Smorgasbord Health Column – The Digestive System – The Pancreas, Gallbladder and Intestines.

We are reaching the end of our journey through the labyrinth that is our digestive system. Today the intestines, but also a couple of glands that are essential to the process itself. I hope you have enjoyed the trip and if you were new to the scenery, found it useful.

I shall continue next week with the series of posts on Candida Albicans and the healthy balance of bacteria in the intestines.


The small intestine

The small intestine is made up of three parts, the duodenum at the entrance, the jejunum and the ileum.

The duodenum is joined to the stomach and receives the highly acidic mix that has now been produced by the gastric juices. There is a danger that the duodenum would be eaten away by this acid so it secretes a thick mucus to protect itself. Within the layers of the duodenum are also glands that produce an alkaline juice to neutralise the acid and provide the enzymes to continue the digestive process. Because of the corrosive effect of the hydrochloric acid in the food at this point, the cells in the mucus membrane replicate faster than anywhere else in the body. At this point bile and pancreatic juices join the mix and the food moves about 10 inches down into the jejunum where nutrients are absorbed into the blood stream before the remaining liquid is passed into the ileum and then onto the colon for excretion.

The pancreas

The pancreas is one of the largest glands in the body and its main role is the secretion of hormones including insulin (when there are raised sugar levels in the blood), glucagon (when there is lower sugar levels in the blood) which maintains a normal balance. Also pancreatic enzymes, which are vital for effective digestion.

It lies across the top of the abdomen, below the liver and tucked into the duodenum section of the small intestine.

The pancreas is made up of cells (acinar cells) that secrete into small ducts that connect together until they feed pancreatic juices into a main duct running through the centre of the gland which feeds directly into the duodenum. The pancreatic juice contains not only the enzymes needed to breakdown carbohydrates, proteins and fats but also sodium bicarbonate to help neutralise the acid.

Within the acinar cells are Alpha and Beta cells that produce insulin and glucagon respectively. These are taken from the pancreas via the Mesenteric vein into the blood stream where they will balance blood sugar levels.


The gallbladder

The gallbladder is a small pear shaped muscular structure on the underside of the liver on the right of the abdomen. It is attached to the common bile duct, which connects the liver to the duodenum, by the sphincter of Oddi. Excess bile leaves the bile duct at the cystic duct and is then stored and concentrated in the gallbladder until needed. Bile is used in the digestion of fats as they pass through the duodenum and is then either excreted or absorbed back into the bloodstream.

Gallstones and other gallbladder problems can be painful, but they also impact the digestion of fats. If you have the following symptoms regularly then you should consult your doctor.

  • An excruciating pain across the chest below the sternum that lasts for 15 minutes or so.
  • Within an hour of eating a fatty meal including meats, cheese, rich sauces or having lashings of butter on bread or vegetables, you have an urgent need to visit the bathroom and you have cramps.
  • Your bowel movement is light tan in colour.
  • Some people may experience nausea

Apart from gallstones, a gallbladder can calcify with hundreds of very small stones inside. This prevents the drip feed of bile to digest the fat you have eaten. Instead there will be a rush of bile from the liver, resulting in the sudden need to get rid of anything in your intestines.

The colon

By the time the digested food (chyme) has reached the colon all the nutrients should have been absorbed leaving a mixture of insoluble fibre and assorted waste products from the body’s operating systems mixed with water.

The Colon is the last part of the 30 foot alimentary canal and is used to remove excess water and solidify waste products before they are excreted from the body. It is a muscular tube, which moves the waste in a series of movements similar in nature to a washing machine and piping bag. The contents are churned and then moved on mass by contractions whilst excess water is re absorbed into the body. As the faecal matter loses water it becomes more solid so the lining of the colon secretes mucous to ease its passage through to the rectum.

There is still a digestive role for the colon to play, as it is at this point that billions of bacteria in the colon synthesise the essential vitamins K as well as gases such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. Some of which make themselves more evident when we have consumed high fibre foods like beans.

Digestive process – timings.

From start to finish a normal and healthy digestive system will process the food you eat in approximately 12 to 24 hours. The longest period of digestion is in the colon where the process may take several days. Obviously what we eat will affect the timing of the process as harmful bacteria in food can cause the body to rush the elimination resulting in diarrhoea or the lack of fibre may result in constipation.

Ideally you should be eliminating food every 12 hours but certainly every 24 hours. As you will have seen there are many organs and processes involved and if only one of these is out of sync with the rest of the digestive system it can have a knock on affect that could potentially damage your overall health.

Eating a balanced diet is the best way to maintain a healthy digestive tract and so is some simple maintenance from time to time including dental care and detox programmes.

©Sally Georgina Cronin – Just Food For Health 1998 – 2018

A little bit about me nutritionally.

A little about me from a nutritional perspective. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago. I qualified as a nutritional therapist and practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as being a consultant for radio. My first centre was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Here are my health books including a men’s health manual and my anti-aging book.

All available in Ebook from

And Amazon UK:

Comprehensive guide to the body, and the major organs and the nutrients needed to be healthy 360 pages, A4:

Thank you for dropping in and if you have any questions fire away.. If you would like to as a private question then my email is I am only too pleased to help in any way I can. thanks Sally

14 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Health Column – The Digestive System – The Pancreas, Gallbladder and Intestines.

  1. Pingback: Smorgasbord: The Digestive System. Pancreas. Gallbladder. Intestines. – The Militant Negro™

  2. I have always found it incredible that the digestive system is 30 feet long! The process of digestion is truly amazing, and it’s wonderful of you to share your study of it with us. Following a piece of food on its journey is enlightening and thought-provoking.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks for sharing your impressive knowledge of the digestive system, Sally. The pancreas is of particular importance in my family. My mother died of pancreatic cancer, her mother died from diabetes and I have inherited that ailment, no doubt due to a diet too high in carbs. It’s such a common issue in our overfed society!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Certainly the white carbs Lyn.. thankfully sense is prevailing and more and more research has identified that moderate whole grain consumption actually helps prevent type 2 diabetes. Type 1 is of course more difficult to manage but they are making great strides there too.. Not sure how we stop the flood of cheap, industrial carbohydrates.. they seem embedded in our society now.


  4. HI Sally,
    I’ve reached the age where my peers and I when together talk about our ass aches. I know, how boring; how pathetic. 😌 As boring as it sounds, we do have this in common because as you age, your health declines. Three years ago they discovered with a CAT scan I have a gallstone. Over the last two years, I have had two gallbladder attacks. The first time I thought I was having a heart attack. The second attack was worse than the first. My gastro doctor has run all his test and said the gallbladder is functioning normally. He suspects the stone moves, temporarily blocks the duct. Within a few hours, the pain subsides and I’m back to normal. He says there is no indication to remove the gallbladder until such time as the stone blocks the duct and doesn’t retreat. When it does the gallbladder will be removed. So now I wait until the event happens. My doctor says it’s not IF it happens, but WHEN.
    I told you I was going to talk about my ass ache. 🙃 HUGS

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know the feeling Chuck.. I have a hereditary gallbladder problem and had several unexplained attacks over a number of years. I still have my gallbladder… it does not function properly but touch wood it has been four years since my last one. It does hang over your head though and you get a little indigestion and you think…is this it….. I have learnt some strategies over the years.. not to eat a big sugary dessert after a fatty meal… and that whilst drinking diet coke daily is not good for you, when you have a stone pain, drinking coke for some reason helps.. Good luck with yours.. and hopefully it will be a long time until WHEN.. hugsxxx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Smorgasbord Weekly Round Up – With friends – William Price King, Paul Andruss, Carol Taylor, Esme, Billy Ray Chitwood and other brilliant writers. | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

I would be delighted to receive your feedback (by commenting, you agree to Wordpress collecting your name, email address and URL) Thanks Sally

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.