Why Are Humans Unable to Digest Cellulose?
Cellulose is a type of carbohydrate found in plant-based products, and is the most abundant organic material on the planet. However, despite its prevalence in our foods, humans are unable to digest cellulose – and this is down to some unique anatomical features.
What is Cellulose?
Cellulose is an insoluble dietary fibre which provides structure to plants, protecting their cells and helping them to retain water. It’s also the main ingredient in many substances we use on a daily basis, from cardboard to paper to linens.
Cellulose is a type of molecule called a polysaccharide. This means it’s composed of several monosaccharide sugars, held together by a type of covalent bond. This bond is very strong and cannot easily be broken down – and this is the main reason why humans cannot digest cellulose.
Cellulose can be broken down by microorganisms in the gut, providing a source of nourishment, but it is not easily digestible by humans.
Why Humans Can’t Digest Cellulose
Humans lack the necessary enzymes to break down cellulose. This means that, when a food containing cellulose is eaten, it passes through the body mostly undigested. We are still able to benefit from the dietary fibre content of the cellulose, but not from its carbohydrate energy.
The human digestive system does not have the necessary enzymes, but other animals have them. For example, grazing animals have specific bacteria in their stomachs, which break down cellulose and convert it into an energy source.
Benefits of Cellulose
Even though we are not able to get nutrition directly from cellulose, there are still some benefits to including it in our diets. Cellulose helps to increase and maintain regularity as it adds bulk to stool. In addition, it can also aid with digestion by keeping us fuller for longer and making us less likely to snack.
- Cellulose is an insoluble dietary fibre, made of several monosaccharide sugars, held together by a type of covalent bond.
- Humans are unable to digest cellulose because we lack the necessary enzymes to break down the covalent bond that holds the molecule together
- Grazing animals have the necessary enzymes to break down the cellulose and turn it into a source of energy.
- Cellulose can still provide other beneficial effects, such as increasing regularity and helping to keep us full for longer.
In conclusion, humans are unable to digest cellulose because we lack the necessary enzymes. However, cellulose also has other benefits which can help us maintain better digestive health.
1. What component of cellulose prevents humans from digesting it?
The component of cellulose that prevents humans from digesting it is its linear polysaccharide structure. Cellulose is composed of long chains of glucose molecules linked together, and humans lack the enzyme required to break down these bonds and absorb the glucose.
4. What type of digestive mechanism is required to break down cellulose?
Cellulose is a type of fiber that cannot be broken down by the digestive enzymes of humans. Ruminants, like cows, have a specialized digestive system called a rumen that uses symbiotic bacteria to break down cellulose.