Hormones regulate a significant portion of digestion through activation of the neuroendocrine system. The neuroendocrine system of digestion contains many different hormones all with multiple functions that are both, directly and indirectly, involved in digestion.
Starting in the stomach, when proteins are detected by sensory neurons of the enteric nervous system, the pyloric gland is stimulated to release gastrin. In turn, this hormone induces the release of histamine. Combined, they initiate the production of hydrochloric acid which facilitates digestion—turning food into chyme. When the pH of the stomach becomes more acidic, a negative feedback loop halts the production of both hormones.
The chyme then moves to the duodenum, where several hormones are released—each with multiple functions. Some inhibit digestion in the stomach. Gastric inhibitory peptide (GIP) slows stomach churning. Secretin inhibits gastric juice production and, along with cholecystokinin (CCK), induces the pyloric sphincter between the stomach and duodenum to close. This limits the volume of chyme in the duodenum, pacing the rate of digestion.
Once the chyme is in the duodenum, secretin prompts the release of bicarbonate from the pancreas. This reduces the acidity of the chyme, protecting the sensitive lining of the duodenum and setting up an optimal environment in which digestive enzymes can function. Digestive enzymes and bile are released from the pancreas and gallbladder when stimulated by CCK, allowing digestion to continue through the small intestine.
At the end of the small intestine, in the ileum, another hormone is released: peptide YY (PYY) just as chyme is passing into the large intestine. This hormone is released over time, peaking about 1-2 hours after eating. Its function is to slow the passage of chyme into the large intestine so water and electrolytes can be maximally absorbed. It also serves as a satiety signal to the brain, indicating to the organism to stop eating. PYY may play a role in obesity. Low levels of PYY have been observed in obese compared to non-obese individuals. A synthetic analog of PYY is being investigated as a possible treatment for obesity.
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