Advice for Dr. Mom: Guts and Gross Stuff – Teaching Kids How Their Digestive System Works

The digestive system is the system in the body that is responsible for the breakdown of food, absorption of nutrients from food, and the elimination of the waste and water the body does not need.

It’s made up of important organs, parts and chemicals, which all work together to do these things. One might compare the digestive system to a hose that is 25 to 35 feet long. This would be measuring from the mouth to the end of the large intestine, and taking into consideration that most of the hose is neatly coiled up in your abdomen.

The digestive system’s main job is to turn foods we eat into tiny particles that the body can absorb and use for energy, maintenance, growth and repair. It also keeps bacteria or foreign bugs from entering the bloodstream. The stomach and its hydrochloric acid are designed to kill any unwanted visitors.

The digestive process begins in the mouth with teeth chewing food. Saliva, produced by the salivary glands in the mouth, also helps break down food, making it easier to swallow. Once the food is broken down, it is called a bolus. Chewing food is extremely important because it stimulates the brain to tell the stomach that stuff is on the way.

The stomach then gets prepared by producing hydrochloric acid to break the bolus down even more and kill any foreign bugs. The bolus travels to the back of the mouth with the help of a powerful muscle: the tongue where the uvula, or that flap that hangs down at the back of your mouth, helps direct the bolus down the esophagus.

The epiglottis is a sort of valve that makes sure that the bolus goes down the esophagus and not the trachea, or windpipe. The esophagus is approximately 10 inches long and the bolus takes about 6 seconds to get down it and into the stomach.

Digestion continues in the stomach and the small intestine with the help of the pancreas, liver and gallbladder. The pancreas produces digestive juices and the liver produces bile, which both aid in further food breakdown. The gallbladder stores bile until it is needed in the stomach.

Absorption occurs after the bolus is completely broken down into nutrients. The nutrients will now travel through the lining of the small intestine and into the bloodstream to the liver. The liver stores the nutrients until the body needs them.

Finally, elimination, or pooping, occurs after all the necessary nutrients have been absorbed and only waste is left in the large intestine. Any excess water goes to the kidneys and leaves via the bladder, as urine.

The digestive system is so important to your health. If you take care to eat healthy foods and drink lots of water, and remember to eat slowly and chew your food very well, you are doing your part to help your digestive system do the best job it can, which in turn helps you stay healthy!

Visit Dr. Heather, ND and Human Body Detectives series for kids, to learn more about Dr. Heather and her mission to have families be more proactive and healthy in their lives. You can also join the conversation on Twitter @drheathernd and HBD on Facebook.

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About Dr. Heather Manley
Dr. Heather Manley (from Toronto presently living in Hawaii), who in 2001 received her medical degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, is a practicing physician whose primary interest is preventative healthcare for families. She is the author of Human Body Detectives, her educational series of story-telling audiobooks and accompanying activity workbooks. She also promotes wellness and naturopathic healthcare on her website drheathernd.com. She lives on the Big Island of Hawaii with her husband and two daughters, and is currently at work on the next Human Body Detectives adventure.

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