Issue 87 / May - June 2012
The Suitability of Food to the Digestion System
Nourishment lies at the center of the lives of animate creatures. The continuation of life is bound to sustenance and then the healthy functioning of digestion organs that turn food into a usable state for living creatures. Different foods like grass, meat and grains each require particular enzymes and mechanisms for digestion. The suitability of food that organisms eat to their digestion systems indicates the existence of a comprehensive knowledge that makes these two apparently irrelevant entities relate to one another. Beginning with food being taken into the mouth, the digestive process triggers a well-tuned, natural refining system, making the digestive system an inspiration to contemplation. To this end, comparing grain-eating birds and grass-eating ruminates can be an interesting topic for consideration.
Digestion in grain-eating birds
The digestive system of the chicken, which is a representative of the world of birds, is comprised of organs lined up in straight line succession: a beak, mouth, gullet, craw, front stomach (with gland), gizzard, small intestine, caecum, large intestine, cloacae and anus. In addition, enzymes secreted from the pancreas, liver and gallbladder also have digestive duties. Ending in a sharp point, the beak was created especially to be able to pick up single pieces of feed. Chickens do not have assisting organs like the palate, cheek, tongue or teeth that are normally found in the mouth, the first door of digestion in most animals. Ruminating animals like cows, sheep, goats and camels use the tongue instead of a beak for taking food into their mouths, and then their teeth are used to begin the breakdown of food. In chickens, however, this breakdown is initiated with the bottom and top beak. In ruminants there are taste buds in different shapes on the tip, sides and middle of their tongues which also function as the organ for the sense of taste. Since such taste buds are not found in chickens, there is also no perception of taste like that experienced in ruminating animals.
The structure and function of the gullet, or food pipe, has similar characteristics in chickens and other animals. However, just as in all birds that eat single seeds and grains, there is another digestive organ in chickens in the shape of a bag opposite to where the gullet expands. Called a craw, this tiny pouch is a place for the storage, wetting and softening of feed, and it serves the purpose of bringing food to the consistency needed for further digestion; consequently, it lightens the burden of the stomach (just like when we leave food that is difficult to cook, like chick peas or beans, standing in water overnight before we cook it).
A chicken's stomach is composed of two different sections, the front stomach and the gizzard. The feed the chicken eats passes from the gullet and the craw to the front stomach, where digestive secretions are made. The food is stored here briefly and mixed with the special fluids of the stomach. Found in this secretion are both the pepsin enzyme, which starts the digestion of proteins, and hydrochloric acid, which is secreted to generate the pH level that makes this enzyme effective (and which also helps in the dissolution of minerals). These two important secretions are produced by different glands in the stomach. Like the craw, the gizzard, which comes after the front stomach, is the place where mechanical digestion, which is particular to all birds that eat grains, takes place. The gizzard is called the stomach with muscles because it is comprised of a pair of thick and strong muscle layers. As a result of these muscles constricting strongly, feed is broken down mechanically and ground up. While gathering feed, the chicken usually also swallows small pieces of sand, stone and limestone as if it knows how its digestive system works. Although many of us think that chickens swallow stones because they cannot distinguish them from feed, it is obvious that there is a purpose why they are doing it. If these stones, which are like "mill stones" for the digestive tract, are not found in the gizzard, the feed is not fully ground; consequently, it will pass to the small intestine in a form that will not be fully beneficial to the body.
Depending on its characteristics, the feed eaten can stay in the gizzard for a few minutes or several hours. The small intestine, which comes after the stomach, is comprised of the duodenum (twelve-finger intestine), the jejunum and the ileum. The small intestine is similar in grain-eating birds to those of other animals. The duodenum empties the secretions coming from the pancreas and the bile coming from the gall bladder. The digestion and absorption of the feed actually takes place in the small intestine due to these secretions. Final digestion and the absorption of carbohydrates and protein are effected by bacteria found at the point where the small intestine ends, in the 10-15 centimeter-long, V-shaped caecum.
The large intestine and the cloacae are found in the advanced sections of the digestive system. The role of the large intestine, which is twice as large in diameter as the small intestine, is to temporarily store the waste from the digested food and to maintain the balance of water in the body. The cloacae is a small orifice with a structure formed by the widening of the large intestine towards the anus and where the digestive, defecation and reproduction tracts open up.
While giving grain-eating birds the above mechanisms in order to nourish them, God equipped ruminating animals with different oral, dental, gastric and intestinal structures as well as different digestive strategies.
Digestion in ruminating mammals
While secreting saliva is essential for ruminating animals, it is not necessary for chickens because of differences in their digestive system. As a result of the secretion of saliva the fodder of ruminants is softened and dryness of mouth is prevented. Ptyalin (or alpha amylase), which is found in saliva, has antibacterial properties that protect animals from infections in addition to playing a role in digestion. The mother cows constantly licking their newborn calves is both an expression of compassion and also of wisdom in protecting the newborn from probable infections (Similarly, animals like dogs and cats licking their wounds and thus speeding up healing is no coincidence, but a sign of universal wisdom and mercy). This wisdom shows that saliva, of which cows secrete 90-180 liters and sheep 5-8 liters per day, is not a waste.
The stomachs of ruminants are comprised of four sections; the first three are the rumen, the reticulum and the omasum. These three sections are called the front stomach. The section that does the real work is called the abomasum. Because the nutritional value of grass is very low in comparison with meat, it is obvious that a large bodied ruminant will need a lot of grass. Consequently, the capacity of rumen being 150 liters is a wise and fitting design. In addition, the cellulase enzyme that digests the cellulose walls in plant cells is not produced in the tissues of any mammals. The possessor of infinite knowledge and power, God placed high concentrations of bacteria, protozoa, yeast and fungus-all of which can produce the cellulase enzyme needed to break down cellulose-in the rumen of ruminating mammals. The rumen acts as a fermentation factory because of these microorganisms. Breaking down the cellulose-rich food consumed by ruminants, these microorganisms both fulfill their own nutritional needs and help to meet the host's energy, protein and vitamin (especially B12) needs within a symbiotic relationship. I wonder where the microorganisms in the rumen learned about this synthesis and assistance mechanisms!
What a magnificent engineering wonder is the "sulcus esophagus," a semi-duct structure in the shape of a canoe that extends from the end of the food pipe in newborn ruminants to the abomasum where the essential stage of digestion takes place. Due to this structure, milk drunk reaches the last stage of the stomach without passing through the rumen, for there is no matter like cellulose in the content of milk that needs to be broken down. Consequently, there is no need for the milk to go to the rumen. If it were not like this, the milk would go directly to the rumen where it would be ruined by microorganisms, lose its nutritional quality and be like a bribe given in vain to the microorganisms in the rumen.