Digestive System Anatomy & Function – MCAT Biology | MedSchoolCoach

Digestive System Anatomy & Function

MCAT Biology - Chapter 7 - Section 6.1 - Organ Systems - Digestive System
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Sample MCAT Question - Digestive System Anatomy & Function

Which of the following is not a function of the pancreas?

a) Produce insulin

b) Produce glucagon

c) Release digestive enzymes

d) Release bile

D is correct. Release bile. The pancreas has both endocrine and exocrine functions. Its endocrine functions include the production of both insulin and glucagon which serve to regulate blood glucose levels (choices A and B are incorrect). Its exocrine function is to release digestive juices that contain digestive enzymes (choice C is incorrect). The enzymes are released into the small intestine to aid in the breakdown of food molecules.

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Basic Function of the Digestive System

The general purpose of the human digestive system is to break down food particles for absorption. There are several ways the digestive system accomplishes this task. First, it mixes and reduces the size of ingested food through mechanical processes. Second, it secretes compounds and enzymes that help break down food and aid in the absorption of water. Lastly, it absorbs nutrients, electrolytes, and water directly from the intestinal lumen into the bloodstream.

Anatomy of the Digestive System

Figure 1 shows the anatomy of the digestive system. There are two main components – the alimentary canal, also called the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and the accessory organs. The GI tract is a tube that carries food throughout the body for digestion and absorption. It starts with the mouth and progresses to the esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestines, and ends with the anus. 


The other digestive system component, the accessory organs, secrete compounds that aid in the digestion of food particles. These organs include the salivary glands, liver, pancreas, and gallbladder. The salivary glands produce saliva, which contains enzymes and proteins that start the chemical digestion process. The liver has many functions, including the production of bile, detoxification of harmful substances, the storage of glycogen, and gluconeogenesis. The pancreas has both exocrine and endocrine functions. The endocrine role of the pancreas is to produce the hormones insulin and glucagon, in order to regulate blood glucose concentrations. The exocrine role of the pancreas is to release digestive juices, including enzymes that break down molecules for absorption. Lastly, the gallbladder functions to store and release bile for digestion.

Gross anatomy of the digestive system for the MCAT, including the GI tract as well as accessory organs like the pancreas.
Figure 1. Gross Anatomy of the Digestive System

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