Food & Nutrition

How Does the Digestive System Work?

Everything you ever wanted to know about your stomach, explained.

What is the digestive system?

digestive system

The digestive system courses through the body and lets people take in nutrients and release waste, according to David Kahana, MD, a Board-Certified gastroenterologist with 1MD. The system essentially consists of all the organs that help the body digest food. According to Carolyn Newberry, MD, a gastroenterologist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, these organs include the esophagus, stomach, small bowel, colon, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. “These different organs work in concert to break down food, mix it with digestive enzymes, and extract nutrients that can be used by the body,” says Dr. Newberry.

Why do we need to digest food?

Fresh ripe red apples on grey background, top viewNew Africa/Shutterstock

Digestion allows us to take the food we eat and break it down into simple parts to the bloodstream absorbs and uses it for energy, says Dr. Newberry. Without digesting and breaking down food, the body can’t absorb the necessary nutrients, explains Dr. Kahana. That’s just one of the many things your stomach wants you to know.

So what happens to your food after you eat?

digestive system track sequenceeveleen/Shutterstock

Here’s the order of events: The food enters the mouth and travels into the esophagus. Then, it moves to the stomach and small bowel or small intestine where it mixes with digestive fluids from the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder. The small bowel absorbs important nutrients and water. The circulatory system sends some of these nutrients to parts of the body to store or use them, per the NIH. Any waste, or undigested food material, moves to the colon or large intestine where it takes another one to two days to leave your body, says Dr. Newberry.

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