Small Intestine

The small intestine loops back and forth upon itself so much so that it can fit into the abdominal space it occupies. It is held in place by tissues that are attached to the abdominal wall and measures eighteen to twenty-three feet in the average adult, which makes it about four times longer than the person is tall. It is a three-part tube of about one and one-half to two inches in diameter and is divided into three sections:...

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    Full Small Intestine Description

    [Continued from above] . . .

    1. The duodenum, a receiving area for chemicals and partially digested food from the stomach
    2. The jejunum, where most of the nutrients are absorbed into the blood
    3. The ileum, where the remaining nutrients are absorbed before moving into the large intestine.

    The intestines process about 2.5 gallons of food, liquids and bodily waste every day. In order for enough nutrients to be absorbed into the body, it must come in contact with large numbers of intestinal cells which are folded like gathered skirts. Each of these cells contains thousands of tiny finger-like projections called villi, and each villus contains microscopic microvilli. In one square inch of small intestine, there are about 20,000 villi and ten billion microvilli. Each villus brings in fresh, oxygenated blood and sends out nutrient-enriched blood. The villi sway constantly to stir up liquefied food and remove the nutrients, which can be absorbed and then passed through the membranes of the villi into the blood and lymph vessels. The fatty nutrients go to the lymph vessels, and glucose and amino acids go to the blood and on to the liver.

    The muscles, which encircle this tube, constrict about seven to twelve times a minute to move the food back and forth, to churn it, knead it, and to mix it with gastric juices. The small intestine also makes waves that move the food forward, but these are usually weak and infrequent to allow the food to stay in one place until the nutrients can be absorbed. If a toxic substance enters the small intestine, these movements may be strong and rapid to expel the poisons quickly.