Overview of the Accessory Digestive Organs

Organs That Are Important to Digestion, yet Not Part of the Digestive Tract

Digestive System
Your Digestive System Works Hard. Image © Purestock / Getty Images

There are several digestive organs that assist in the digestive process but are not considered part of the actual 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. Learn about these organs in order to better understand how digestion works, and how your digestion can be affected by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

They include 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 a clear liquid in our mouths that we don't think much about but it contains many substances important to digestion and, in fact, starts the work of breaking down food. 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 can 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 pancreas does not respond as it should. Glucagon is another hormone produced in the pancreas, and its function is to raise blood sugar when the blood sugar level is very low. In people who have 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. People can live without a pancreas, but surgery to remove the entire pancreas is typically not done anymore.

Liver

The liver is 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 that run from the liver to the duodenum, a section of 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 it works to remove byproducts that are produced by alcoholic beverages and medications. In addition, the liver helps to break down old or damaged blood cells and produces substances that help blood to clot. The liver is an extremely important organ and people can not live without it. Diseases and conditions of the liver include hepatitis, cirrhosis, hemochromatosis, and cancer.

Gallbladder

The gallbladder is a much smaller organ that is located in a spot 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). Surgery to remove the gallbladder is common and people can live well without their gallbladder. Some people may initially need to adjust their diet after gallbladder surgery but most people recover quickly and without incident.

 

A Note From Verywell

We often think of digestion as being the movement of food through the body. The path that food takes from your mouth and through the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine is just one part of the process. Digestion begins in the mouth with the formation of saliva and the accessory organs provide all the necessary fluids to digest food and render it into a form that is useful for the body. 

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