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Digestive System: Top 10 Questions

November 2016

Thanks to Thanks to gastroenterologists Dr. Matthew Sericati and Dr. Brian Story for their answers. for the answers.

1: How does food break down?

The breakdown of food is a complicated process with multiple steps. The first step is to think about eating food. When you do this, the brain sends signals that turn on a bunch of hormones. The saliva, or spit, in your mouth gets turned on, creating wetness as you wait to eat food. Once the food enters your mouth, you chew it, and that helps break it down. Then there are enzymes in your saliva that help with the break down process too. Once chewed, we swallow the food and it goes down into our stomachs where digestion occurs. (From Aiden at Whitney Elementary School in Boise)

2: How big is your empty stomach?

Your stomach is about the size of a fist when it has no food in it. (From Rafael at Roosevelt Elementary School in Boise)

3: How long does it take your digestive system to go through the whole cycle?

The length of time for food to go through the entire digestive cycle varies from person to person. On average, food can take as little as two hours to make it from your mouth to your bottom, or it can take as long as several days. If you want to know the length of your digestive cycle, try eating some corn and see how long it takes to come out! (From Hiram at White Pine Elementary School in Boise)

4: How does food keep from getting stuck in the esophagus?

Saliva in our mouth is activated when we eat and this helps to lubricate the food. We also chew our food as much as we can, breaking it into small pieces. Once our food moves into the esophagus, a process called peristalsis occurs. This process slowly squeezes food from the upper esophagus all the way down into the stomach. (From Jaylen at White Pine Elementary School in Boise)

5: How can we eat and breathe at the same time?

Our bodies have two different tubes that we use. One tube is for eating and one tube is for breathing. A little flap, called the epiglottis, keeps food from going down the breathing tube. When we swallow, the flap covers the breathing tube so food goes down the esophagus, or eating tube. (From Gabi at Whittier Elementary School in Boise)

6: How does my tongue taste food?

The surface of the tongue contains our taste buds. Taste buds are receptor cells that help us taste sweet, sour, salty and bitter. When we eat, messages are sent to our brain giving us the sensation of what we are tasting. (From Siren at White Pine Elementary School in Boise)

7: What causes hiccups?

Hiccups occur when your diaphragm, a little muscle that helps you breathe, has spasms. When this happens, it causes air to get sucked down into your stomach quickly, and you burp it back out. These hiccups can happen repeatedly and are caused by many different things, such as eating too much food! (From Jose at Whittier Elementary School in Boise)

8: What happens to your brain when you eat?

The brain is the first organ that helps us with the digestion of our food. The brain knows when we are starting to get hungry, and it releases hormones into the gastrointestinal tract. At this point, the air and fluid within the GI tract starts to move around with the squeezing of the stomach and the small intestine. So the brain really starts the whole process. (From Evie at White Pine Elementary School in Boise)

9: If we measured our digestive system, how long would it be?

Your digestive system is pretty long. When you add it all up, it's about 30 feet. (From Mya at Lowell Elementary School in Boise)

10: What makes people throw up?

There are a number of reasons why the brain or the gastrointestinal tract stimulate our urge to vomit. Sometimes it can be as simple as eating too much food. When we have too much food in our stomachs, we don't feel very well and our stomach wants to evacuate all of the food that is in there. (From Cora at White Pine Elementary School in Boise)

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