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    Your Digestive System

    Small Intestine continued...

    Three organs play a pivotal role in helping the stomach and small intestine digest food:

    Pancreas

    Among other functions, the oblong pancreas secretes enzymes into the small intestine. These enzymes break down protein, fat, and carbohydrates from the food we eat.

    Liver

    The liver has many functions, but two of its main functions within the digestive system are to make and secrete bile, and to cleanse and purify the blood coming from the small intestine containing the nutrients just absorbed.

    Gallbladder

    The gallbladder is a pear-shaped reservoir that sits just under the liver and stores bile. Bile is made in the liver then travels to the gallbladder through a channel called the cystic duct. During a meal, the gallbladder contracts, sending bile to the small intestine.

    Once the nutrients have been absorbed and the leftover liquid has passed through the small intestine, what is left of the food you ate is handed over to the large intestine, or colon.

    Colon (Large Intestine)

    The colon is a 5- to 6-foot-long muscular tube that connects the cecum (the first part of the large intestine to the rectum (the last part of the large intestine). It is made up of the cecum, the ascending (right) colon, the transverse (across) colon, the descending (left) colon, and the sigmoid colon (so-called for its "S" shape; the Greek letter for S is called the sigma), which connects to the rectum.

    Stool, or waste left over from the digestive process, is passed through the colon by means of peristalsis (contractions), first in a liquid state and ultimately in solid form as the water is removed from the stool. A stool is stored in the sigmoid colon until a "mass movement" empties it into the rectum once or twice a day. It normally takes about 36 hours for stool to get through the colon. The stool itself is mostly food debris and bacteria. These bacteria perform several useful functions, such as synthesizing various vitamins, processing waste products and food particles, and protecting against harmful bacteria. When the descending colon becomes full of stool, or feces, it empties its contents into the rectum to begin the process of elimination.

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