The small intestine is narrow tube that starts at the stomach and ends at the large intestine. In adults, the small intestine is about 7 meters long. It is called “small” because it is smaller in diameter (2.5 cm) than the large intestine. Like the rest of the gastrointestinal tract, the small intestine pushes food along with peristalsis.
The small intestine finishes the process of digestion, absorbs the nutrients, and passes the residue on to the large intestine.
The small intestine is made up of three parts: the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. Each part has different functions.
The duodenum is the first part of the small intestine. It is about 25 cm long. This is where most chemical digestion takes place. In this part the liver and gall bladder release bile and the pancreas secretes pancreatic juice.
The jejunum is the second part of the small intestine. This is where most nutrients are absorbed into the blood. The jejunum is lined with tiny “fingers” called villi. Each one is only about 1 mm long.
The ileum is the third part of the small intestine. Like the jejunum, the ileum is covered with villi. A few remaining nutrients are absorbed in the ileum. From the ileum, any remaining food waste passes into the large intestine.
Chyme emerging from the stomach into the duodenum is very acidic. The gall bladder release alkaline bile and the pancreas a large amount of sodium bicarbonate which neutralize the acidity of the chyme. This is important for digestion, because digestive enzymes in the duodenum require a neutral environment in order to work. The duodenum is protected from acid by a thick layer of mucus
Inside the duodenal tube, chyme is mixed with the bile and pancreatic juice. Bile breaks down fat particles into smaller droplets thus provide a largely increased surface area for the action of the enzyme pancreatic lipase that breaks down fats. Pancreatic juice conteins many enzymes ( lipase, protease,..) that finalize the food digestion process.