Ode to the small intestine... Oh my duodenum, always on the continuum, digesting foods that once were yum, and turning them into, well, things like energy and nutrients.

small intestine digestionThe small intestine is an amazing and efficient work of art. Initially, it might seem like it just sort of winds its way around the belly, taking up space and moving food along the digestive trajectory. In truth, there is a method to the madness of the small intestine.
Your small intestine twists and turns through your abdomen and it also is lined with little folds and fingerlike projections called villi and microvilli. If you straightened out all the hills and valleys in your small intestine, it would stretch out to about 4.5 miles. Can you seriously believe it? 4 and ½ miles of small intestine at this very moment in your belly. I think that’s worth a gentle belly rub as you continue reading.

If you think about the reality if digestion, the detail of the small intestine begins to make sense. The food we eat must be broken down into the smallest particles in order to extract all the nutrients, enzymes, and other beneficial qualities of the food we eat. The food we eat undergoes its final breakdown in the small intestine. A bite of food, broken down in the stomach, continues to be broken down to the smallest molecular component in the small intestine. This is why so many miles of surface space is required; the food is broken down into smaller and smaller particles and then prepared to be filtered off into the various other appropriate locations. It is in the small intestine that we begin to really reap the benefits of our metabolic function; we begin to extract the ‘energy’ from food and feed it back into our bodies.

small intestine villiMost of the nutrients we consume are processed through the walls of the small intestine. Seriously, there’s really a lot going on in there. So, you might want to consider some of the best ways to keep your small intestine healthy. I suggest starting with being sure you eat enough fiber...key words “eat enough” fiber. Fiber substitutes, like mixing ‘metamucil’ in a glass of water do not provide the same benefits that eating whole fiber rich foods provide. Probiotic rich foods are also great for the small intestine, insuring that beneficial bacteria are helping out with the digestive process all the way along. Foods that are rich in zinc and quercetin are also highly beneficial to the small intestine. Lastly, the small intestine is incredibly influenced by the state of your nervous system. Stress results in a decrease of assimilated nutrients and digestive process while relaxation results in just the opposite. Activities that manage your stress, like breathing exercises and mindfulness based activities, are especially beneficial to your small intestine. Also, just one more little interesting point of information; women tend to have slightly longer small intestines than men. Given that women are generally smaller in stature and one would think would require less length, not more length, I’m curious what we haven’t discovered yet about the small intestine.