Creative Eldering: Your small intestine

Your small intestine may be “small” in diameter, but it certainly is long in length.  The diameter of your small intestine is about the size of your middle finger.  Your small intestine is probably 20 to 25 feet long (6.096-7.62 meters).

Your small intestine, sometimes called small bowel, has three main segments.  These are the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. 

Your duodenum is the shortest segment of your small intestine, measuring at approximately one foot (9 to 11 inches, 23-28 centimeters) long.  Your duodenum oversees most of your chemical digestive processing.  Your duodenum is especially suited for absorbing iron from your diet.

Your jejunum is about 8.2 feet long (2.5 meters).  Its primary job is to absorb most of the nutrients from the food you have eaten.  Your jejunum is especially proficient in absorbing your folic acid.

Your ileum is about 6.5 to 13.1 feet long (2 to 4 meters).  Your ileum works hard to get remaining nutrients into your circulation.  It also finalizes digestion of proteins carbohydrates and fats.  Your ileum is the best suited area of your small intestine to absorb vitamin B12.  

Of course, these three segments are portions of a seamless continual tube, your digestive tract, that runs from your mouth through the chest cavity (your esophagus) throughout the abdominal region and ultimately allowing the byproducts and wastes of your digestion to leave the body.  These three segments of the small intestine have been identified by slight differences in their cellular and tissue composition (histology) and physiological functions.

The most important fact for you to learn about your small intestine’s anatomy is that its lining is designed to have a maximum surface area for absorption of nutrients.  The lining of your entire gastrointestinal tract beginning in your mouth is called a mucosal lining or a mucous membrane.  These membranes are tender and vulnerable but are very able to absorb and transfer molecules and fluids from one side of the membrane to the other.

Since you can easily access the lining in your mouth, we will use that tender mucous membrane lining as a metaphor for your small intestine’s absorptive surface.  If you can remember a time when you bit the inside of your cheek by accident, or burned it on hot food, or your dentist’s deft hand slipped causing an instrument or drill to gouge your mucous membrane, these occurrences may help you understand how easily the lining in your small intestine can be damaged.  This lining can be disrupted by numerous medications, especially nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, steroid medications, and antibiotics.  Other toxins and processed foods may inflict inflammation on your small intestine.

When the lining of the small intestine has been damaged by a processed foods diet, or a nutrient- depleted diet, certain medications, impaired digestion, or infections, the entire digestive and absorption process is adversely affected.  A condition termed Leaky Gut Syndrome or increased intestinal permeability, may develop and provide dire health consequences.  You may be interested to search the archives of this publication for my article on Leaky Gut Syndrome that was published in July of 2018.  The Leaky Gut Syndrome chapter in my book, YOUR BODY CAN TALK, second edition describes the entire scenario and provides many self-help measures that nurture your small intestine.

May you maintain your good health and strive for ways to keep your intestinal system strong so that it can protect you by efficiently digesting and absorbing your healthy diet, and by assisting your body to maintain optimal immune function.

Article by Susan L. Levy, D. C.
Author of “Your Body Can Talk, 2nd Edition” and “Your Aging Body Can Talk”  |

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