What Is the Job of Villi?

Villi absorb nutrients from the foods you eat

If you have or know of someone with celiac disease, you may wonder what is the job of villi because this condition affects them. Villi line the small intestine and allow nutrients to be absorbed. The connection between the small intestine and the disease may seem vague, but the role of Celiac disease can have a profound impact on your body and overall state of good health.

Small Intestine Anatomy

The length of the small intestine begins at the pyloric sphincter of your stomach. The pyloric sphincter is a ring-like muscle which controls the release of food material into the rest of your digestive tract. The small intestine is composed of three different parts: duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum.

The small intestine performs the vital function of digestion and absorption of nutrients from the foods you eat. Any problems with its function can affect your entire body. If you were to lay out the length of the small intestine, it would measure over 20 feet.

Inside the small intestine, the walls consist of four layers. The layer closest to the opening is the mucosa. Along the length of the mucosa are tiny projections called villi. These villi are the workhorses of the small intestine.

The villi consist of epithelial cells, one of four types of tissue found in the human body. Connective, muscle, and nervous tissues make up the other types. Epithelial tissue is fairly resilient. In the small intestine, it will be replaced as older cells die or slough off.

What is the Job of Villi

The villi are sites of nutrient absorption. Nutrients are absorbed by the cells of the villi into the capillaries within them. This absorption makes vitamins and nutrients available to your blood and lymphatic fluid. Intestinal juice provides the means for which absorption can occur. However, not all nutrients are absorbed. Some digestion also takes place within the small intestine.

The cells of the villi produce enzymes which help digest carbohydrates and protein. Most all of the absorption which occurs in your body takes place in the small intestine through the action of the villi. It is not difficult to see then how vital these body structures are.

Supporting Role

So then, what is the job of villi other than digestion and absorption? The cells of the villi synthesize some enzymes which are destroyed by the acidic environment of the stomach to continue the digestive process. These enzymes initiate a series of chemical reactions which will break down nutrients into usable forms.

Celiac Disease and Villi

Celiac disease directly impacts the role of the villi in digestion and absorption. This autoimmune disease causes your body to damage the villi whenever you eat foods containing gluten. If villi are damaged, their ability to perform properly is impaired.

The effects are two-fold. First, damage or destruction of the villi decreases the amount of surface area in your intestine available for absorption. Second, rather than capturing valuable nutrients from your food, they are excreted, increasing your risk of malnutrition as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies. This physical damage may be evident if your doctor performs a biopsy of the small intestine in order to confirm the diagnosis of celiac disease.

Over time, the effects of celiac disease increase due to the decreased efficiency of the small intestine and damage to the villi. Other symptoms may develop such as anemia, fatigue, and bone loss. The malabsorption of nutrients further puts your body at risk for other conditions such as weight loss or seizures.

Fortunately, celiac disease and recovery of the villi are relatively easy to accomplish. The villi can recover quickly once gluten is eliminated from your diet. Without gluten, the immune reaction which causes the damage ceases.

What is the job of villi? Simply, the villi of the small intestine ensure your body functions properly by providing the food and energy which you need to exist. These small projections of the mucosa of your small intestine are the basis of life.

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What Is the Job of Villi?