Accessory Digestive Organs

Several Organs Are Important To Digestion, Yet Not Part of The Digestive Tract

Digestive System
Your digestive system works hard, and it is assisted by other organs that provide hormones and digestive juices. Image © Purestock / Getty Images

There are several digestive organs that assist in the digestive process, but are not considered part of the digestive tract. The digestive tract runs from the mouth to the anus, in one long, continuous tube.  There are several organs that have a role in the digestive process, yet are not part of the digestive tract. In order to better understand how digestion works, and how your digestion can be affected by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), These organs are the salivary glands, pancreas, liver, and gallbladder.

Salivary glands. Saliva, which is made in the salivary glands, is passed through ducts and into the mouth. Saliva is important to digestion because it aids in the chewing of food, contains antibodies, and helps keep the mouth clean. Diseases and conditions that affect the salivary glands include infections, obstructions, cancer, mumps and Sjogren's syndrome.

Pancreas. The pancreas is located behind the stomach and it is important to digestion because it is where digestive enzymes and hormones are produced. The digestive enzymes help break down food. Insulin, which is the hormone that helps balance blood sugar levels, is created in the pancreas. People with Type 1 diabetes can not make insulin, and need insulin shots to balance their sugar levels. People with Type 2 diabetes also need insulin because their body is either resistant to insulin or their does not respond as it should. Glucagon is another hormone produced in the pancreas, and its function is to raise blood sugar when it is very low.

In people with diabetes, glucagon can actually raise blood sugar levels too high. Insulin and glucagon work together to regulate blood sugar. Some of the diseases and conditions that can affect the pancreas include pancreatitis, cancer, and cystic fibrosis.

Liver. One of the largest organs in the body, the liver's many functions include creating bile, storing nutrients, storing glycogen, and converting toxins into harmless substances or enabling their removal from the body.

Bile is passed through ducts from the liver to the small intestine. Blood passes from the digestive tract and through the liver, where vitamins and nutrients are processed and stored. The liver is also the detox center of the body, and works to remove alcohol and medication byproducts. Diseases and conditions of the liver include hepatitis, cirrhosis, hemochromatosis, and cancer.

Gallbladder. The gallbladder is a much smaller organ that is located just under the liver. This little organ stores the bile after it is made in the liver. After a meal, the small intestine releases a special hormone called cholecystokinin. This hormone prompts the gallbladder to send bile through ducts and into the small intestine. Once in the small intestine, the bile works to break down the fats in foods. Some of the diseases and conditions that can affect the gallbladder include gallstones and cancer (though this is rare).

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