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  • Sara Thompson

Down the Hatch in the Digestive Tract

By Sara Thompson

Special to the Enterprise

Simplified diagram of the digestive system; Image by Mariana Ruiz, from Wikimedia Commons

When we eat and drink, we rarely think about the digestive process beyond just the taste of our food. From beginning to end, our digestive tract is almost 30 feet long and can take several days to process the food we eat. Designed to extract as much nutrients and fluids as possible from the things we eat, each organ has its own specific structures to help with that function.

Digestion begins before we even put the first thing in our mouth. Smelling our food makes us salivate, which helps to soften our food for chewing and is the beginning of breaking it down. After we swallow, the next place our food goes it to the stomach. The stomach is able to expand and mixes acids and other enzymes with our food to further break it down. Food usually digests in the stomach for about one hour but can take up to five hours depending on the size and content. Next, our food enters the small intestines.

Our small intestines are the longest part of our digestive system, measuring over 2/3 of the whole length of the system. The walls of the small intestine are covered with tiny projections called villi and are also themselves covered with microvilli. The use of both villi and microvilli greatly increases the surface area of the small intestine to better absorb nutrients. The many turns of the small intestine are to slow down the contents as they pass through, providing more time for nutrient absorption. Passage through the small intestine takes on average about four hours, sometimes taking over eight hours to fully empty.

The large intestine is the last place nutrients from our food can be absorbed. Bacteria in our large intestine further break down sugars through fermentation, making them easier to absorb. Time spent in the large intestine is highly variable between individuals but can take on average between 30-40 hours to fully break down the last nutrients until any remnants are expelled from the body.

Many other organs and systems in the body contribute to the digestive tract as well. Some produce the acids and bile for initial digestion. Insulin is created to help with sugar absorption. Even the appendix, thought to be a vestigial organ is now believed to be a storage space for important gut bacteria.

Campers in this week’s All About You camp learned about the different body systems and how to keep them healthy. Campers put together a skeleton, learned about nutrition, and even watched the dissection of sheep organs! Explorit has extended our After-school camps through May, and plenty of spaces are still available. Camps are Monday-Friday from 3:30-5:30pm for students in grades K-6. Price is $120 Members/$145 Non-Members. Additional information and registration can be found at

Explorit's coming events:

• Explorit’s Summer Science Camp is back for 2021! Beginning in June and running through to the beginning of August, our camps are filled with fun, hands-on, science activities. Summer camp runs from 8:00-11:15am Monday-Friday. Fee for summer camp is $175 for Members/$200 for Non-Members. Camps designed for grades K-3, 1-4, and 4-6 available. Visit for more information and registration.

• Due to COVID-19 restrictions and the health and safety of our staff and visitors, our gallery will remain closed. Staff regularly check messages and email.

• Like many small businesses the closures have had a significant impact on our income and sustainability. Now is a great time to donate and help Explorit continue to educate and inspire the scientists of tomorrow:

• Continue to support Explorit during this uncertain time by becoming a member. An Exploit Membership not only support us but grants the recipient with free visits to Explorit’s regular public hours, discounts on events, summer and after-school camps, and workshops, and gives you ASTC benefits to visit other museums throughout the world. For more information visit or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.


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