• The process of digestion is accomplished by mechanical and chemical processes.
  • The buccal cavity performs two major functions, mastication of food and facilitation of swallowing. The teeth and the tongue with the help of saliva masticate and mix up the food thoroughly.
  • Mucus in saliva helps in lubricating and adhering the masticated food particles into a bolus.
  • The bolus is then conveyed into the pharynx and then into the oesophagus by swallowing or deglutition.
  • The bolus further passes down through the oesophagus by successive waves of muscular contractions called peristalsis.
  • The gastro-oesophageal sphincter controls the passage of food into the stomach.
  • The saliva secreted into the oral cavity contains electrolytes and enzymes, salivary amylase and lysozyme.
  • The chemical process of digestion is initiated in the oral cavity by the hydrolytic action of the carbohydrate splitting enzyme, the salivary amylase. About 30 per cent of starch is hydrolysed here by this enzyme (optimum pH 6.8) into a disaccharide – maltose. Lysozyme present in saliva acts as an antibacterial agent that prevents infections
  • The mucosa of stomach has gastric glands.

Gastric glands have three major types of cells namely –

(i) mucus neck cells which secrete mucus;
(ii) peptic or chief cells which secrete the proenzyme pepsinogen; and
(iii) parietal or oxyntic cells which secrete HCl and intrinsic factor (factor essential for absorption of vitamin B12). The stomach stores the food for 4-5 hours. The food mixes thoroughly with the acidic gastric juice of the stomach by the churning movements of its muscular wall and is called the chyme.

The proenzyme pepsinogen, on exposure to hydrochloric acid gets converted into the active enzyme pepsin, the proteolytic enzyme of the stomach.

Pepsin converts proteins into proteoses and peptones (peptides). The mucus and bicarbonates present in the gastric juice play an important role in lubrication and protection of the mucosal epithelium from excoriation by the highly concentrated hydrochloric acid.

HCl provides the acidic pH (pH 1.8) optimal for pepsins. Rennin is a proteolytic enzyme found in gastric juice of infants which helps in the digestion of milk proteins. Small amounts of lipases are also secreted by gastric glands.

Various types of movements are generated by the muscularis layer of the small intestine. These movements help in a thorough mixing up of the food with various secretions in the intestine and thereby facilitate digestion. The bile, pancreatic juice and the intestinal juice are the secretions released into the small intestine. Pancreatic juice and bile are released through the hepato-pancreatic duct.

The pancreatic juice contains inactive enzymes – trypsinogen, chymotrypsinogen, procarboxypeptidases, amylases, lipases and nucleases. Trypsinogen is activated by an enzyme, enterokinase, secreted by the intestinal mucosa into active trypsin, which in turn activates the other enzymes in the pancreatic juice. The bile released into the duodenum contains bile pigments (bilirubin and bili-verdin), bile salts, cholesterol and phospholipids but no enzymes. Bile helps in emulsification of fats, i.e., breaking down of the fats into very small micelles.

Bile also activates lipases. The intestinal mucosal epithelium has goblet cells which secrete mucus. The secretions of the brush border cells of the mucosa alongwith the secretions of the goblet cells constitute the intestinal juice or succus entericus.

This juice contains a variety of enzymes like disaccharidases (e.g., maltase), dipeptidases, lipases, nucleosidases, etc. The mucus alongwith the bicarbonates from the pancreas protects the intestinal mucosa from acid as well as provide an alkaline medium (pH 7.8) for enzymatic activities. Sub-mucosal glands (Brunner’s glands) also help in this.


The inflammation of the intestinal tract is the most common ailment due to bacterial or viral infections. The infections are also caused by the parasites of the intestine like tape worm, round worm, thread worm, hook worm, pin worm, etc.

1-Jaundice: The liver is affected; skin and eyes turn yellow due to the deposit of bile pigments.

2Vomiting: It is the ejection of stomach contents through the mouth. This reflex action is controlled by the vomit centre in the medulla. A feeling of nausea precedes vomiting.

3-Diarrhoea: The abnormal frequency of bowel movement and increased liquidity of the faecal discharge is known as diarrhoea. It reduces the absorption of food.

4-Constipation: In constipation, the faeces are retained within the rectum as the bowel movements occur irregularly.

5-Indigestion: In this condition, the food is not properly digested leading to a feeling of fullness. The causes of indigestion are inadequate enzyme secretion, anxiety, food poisoning, over eating, and spicy food.


  • Deficiency of protein and energy or both, called PEM, has been identified as major health and nutritional problems in India. Protein and energy intake are difficult to separate because diets adequate in energy are adequate in protein. Young children (0-6 years) require more protein for each kilogram of body weight than adults. So they are more vulnerable to malnutrition.
  • Malnutrition is not only an important cause of childhood mortality and morbidity, but it also leads to permanent impairment of physical and mental growth of those who survive. The details of the disorders are given below.
  • PEM: it is an important nutritional problem among pre-school children.
  • It leads to various degrees of growth retardation. This is due to lack of adequate quantity of protein or carbohydrate or both.

PEM is of 2 types: Kwashiorkor and marasmus

Deficient Nutrient Name of Deficiency Deficiency Symptoms
Protein (PEM) Kwashiorkor

(usually observed in children in the age group of 1-5 years)

Wasted muscles, thin Limbs, retarded growth of body and brain, swelling of legs due to retention of water (oedema), reddish hair, pot belly and diarrhea.
Protein and Calorie (PEM) Marasmus (it usually affects infants below the age of one year) Impaired growth and replacement of tissue proteins, thin limbs and prominent ribs (emaciated body), dry, wrinkled and thin skin, diarrhea.

The child suffering from PEM can recover if adequate quantities of protein and carbohydrate rich food are given.


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