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Digestive Disorders Overview

The digestive system is made up of the digestive tract, which is a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus.  The digestive tract also includes other organs that help the body break down and absorb food.

Organs that make up the digestive tract are:

  • mouth,
  • esophagus,
  • stomach,
  • small intestine,
  • large intestine or colon,
  • rectum, and
  • anus.

Inside these hollow organs is a lining called the mucosa. In the mouth, stomach, and small intestine, the mucosa contains tiny glands that produce juices to help digest food. The digestive tract also contains a layer of smooth muscle that helps break down food and move it along the tract.

Two “solid” digestive organs, the liver and the pancreas, produce digestive juices that reach the intestine through small tubes called ducts. The gallbladder stores the liver’s digestive juices until they are needed in the intestine. Parts of the nervous and circulatory systems also play major roles in the digestive system.

Why Digestion is Important

When you eat foods such as bread, meat, and vegetables, they are not in a form that the body can use as nourishment. Food and drink must be changed into smaller molecules of nutrients before they can be absorbed into the blood and carried to cells throughout the body. Digestion is the process by which food and drink are broken down into their smallest parts so the body can use them to build and nourish cells and to provide energy.

How food is digested

Digestion involves mixing food with digestive juices, moving it through the digestive tract, and breaking down large molecules of food into smaller molecules. Digestion begins in the mouth, when you chew and swallow, and is completed in the small intestine.


Your Digestive System and How it Works, National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, April 23, 2012.

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