Do you ever think how food gets from one end to the other? Often we focus fully on the taste sensations of our food and then forget about it as it dives mysteriously down the digestive system. But what happens on the way down is actually kind of marvelous.
Here’s 6 fun facts about the digestive system to chew on the next time you think about food.
The digestion of our food actually begins before it starts sliding down the oesophagus. The average human produces 1.7 litres of saliva through the salivary glands of the mouth each day. This slimy substance coats the food for easy swallowing, protects the gums and teeth from acidity and bacteria and also adds enzymes to help break the food down. Even the mere thought or smell of your favourite feast can have you drooling at the mouth, ready to digest.
The chemical constitution of your stomach acid is so strong it could dissolve metals. Hydrochloric acid (the same stuff masons use to clean bricks) converts inactive enzyme pepsinogen into the active enzyme pepsin for the digestion of proteins and other foods. Left to run amok, hydrochloric acid would also start eating away at the lining of the stomach. This is why the stomach regenerates itself every 4 to 5 days- as protection from itself.
Did you know that seahorses don’t have stomachs? And that the male carries the eggs? (that second one is besides the point here but still interesting). These weird little creatures show that not all stomachs in the animal kingdom are created the same. Cows and other ruminants, although thought to have four stomachs, have in fact four stomach chambers which help them digest their vegetarian diet.
When most of us think of our mind we picture a big gooey grey ball nestled inside our skull. But not many of us realise that our body actually has two brains. The ENS (enteric nervous system) has earned the title of the “second brain”. This control centre of nerve cells, neurotransmitters and serotonin, functioning the same as the brain, is tasked with regulating the digestive system. This is why our stomach feels queasy when we’re anxious or angry – there’s a close link between what we feel in the mind and what occurs in the digestive system.
The small intestine may not be as small as you think. When stretched out, this 22 feet long organ reaches up to 2700 square feet which is roughly the same size as a tennis court. The reason for this enigmatic elongation is in its folded walls which contain finger like projections of absorptive tissue called villi and microvilli. The average female human’s intestine is actually longer than a male’s.
In 1868 a sword swallower made for an unlikely research partner. German doctor Adolph Kussmaul had invented an early version endoscope for looking inside the stomach of living people. The only problem was – unlike what we use today – it wasn’t flexible. Kussmaul therefore had to search for a very special assistant to stick his endoscope down. He employed the help of a sword swallower who easily swallowed the 18.5 x 0.5 inch instrument, giving Kussmaul a look inside the workings of the stomach.
Do you have any fun / interesting / weird facts you’d like to share? Comment below, I can never get enough! 🙂