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Anatomy of the Digestive System (cont.)

Small Intestine

Most digestion and absorption of food occurs in the small intestine. The small intestine is a narrow, twisting tube that occupies most of the lower abdomen between the stomach and the beginning of the large intestine. It extends about 20 feet in length. The small intestine consists of three parts: the duodenum (the C-shaped part), the jejunum (the coiled midsection), and the ileum (the last section).

The small intestine has two important functions.

  1. The digestive process is completed here by enzymes and other substances made by intestinal cells, the pancreas, and the liver. Glands in the intestine walls secrete enzymes that breakdown starches and sugars. The pancreas secretes enzymes into the small intestine that help breakdown carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The liver produces bile, which is stored in the gallbladder. Bile helps to make fat molecules (which otherwise are not soluble in water) soluble, so they can be absorbed by the body.
  2. The small intestine absorbs the nutrients from the digestive process. The inner wall of the small intestine is covered by millions of tiny fingerlike projections called villi. The villi are covered with even tinier projections called microvilli. The combination of villi and microvilli increase the surface area of the small intestine greatly, allowing absorption of nutrients to occur. Undigested material travels next to the large intestine.

Large Intestine

The large intestine forms an upside down U over the coiled small intestine. It begins at the lower right-hand side of the body and ends on the lower left-hand side. The large intestine is about 5-6 feet long. It has three parts: the cecum, the colon, and the rectum. The cecum is a pouch at the beginning of the large intestine. This area allows food to pass from the small intestine to the large intestine. The colon is where fluids and salts are absorbed and extends from the cecum to the rectum. The last part of the large intestine is the rectum, which is where feces (waste material) is stored before leaving the body through the anus.

The main job of the large intestine is to remove water and salts (electrolytes) from the undigested material and to form solid waste that can be excreted. Bacteria in the large intestine help to break down the undigested materials. The remaining contents of the large intestine are moved toward the rectum, where feces are stored until they leave the body through the anus as a bowel movement.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/22/2016
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