The Digestive System: The Oesophagus

human_digestive_systemIn my last digestive system post I mentioned the importance of chewing your food properly to help in the process of digestion: Read more here.

Chewing, physically and chemically breaks down your food. In Channel 4’s recent programme of #HowToLoseWeightWell one experiment looked into this and found the group that chewed their food more consumed less calories and felt fuller faster.

It also looked at how our saliva continues to break down food after it has left the mouth.

 

The Oesophagus

Once our food is swallowed it enters the oesophagus, also known as the gullet. This approx. 8 inches long muscular tube forces the food, now a rounded mass of food called a bolus, down towards the stomach using peristalsis. This is the process where the muscles in the wall of the tube massage the bolus by constricting and relaxing in waves pushing the contents on its way. It is a quick process taking 8-10 seconds, or less than 5 seconds using gravity if the body is in an upright position.

The oesophagus has two sphincter muscles at either end of the tube. The upper oesophageal sphincter (UES). The muscles of the UES are under conscious control, used when breathing, eating, burping, and vomiting. While keeping food and secretions from going down the windpipe.

The lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) is a bundle of muscles at the low end of the oesophagus, where it meets the stomach. When the LES is closed, it prevents acid and stomach contents from traveling backwards from the stomach. The LES muscles are not under voluntary control. An incompletely closed LES allows acidic stomach contents to back up (reflux) into the oesophagus. This acid reflux can cause heartburn.

An indication at this point that you have eaten something your body can’t deal with will be the muscles walls constricting and swelling, this can happen due to an allergic reaction. Another can be a burning sensation and warmth in the gullet immediately after swallowing, this can be felt in the effects of  alcohol, which is actually causing the gullet to become inflamed.


Find out about the stomach in the next post about the digestive system.

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