Anatomy of the Throat, Esophagus & Stomach

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  • 0:02 Digestive Tract
  • 0:56 Throat
  • 2:02 Esophagus
  • 3:20 Stomach
  • 5:21 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 digestive tract takes the foods you eat on a wild ride. Learn about some of the parts of this ride, including your throat, esophagus and stomach, as you follow a spoonful of cereal through these structures.

Digestive Tract

Have you ever spent the day at a water park? If you have, then you know what a wild ride it is to go down one of those huge water slides. The slide might only last a few seconds, but in that time, you get sloshed around, turned upside down and sprayed, then dropped with a splash into a big pool of water. Well, I bet you never thought about it, but every bite of food you put in your mouth goes on a very similar wild ride. That ride is called your digestive tract, which is the long tube where food is broken down. Along the way, the food gets sloshed around, turned upside down and sprayed with digestive fluids. It even drops with a splash into the watery mixture of your stomach. In this lesson, we will take a look at the parts of this ride as we follow a spoonful of cereal as it enters your mouth.

Throat

When you slurped up a bite of cereal this morning, the pieces got broken down by your teeth and mixed with saliva that came from salivary glands found under your tongue and around your jaw. This mixing and chewing moistens the hard, sharp cereal pieces so they are easier to swallow. Swallowing pushes the cereal into your throat, which is also called the pharynx. Your throat is about five inches long and acts as a passageway for both food and air. Now, you don't want to swallow air, or your belly will blow up like a balloon. Likewise, you don't want to breathe in cereal, because your lungs wouldn't appreciate that. So your throat is helped out by a movable flap of tissue called the Epiglottis. Its job is to direct the food and air into different tubes. When you breathe, the epiglottis opens to allow passage of air to your windpipe. When you swallow, it flops over and closes off your windpipe so food goes down the right tube.

Esophagus

To be more exact, the right tube means that your cereal heads down your esophagus, which is the passageway from the throat to the stomach. This is probably a scary part of the ride because the esophagus is a 10-inch long chute that drops straight down. Fortunately, this is not a free-fall; rather, food is pushed along by waves of muscular contractions known as peristalsis. This action helps to make sure food continues down the tube. In fact, it works so well that you could eat your morning cereal while standing on your head and the food would still make it to your stomach!

After this short trip, the cereal comes to a ring of muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach known as the esophageal sphincter. You have a number of sphincters in your body that act to control the passing of a substance from one area to the next. When a sphincter needs to slow down the passage of something, it will cinch up the opening, just like you might cinch up the belt on your pants by pulling it tighter. It might help you to recall this term if you remember that sphincters are cinchers. In the case of the esophageal sphincter, it allows food to pass into the stomach and then tightens up to prevent food from going backwards.

Stomach

Your stomach is a C-shaped digestive organ. If you put your hand on the left side of your belly and move it up until you feel the last few ribs, then you are over top of your stomach. Since you just ate breakfast, we can assume that it's morning, and your stomach is pretty empty. When this happens, your stomach actually collapses on itself thanks to rugae, which are large folds in the walls of the stomach. An empty stomach has a volume of only about a fifth of a cup. However, if you eat a really big meal, these rugae unfold, and your stomach can expand quite a bit and hold up to a gallon of food.

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