16.3 Absorption of digestive products

Absorption is the process by which the end products of digestion pass through the intestinal mucosa into the blood or lymph. It is carried out by passive, active or facilitated transport mechanisms.

Small amounts of monosacharides like glucose, amino acids and some of electrolytes like chloride ions are generally absorbed by simple diffusion. The passage of these substances into the blood depends upon the concentration gradients.

However, some of the substances like fructose and some amino acids are absorbed with the help of the carrier ions like Na+. This mechanism is called the facilitated transport.

Transport of water depends upon the osmotic gradient. Active transport occurs against the concentration gradient and hence requires energy.

Various nutrients like amino acids, monosacharides like glucose, electrolytes like Na+ are absorbed into the blood by this mechanism. Fatty acids and glycerol being insoluble, cannot be absorbed into the blood.

They are first incorporated into small droplets called micelles which move into the intestinal mucosa. They are re-formed into very small protein coated fat globules called the chylomicrons which are transported into the lymph vessels (lacteals) in the villi.

These lymph vessels ultimately release the absorbed substances into the blood stream. Absorption of substances takes place in different parts of the alimentary canal, like mouth, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. However, maximum absorption occurs in the small intestine.

A summary of absorption (sites of absorption and substances absorbed) is given in Table.

MouthStomachSmall IntestineLarge Intestine
Certain drugs coming in contact with the mucosa of mouth and lower side of the tongue are absorbed into the blood capillaries lining them.Absorption of water, simple sugars, and alcohol etc. takes place.Principal organ for absorption of nutrients. The digestion is completed here and the final products of digestion such as glucose, fructose, fatty acids, glycerol and amino acids are absorbed through the mucosa into the blood stream and lymph.Absorption of water, some minerals and drugs takes place.

The absorbed substances finally reach the tissues which utilise them for their activities. This process is called assimilation.

The digestive wastes, solidified into coherent faeces in the rectum initiate a neural reflex causing an urge or desire for its removal.

The egestion of faeces to the outside through the anal opening (defaecation) is a voluntary process and is carried out by a mass peristaltic movement.

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