What Are the Functions of Your Intestines?

Has anyone ever told you, “You are what you eat”? It’s an old saying, but it’s also true! That’s why it’s so important to consume healthy food. Your digestive system breaks down the food you eat and distributes it throughout your body. Today’s Wonder of the Day discusses a crucial part of that process—your intestines.

The intestines are also known as the “bowels.” And, naturally, there are two of them—the small intestine and the large intestine. Together, they constitute the longest segment of your digestive system.

The term “small intestine” can be misleading. On average, it’s actually 10 to 16 feet (three to five meters) in length! However, this organ has a diameter of only about one inch (2.5 centimeters), which is why we refer to it as “small.” Despite its name, the small intestine is responsible for about 90 percent of digestion.

After food leaves the stomach, it enters the small intestine. Once there, a meal is further broken down by enzymes from the pancreas. This process is also aided by bile from the gallbladder and liver. The cells in your intestine then absorb most of the broken-down nutrients and transport them to your bloodstream. From there, blood cells distribute them throughout the rest of your body.

The large intestine is much wider, with a diameter of about three inches (7.5 cm). However, it’s only about five feet (1.5 m) long. The majority of the large intestine is composed of the colon.

What is the role of the large intestine? It absorbs any remaining water, electrolytes, or salt in the digested food. Anything left over after all the valuable nutrients have been extracted from the food becomes waste. Can you guess what happens next? That’s right—the waste travels through your large intestine, into your rectum, and out of your body through the anus.

Clearly, the intestines are a critical component of the digestive system. Without them, your body wouldn’t be able to absorb all the beneficial nutrients from the food you consume. However, they’re just one part of the entire system. Organs like the stomach, liver, and pancreas also have important roles to play.

When something goes wrong in your digestive system, it can be very uncomfortable. If you’ve ever had a stomach bug, you know that to be true! For some individuals, foods containing gluten or dairy can cause issues in the intestines. If you experience discomfort after consuming certain foods, consult a trusted adult. They can assist you in finding ways to feel better.

One of the most effective ways to maintain the health of your intestines is to consume plenty of nutrients every day. It may be tempting to grab a sugary soda or snack, but your body will appreciate it if you opt for fruits and vegetables instead! What better way to show gratitude to your gut for all it does for you?

Try It Out

Ready to continue learning? Seek the assistance of an adult who can help you with one or more of the activities below:

  • Take some time to educate yourself on the digestive system. What new information did you acquire? Share your knowledge with a friend or family member by discussing at least one digestive organ you learned about.
  • Which foods contribute to a healthy gut? For the next week, keep a food diary and document what you eat and how you feel afterwards. Do certain foods give you energy while others make you feel sluggish? Do any snacks cause stomach discomfort? Perhaps certain foods even impact your mood! Engage in a conversation with a friend or family member about how the food you consume affects your overall well-being.
  • Are you someone who enjoys hands-on learning? Enlist the assistance of an adult to create a craft representing the digestive system. Once completed, proudly display your creation and explain the functions of each part of the intestines that contribute to your overall health.

References for Further Reading

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279303/ (accessed 22 April 2020)
  • https://www.chp.edu/our-services/transplant/intestine/education/about-small-large-intestines (accessed 22 April 2020)
  • https://www.healthline.com/health/digestive-health/how-long-are-your-intestines (accessed 22 April 2020)

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