The digestive system

The stages of digestion

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The oesophagus


The action of swallowing food is called deglutition. The epiglottis closes to send the bolus of food toward the back of the throat, an area called the pharynx. In doing this, the epiglottis blocks the larynx, a tube leading to the lungs.

Sometimes food may get into the larynx. This is called the false passage of food or simply food going down the wrong way. At this stage in the digestive tract, the air we breathe and the food we swallow mix together.

The bolus of food then passes down the oesophagus. It moves in successive waves until it reaches the stomach. These rhythmic contractions are called peristaltic waves. The force of gravity helps these mechanical movements to move food through the digestive tract.


It is worth pointing out that saliva also has a role to play at this stage of digestion. It makes swallowing easier and protects the mucous membrane covering the digestive tract. Initially, swallowing is a voluntary action, meaning that we control when we swallow our food. However, once the food has reached the pharynx, the movement is a reflex, so we do not have to consciously think, “I have to lower my epiglottis to make sure food doesn’t go down the wrong way!”

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