Digestion is the breakdown of large insoluble food molecules into small water-soluble food molecules so that they can be absorbed into the watery blood plasma. In certain organisms, these smaller substances are absorbed through the small intestine into the blood stream. Digestion is a form of catabolism that is often divided into two processes based on how food is broken down: mechanical and chemical digestion. The term mechanical digestion refers to the physical breakdown of large pieces of food into smaller pieces which can subsequently be accessed by digestive enzymes. Mechanical digestion takes place in the mouth through mastication and in the small intestine through segmentation contractions. In chemical digestion, enzymes break down food into the small molecules the body can use.
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In the human digestive system, food enters the mouth and mechanical digestion of the food starts by the action of mastication (chewing), a form of mechanical digestion, and the wetting contact of saliva. Saliva, a liquid secreted by the salivary glands, contains salivary amylase, an enzyme which starts the digestion of starch in the food; the saliva also contains mucus, which lubricates the food, and hydrogen carbonate, which provides the ideal conditions of pH (alkaline) for amylase to work, and electrolytes (Na+, K+, Cl−, HCO−3). About 30% of starch is hydrolyzed into disaccharide in the oral cavity (mouth). After undergoing mastication and starch digestion, the food will be in the form of a small, round slurry mass called a bolus. It will then travel down the esophagus and into the stomach by the action of peristalsis. Gastric juice in the stomach starts protein digestion. Gastric juice mainly contains hydrochloric acid and pepsin. In infants and toddlers, gastric juice also contains rennin to digest milk proteins. As the first two chemicals may damage the stomach wall, mucus and bicarbonates are secreted by the stomach. They provide a slimy layer that acts as a shield against the damaging effects of chemicals like concentrated hydrochloric acid while also aiding lubrication. Hydrochloric acid provides acidic pH for pepsin. At the same time protein digestion is occurring, mechanical mixing occurs by peristalsis, which is waves of muscular contractions that move along the stomach wall. This allows the mass of food to further mix with the digestive enzymes. Pepsin breaks down proteins into peptides or proteoses, which is further broken down into dipeptides and amino acids by enzymes in the small intestine. Studies suggest that increasing the number of chews per bite increases relevant gut hormones and may decrease self-reported hunger and food intake.
When the pyloric sphincter valve opens, partially digested food (chyme) enters the duodenum where it mixes with digestive enzymes from the pancreas and bile juice from the liver and then passes through the small intestine, in which digestion continues. When the chyme is fully digested, it is absorbed into the blood. 95% of nutrient absorption occurs in the small intestine. Water and minerals are reabsorbed back into the blood in the colon (large intestine) where the pH is slightly acidic about 5.6 ~ 6.9. Some vitamins, such as biotin and vitamin K (K2MK7) produced by bacteria in the colon are also absorbed into the blood in the colon. Absorption of water, simple sugar and alcohol also takes place in stomach. Waste material is eliminated from the rectum during defecation.