Deconstructing the physical processes of digestion: reductionist approaches may provide greater understanding
I provide a broad overview of the physical factors that govern intestinal digestion i.e. the admixture of food particles in digesta with secreted enzymes and the subsequent mass transfer of liberated nutrients from the surfaces of particles to the gut wall, with a view to outlining the quantitative work that is required to determine the relative importance of these factors in the digestion of particular foods. I first discuss what is known of the mechanical forces generated by contraction of the walls of the various segments of the gut and the level of diffusive, and advective mixing that it generates within the lumen. I then discuss the particular physical effects that may limit the digestion of solid, physically and/or chemically homogenous and heterogeneous food particles, notably capillarity, porosity, poro-elastic flow and compaction and their likely effects on diffusive and convective mass transfer at particulate surfaces. Similarly, I discuss mucins and morphology on mass transfer of nutrients to the gut wall i.e. the mucosa.