Salivary amylase is an enzyme responsible for breaking down starch, according to Dr. Michael J. Gregory, a professor of science at Clinton Community College. Starch is a polysaccharide, which is a type of carbohydrate made up of monosaccharide or disaccharide units linked by glycosidic bonds, explains About.com contributor Dr. Anne Marie Helmenstine.
Salivary amylase breaks starch into a disaccharide called maltose. This enzyme is found in the saliva produced by the salivary glands located in and around the mouth. Saliva also contains antibacterial agents, a lubricant and substances that neutralize acidic foods, according to Janet L. Stein Carter, an associate professor of biology at the University of Cincinnati – Clermont College.
The breakdown of starch is just one of the many steps in the process of digestion. Although digestion begins in the mouth, it continues in the stomach and intestines, according to Dr. Lawrence Wilson. After food moves from the mouth to the esophagus, it is mixed with enzymes and strong acids. This is where proteins are broken down into polypeptides or amino acids. Bile and enzymes made in the pancreas are added to the food mixture in the small intestine. These substances break down proteins, starches, fats and some sugars. The large intestine absorbs nutrients and finishes digesting any food that was not digested earlier in the process.