Question

Digestive Health

How do the intestines work?

A Answers (2)

  • AMehmet Oz, MD, Cardiology, answered
    We all put an extraordinary variety (and amount) of things down our anatomical drains, and we expect our plumbing system to shuttle everything away. Because our pipes don't always appreciate the jalapeño-encrusted burritos or fraternity-prank goldfish we slide down them, we can experience digestive problems like clogs, spills, leaks, breaks, and spouse-scaring explosions.

    A key element in this factory of consumption and elimination is your intestinal tract. Most people don't realize that your intestines are living things; they're organs just like your heart's an organ. They're not inert tubes; instead, they actively absorb, secrete, send signals, and metabolize.

    Depending on what we crave, we have the intestinal freedom to eat plants, animals, or a dozen Krispy Kremes at one sitting. That's because our intestines let us micromanage what we allow within the borders of our bodies.

    But with that freedom comes responsibility. As young people, we think that our bodies are like machines, that they'll convert whatever we want to eat to something our cells can convert to energy. That's not entirely true, especially as we get older or don't exercise as much. That's because our bodies respond differently to various types of food.

    If you were to stretch your intestines vertically out in front of you (which I'd highly discourage), they'd reach from the ground in your front yard, up past the second floor to your attic window. That's 26 feet of tubing-and this is where the serious plumbing takes place.

    The small intestine comes after the stomach and is the tubing where most of food's nutrients are absorbed; the large intestine, or colon, is wider and shorter than the small intestine and absorbs water to form feces.

    Just like we all look different on the outside, our intestines respond to the outside world differently on the inside. Kielbasa, for instance, may give your buddies enough energy to hoist trees out the ground, but it may leave you dull and bloated. Either way, it's your small intestine that's screaming clues to you. Its delicate lining is armed with unique immune cells that guard your borders and recognize foods that you-or your ancestors-could not tolerate. When dissed, this finicky organ sends SOS signals to wake you up in the form of gas and spasms. And it rebels by squeezing you.

  • AMuslim Atiq, MD, Gastroenterology, answered on behalf of Sanford Health

    Our intestinal tract works by absorbing our food and breaking it down into the nutrients we need and into waste products- nutrients we don't need. Peristalsis are the rhythmic contractions that move food and waste along the digestive tract. Absorption takes place in the small intestine where the nutrients pass through the villi (fingerlike projections) intestinal wall and go into the blood stream. The liver produces bile, which is secreted into the intestine and helps break down fat. The pancreas produces enzymes (lipase and amylase) that are also secreted into the small intestine to help break down fat, carbohydrates, and proteins. From the small intestine, undigested food and some water travel to the large intestine. Here, water is absorbed and stool is formed.

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