The more I learn about the GI tract, the more I see how it is the center of our health and healing. This is the second post in series about the GI tract, it’s parts, how it works, what can go wrong, and how to keep it healthy. In last week’s blog post, we started on a tour or “ride” of the digestive tract. Here’s a link to Part 1.
“We’ve now entered the small intestine. Lots to look at here. The average small intestine is about 22 feet long! Yes, 22 feet! You see that hole up there? Yes, up in the top above your head? That’s where digestive enzymes from the pancreas and the gall bladder come in to continue digesting, or breaking down, the food from the stomach. The gallbladder holds bile which helps digest fats. The gallbladder stores the bile until your body detects that there’s fat in the small intestine. Then, the gallbladder contracts and releases the bile to break down the fats. You don’t have your gallbladder? Then, there’s nowhere to store the bile. It drips directly from the pancreas into the small intestine all the time. If you eat a fatty meal and have diarrhea soon after it’s because your body can’t handle that much fat because your gallbladder is gone. This first part of the small intestine is called the duodenum. You’ll notice on the sides there’s some additional fluid coming in. That neutralizes the stomach acid so that it doesn’t damage the small intestine.”
“Moving along now, we enter the next section of the small intestine – the jejunum. You see all those folds there? Those are called villi. On the villi are more small folds on the folds called microvilli. The villi and microvilli increase the surface area of the small intestine. Remember how we talked about increasing the surface area of the food by chewing and digestion to allow the digestive enzymes to break the food down into smaller parts? In your small intestine we want a lot of surface area to be able to absorb the nutrients from the food. If you flattened-out all the villi and microvilli of your small intestine, you could cover about two tennis courts. That’s a lot of surface area! It’s in this part of the small intestine that most of the absorption of sugars, amino acids from proteins, and fats happen. Also, this is where a lot of your immune system resides. About 70% of your immune system is in this part of your small intestine. Why? Since you’re absorbing things here – this is where the parts from the food pass into your body – we want to let what we need in and keep things we don’t need or that may be harmful out. The immune cells here act like bouncers at a night club. They let the good things in and keep the bad things out. The next section of your small intestine, the part we are now entering is the ileum. You can see we still have the folds. In this section we absorb vitamins and bile salts that are recycled into more bile in the pancreas. Ahead, you’ll see we’re reaching another sphincter – the ileocecal valve. This valve is between the small and large intestines. We’ll stop here for a minute and let you take a look back.”
“Ready to move on? Here we go into the large intestine. The average large intestine is about 5 feet long. Our microbiome lives in our large intestine. A healthy microbiome weighs about 5 pounds. These little microbes do a lot to help us out. They digest the fiber we’ve been eating and produce some vitamins and other things our body and digestive tract need to stay healthy. So far, they’ve identified about 10,000 species of microbes in a healthy microbiome. You can see all the microbes along the walls of the large intestine here. If this person had taken antibiotics, there’d be hardly any microbes here because the antibiotics often kill off most or all of the microbes. Then, we have to repopulate them through supplements and food. Our large intestine absorbs water and all the good things that the microbes produce through their digestion. Don’t be afraid of the microbes. They’re really friendly. See? That one is waving to you!”
“Finally, we find ourselves in the rectum and anus. This is where the waste products are stored until you are ready to go to the bathroom. And, out we pass and we’re back safely into the ride loading area. Your cabin cover is unlocked. Just lift on that handle and it will lift up. Same for your safety bar. Please stand and exit to your left. I hope you enjoyed this tour of your GI tract! We’ve got some great snacks out in the lobby for you to enjoy. See you next time!”
Now that you’ve toured your GI tract, I hope you have a better understanding of the various parts and functions. In next week’s post, we’ll talk about some things that can go wrong in your GI tract.
I’ve got something for you if you have an unhappy gut. One of the best ways to get a happy gut is to track your food and symptoms. I’ve created a Symptom Log for Digestive Wellness based on my years with IBS and working with clients with digestive issues. I also created a series of videos to go along with the log to help you learn how to use it, figure out what may be triggering your symptoms, and other resources to get a happy and healthy gut. If you want the Symptom Log and other goodies, you can sign up to get it here.