the intestine, as well as fingerlike structures made of absorptive tissue called villi. Even the villi are covered with microvilli, all of which serve to help the small intestine absorb food.
5. There Are Many Different Types Of Stomach In The Animal Kingdom
Not all stomachs have the same type of structure – they vary largely depending on species. For example, cows and other “ruminants” – such as deer and giraffes – have stomachs with four chambers, which help them better digest their plant-based food(3).
Other animals, like seahorses and platypuses – have no stomachs; their food travels straight from the esophagus to the intestines(4).
6. Stomach Bacteria Is What Makes Farts Smell Bad
Intestinal gas is caused by a combination of gasses produced by the fermentation of bacteria in the stomach and intestines, and swallowed air.
When the digestive system can’t break down or absorb a food, the food gets pushed into the large intestine, where bacteria get to work breaking it down. This causes the release of various gasses, including hydrogen, methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide(5).