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PTH 03c - How Long Does Digestion Take

PTH Blogs Series


The length of time that the food stays in the stomach depends on the nature of the food. Fluids move through quickly, usually within a few minutes. Carbohydrates or starchy foods move through quite easily. Fats and proteins require much more work. The average meal stays in the stomach about five hours. Your whole digestive system functions better if you eat at regular hours. X-ray studies, for example, have shown that when snacks are eaten between meals in the morning, the emptying time of the stomach may be delayed up to eight hours. If snacks are again eaten in the afternoon between meals, the delayed emptying time of the stomach may be twelve to eighteen hours. Is it any wonder then your habit of eating between meals may cause your stomach aches and indigestion?

By the time the food is ready to leave the stomach, it is a semi-liquid. It then passes into the small intestine. More digestive juices containing enzymes are added to the food. These enzymes break the food down into simpler molecules which can be absorbed directly into the blood. This absorption takes place in tiny finger-like projections which line the intestines called villi. This vastly increased absorbing surface has a lining so thin that individual molecules of food can pass through the lining directly into the capillaries and blood stream.

After travelling to the end of the smallest intestines, about all that is left of the meal is water and waste products. It then passes into the large intestine where the water is absorbed through the walls. The waste products form a semi-solid feces that is excreted through the rectum.

Before we leave the digestive system, let us pause for just a moment and take a look at one of the most remarkable organs in the body, the liver. Every second this amazing organ performs chemical magic almost beyond imaginations. More than five hundred liver functions have been discovered to date, and still new ones are constantly found. When you walk up a flight of stairs, your muscles need fuel to turn into energy. At once the liver from its twenty-four hour supply of glycogen or starch, converts a portion into glucose, the fuel for muscles, and feeds it into the blood stream.

Each second three million blood cells die and must be disposed off. These are broken down by the spleen and the liver helps to save the iron and other chemicals for re-use in building new blood cells, which are replaced by the bone marrow.

If you cut your finger, you would bleed to death were it not for the fibrin produced in the liver, which helps the blood to clot. The liver is a store-house for vitamins. It produces antibodies that fight invading viruses and bacteria. One of its most important tasks is to detoxify poisons which are consumed. If excessive amounts of poisonous material, such as alcohol and drugs are consumed, the liver may be damaged.

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