Small Intestine Blood Vessels

Digested food is able to pass into the blood vessels in the wall of the intestine through the process of diffusion.  The small intestine is the site where most of the nutrients from ingested food are absorbed.  The inner wall, or mucosa, of the small intestine is lined with simple columnar epithelial tissue . Structurally, the mucosa is covered in wrinkles or folds called plicae circulares, which are considered permanent features in the wall of the organ.  They are distinct from rugae which are considered non-permanent or temporary allowing for distention and contraction.  From the plicae circulares project microscopic finger-like pieces of tissue called villi.  The individual epithelial cells also have finger-like projections known as microvilli. The function of the plicae circulares, the villi and the microvilli is to increase the amount of surface area available for the absorption of nutrients.

Each villus has a network of capillaries and fine lymphatic vessels called lacteals close to its surface. The epithelial cells of the villi transport nutrients from the lumen of the intestine into these capillaries (amino acids and carbohydrates) and lacteals (lipids). The absorbed substances are transported via the blood vessels to different organs of the body where they are used to build complex substances such as the proteins required by our body. The food that remains undigested and unabsorbed passes into the large intestine. (adapted from wikipedia)

Image by Susumu Nishinaga, from National Geographic (source, and larger image)

“This colored scanning micrograph shows a cast of blood vessels from the external wall of the small intestine. Measuring about 22 feet (6.7 meters) in length, the small intestine performs most of the major digestion and absorption of nutrients. The walls of the small intestine are lined with millions of projections called villi, which absorb and transmit nutrients into the bloodstream.” National Geographic

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