The small intestine, also known as the small bowel, sits between the stomach and the large intestine (or large bowel). The small intestine is called small because its diameter (2.5 cm) is smaller than that of the large intestine even though it’s longer in length than the large intestine. Its length can vary by averages in measure of about 22 feet or 7 meters – 3 1/2 times the length of your body.
The principal function of the small intestine is to breakdown food, absorb nutrients needed for the body, and get rid of unnecessary components. It consists of three portions. The first part is the duodenum which connects to the stomach. The middle part is the jejunum. The third part is the ileum which attaches to the colon.
The duodenum is a short section (about 10 – 15 inches) where bile and enzymes break down the food. It uses bile from your gallbladder, liver, and pancreatic juice to help digest food. The partially digested food then travels to the jejunum.
The jejunum is the middle section (about 3-5.6 feet long) that carries food through quickly with wavelike muscle contractions going towards the ileum. This is where fat, carbohydrates, and proteins from the food material are broken down and absorbed by the intestinal lining.
The ileum is the last section and the longest part of the small intestine. This is where most of the nutrients from your food are absorbed before going into the large intestine. Water and nutrients, such as vitamin B12, are absorbed here, and thus nutrients absorbed into your bloodstream.
Bile which is released by the gallbladder into the duodenum to help digest ingested fats, is then reabsorbed in the ileum to prevent its loss from the body.
These sections are lined with mechanisms called villi that absorb nutrients. These are also prone to damage very easily.
This organ is essential to our digestive system…for efficient digestion and your overall health. Basically, the small intestine is what does most of the digestive process. It absorbs most of the nutrients (such as electrolytes, vitamins, fats, and minerals) from your food into your bloodstream, a.k.a, your circulatory system, with enzymes from the liver. Then the walls of the small intestine make the digestive juices, or enzymes, that work together with the pancreas. These special cells help absorb nutrients cross the intestinal lining into your bloodstream. After eating, it usually takes between 6 to 8 hours for the food to pass through your stomach and the small intestine. The food will then go into your large intestine for more digestion, water absorption, and then elimination of undigested food.
The small intestine is the most important absorbing organ in the gastrointestinal tract because approximately 90% of nutrient absorption occurs here. This is actually a very interesting thought because it is often wondered where the food goes in our systems since we do eliminate. It is true our cells make up the food that we eat. Therefore, it is crucial and imperative to make sure that we eat healthy foods as it does become a part of us.
That’s why it’s also important to remember how the lymph system and the small intestine are connected. The lymphatic drainage begins at the mucosa lining of the small intestine and then it drains into the lymph nodes that are near the small intestine which then the lymph fluid will drain into the venous system. The small intestine acts as a major transportation system for the lymph fluid, which contains absorbed fats and immune cells. Therefore, it can be understood how cancer cells that originate in certain areas of the body such as the small intestine can circulate because it will be spread to other areas of the body such as the lymph nodes because of this lymph system.
There are two types of digestion. Digestion is the breaking down of substances which involves both mechanical and chemical digestion. Mechanical digestion is physically breaking down food substances into smaller particles to undergo chemical digestion more efficiently. Thus, we keep emphasizing that digestion starts in the mouth. The chewing process is necessary to break down our food to help our digestive system do its job properly without extra strain. Saliva is also part of that chemical process that helps to break things down as it prepares to go down into the stomach and into the digestive system. It is important to be able to take your time when you eat.
Now, since your small intestine is dealing with your food, what you eat has a tremendous impact on its health. It is best to avoid any allergens and unhealthy foods to protect and prevent upset and damage.
We discussed a previous time about how your gallbladder is essential to the digestive system. Although the body can function without it there still needs to be good care taken because the bile will get dumped directly from the liver into the small intestine which can create a bit more work for the small intestine. That’s why diarrhea or loose stools can happen because of the malabsorption and lack of proper breakdown. Digestive allergies can occur. Food allergies, low fiber diets, certain medications, eating too much sugar and dairy, not eating probiotic rich foods, stress, and antibiotics, cause your natural bacteria to be depleted and thus contribute to disorders of the small intestine. Bad bacteria WILL grow, and risk of infection and disease rises. INFLAMMATION can cause the villi (little projections) along the walls of the intestine to shrink. Malabsorption will occur because nutrients will be prevented from being absorbed.
When the small intestine is damaged it interferes with digestion leading to diarrhea, gas, bloating, constipation. Further will be a devastating effect on your health and immune system. When you have malabsorption, you become malnourished. This in turn leads to an increased risk of disease and illness. Health issue such as leaky gut syndrome and auto-immune disease, will occur, if anything other than nutrients enter your bloodstream. What will be next? Widespread INFLAMMATION.
As well as:
- Celiac disease
- Crohn’s disease
- Bacteria overgrowth and Infections
- Intestinal obstruction/blockage
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Ulcers (such as peptic and duodenal)
If not looked after and treated, any condition that causes damage and inflammation to the intestine could lead to cancer.
Can you heal your small intestine? Most definitely. Cut out toxic foods. Eat more vegetables that are anti-inflammatory and reduce a lot of red meat consumption. Eat more healthy fats, but in balance. Manage your stress. Use proper digestive enzymes. Restore balance to your gut bacteria by adding probiotics and probiotic rich foods into your diet. This will restore gut balance and healthy function, prevent (and heal) inflammation, which will allow healing in your gut and thus immune system will strengthen.
Healthy bacteria will produce B vitamins as well. In addition to probiotics, add prebiotic-rich foods to feed your gut bacteria, such as:
- Dandelion – contains Inulin, a healthy dietary fiber. It is anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant.
- Garlic – promotes healthy gut bacteria.
- Onions and leeks – contain Quercetin – reduces oxidative stress and damage to intestinal wall. Leeks also breakdown fat to help bacteria easier to digest.
- Asparagus – anti-cancer properties.
- Organic and non-GMO bananas – also have inulin and prevent bloating.
- Apples – improve fat metabolism, and pectin increases EFAs feeding and benefiting your healthy gut flora.
- Walnuts and flaxseeds – these feed and nourish your gut flora and have anti-cancer properties, help good bowel movements, and are high in Omega-3.
Other wonderful foods that are highly beneficial are raspberries, celery, carrots, peas, beans, and fish. These are all very important to prevent any type of intestinal permeability and leaky gut.
Reduce stress, exercise properly, eat a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and healthy complex carbohydrates that do not inflame the gut. This lifestyle will strengthen your intestinal health.
Take very good care of your digestive health and it will then take good care of you.
Stick with the 31-Day Body and Digestive Spa, otherwise known as The Reset Your Health Program. Decompress your system, get rid of your systemic inflammation, and breathe. Let your body heal. Love your body, love your health…it will love you back!
Until next time. Wishing you the best in health!