Absorption and Egestion

Absorption

The majority of digestion takes place in the small intestine. The walls of the small intestine contain enzymes, known as digestive juices. They aid in breaking down the nutrients in the food we consume into smaller molecules.

Once broken down, the molecules will be small enough to pass through the wall of the small intestine and into the bloodstream. Then they can be used by the body for energy and other functions.

  • Only small, soluble molecules are able to pass through the wall of the small intestine and enter the bloodstream.

Adaptations for absorption

For the body to fully digest and absorb nutrients from the food we eat, it needs to have a large enough surface area in contact with those nutrients.

The small intestine is extremely long, usually several meters in adults. This means it provides a large surface area for the absorption of the digested food molecules. Also, the inner wall of the small intestine has special adaptations that allow it to absorb substances more efficiently.

These adaptations include:

  • A thin wall – Just one cell thick
  • Many villi – Finger-like structures
  • A network of capillaries

The diagram below shows how the villi in the small intestine help increase the surface area for absorption. Remember that each individual finger-like structure is called a villus.

Thin wall

The small intestine has a thin wall, which is just one cell thick. This thin wall reduces the diffusion path, allowing substances to travel a shorter distance to enter the bloodstream.

If the inner wall of the small intestine was thick, it would be more difficult for nutrients to pass through and be absorbed, which would reduce the efficiency of the digestion process.

Villi

The inner wall of the small intestine is covered with millions of finger-like structures known as villi. These villi help increase the surface area of the small intestine, making it easier for nutrients to be absorbed.

Network of capillaries

There is a network of blood vessels, called capillaries, running through the villi. These capillaries carry away the absorbed nutrients, transporting them throughout the body via the bloodstream.

The removal of the products of digestion by the bloodstream helps to increase the concentration gradient (the difference in concentration between two areas). This increased concentration gradient helps to drive the absorption of nutrients across the walls of the small intestine and into the bloodstream, making the process more efficient.

Egestion

The large intestine is a long, tube-like organ in the digestive system that is responsible for the absorption of water from undigested food. As the undigested food moves through the digestive system, it comes into contact with digestive juices that add water to it. This water is then absorbed back into the bloodstream through the walls of the large intestine.

The undigested food that is left over after the absorption of water is passed out of the body through the anus as faeces. This is a process known as egestion.

It is important to note that egestion is different from excretion. Egestion is the removal of undigested food, while excretion involves the removal of waste products that the body no longer needs.

  • The large intestine is mainly responsible for egestion, while the kidneys and other organs are responsible for excretion.

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