Part 3 of 5 – Small Intestine, Liver, Gall Bladder, & Pancreas
As we continue in our series to travel down the digestive tract with the help of muscular peristalsis, pushing our food down, down, down through the stomach, the next stop is the small intestine. By this point, the food we have eaten looks somewhat like a smoothie – liquid and partially broken down.
With the surface area of a tennis court, the small intestine is the longest portion of the intestinal tract and is the site where most of our nutrients are absorbed. With help from the liver, which manufactures bile, and from the gall bladder, which stores and delivers the bile to the small intestine, our body starts to break down fats for absorption. The liver is a powerful organ – it manufactures, recycles and detoxifies. Watch for a future blog focusing on the amazing liver.
The pancreas also contributes to the whole delicate orchestration of breaking down food, by delivering a spectrum of digestive enzymes to complete the break down each of the three major macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats and proteins.
As we did in both Part 1 and Part 2 of the Nutritionist Digestive Series, I’ll remind you how important it is to chew your food well! One of the reasons is to ensure the food has enough exposed surface area for the enzymes to access it and adequately break it down.
The small intestine is made up of three parts: the duodenum, the jejunum and the ileum. The digestive enzymes and the partially digested, now-liquid food intermingle in the first section of the small intestine, the duodenum. The mixture then moves along to the jejunum and then to the ileum for absorption. Once the journey through the small intestine is complete, the body will have absorbed what it needs and the non-digestible parts continue on to the large intestine for the final leg of their tour.
Pretty well all of us have experienced a digestive upset more than once. Symptoms can include bloating and gas, diarrhea, general feeling of malaise after eating, and in some cases, discomfort that is eased by eating.
There are many possible causes of disharmony in the small intestine and pancreas:
– Stress inhibits enzyme secretion therefore foods may not get digested fully
– Eating food you are sensitive to or allergic to can cause inflammation and irritation
– Overeating can cause physical discomfort
– Excess alcohol, caffeine or spice can cause irritation
– Antibiotics can decrease the amount of probiotics in the gut, affecting both immunity and absorption of nutrients.
– Poor quality foods such as processed, shelf-stable foods upset the natural balance in the digestive system.
Other causes may be rooted in one of the many body functions that contribute to digestion – the mouth (teeth and salivary glands), stomach, liver, pancreas and gall bladder.
Steps You Can Take
Be kind to your digestive system. Try some of these foods that nourish and heal both the small intestine and the pancreas:
- – Gelatinous seeds such as ground flax and chia seeds
- – Herbal teas with marshmallow root, holy basil, slippery elm, or fenugreek
- – Bone broth
- – Congees (rice porridge)
- – Sprouted foods, such as alfalfa sprouts, bean sprouts, or tempeh
- – Traditionally fermented foods and beverages (without vinegar) such as miso, organic yogourt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir
Phew! By now you are undoubtedly impressed by your body’s complexity and its astronomical abilities.
Try these digestible recipes: Garlicky Greens with Digestion and Immune Boosting Dressing. I sincerely wish you renewed health and faith in your body’s innate ability to heal. It can do magical things when it is allowed to and when it is nourished.
Yours in satiation and healing,
Lisa Marie Bhattacharya