Accessory Organs of the Digestive System

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  • 0:39 Chemical Digestion
  • 1:16 Pancreas
  • 2:42 Fat Breakdown
  • 3:05 Liver
  • 3:37 Gallbladder
  • 4:04 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Your pancreas, liver and gallbladder are accessory organs that help with the chemical digestion of food. Learn about the enzymes and other chemicals produced and stored in these organs as well as how they help you break down the foods you eat.

Accessory Organs

Your digestive system is like a factory that works in reverse. What I mean is that instead of taking raw materials and assembling them into a final product, your digestive system takes a product and disassembles it into its smallest parts. Thanks to your digestive system, your body can turn your dinner into individual nutrients that can be used by your body to help it grow, repair and create energy. In this lesson, we will learn about a few organs that help your digestive system disassemble the foods you eat, namely, the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder.

Chemical Digestion

Your digestive tract, or gastrointestinal tract as it is also called, is a continuous tube that runs from the mouth to the anus. As food passes through it, it's subjected to mechanical processes that break it down. Food gets chewed by your teeth and churned, or tossed around, by strong muscular contractions in your stomach. Yet, all of this physical tossing and turning can't break down food into particles small enough to be absorbed into your blood. To accomplish that feat, food is subjected to enzymes and other chemicals, which is a process called chemical digestion.


Your pancreas is one of the most important organs of chemical digestion. It's a long triangular structure, with its head nestled inside the curve of the duodenum. The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine and the site where most of the chemical digestion of food takes place. Your pancreas secretes bicarbonate and digestive enzymes that are critical to the digestive process directly into the duodenum.

If you have ever had a stomachache or heartburn, you might have taken an antacid to neutralize the acids in your stomach. Bicarbonate from the pancreas works in a similar fashion. Bicarbonate neutralizes the acidic gastric juices as they pass out of your stomach and into your small intestine.

The digestive enzymes that come from your pancreas are also vital to digestion. These pancreatic enzymes break down all three macronutrients, which include carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Your pancreas secretes pancreatic amylase, which is an enzyme that completes the digestion of carbohydrates that began in the mouth. It also secretes trypsin, chymotrypsin, and carboxypeptidase, which are enzymes that complete the digestion of proteins that began in your stomach. Your pancreas also takes care of fat digestion with the secretion of lipase, which is the enzyme that breaks down fats.

Fat Breakdown

Fats pass through your digestive tract a bit differently than carbohydrates and proteins. By the time carbs and proteins reach your duodenum, they have already been partially broken down. This is not the case for fats. Fats enter your small intestine virtually unchanged and in large clumps. For this reason, your liver and gallbladder lend a hand with fat breakdown.

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