The Healthy Small Intestine

The healthy small intestine contains a number of front-line defense systems, rather like a skin inside our body, to protect us from pathogens. This layer consists of mucus, produced by special cells lining the digestive tract. Mucus creates a physical barrier and offers two bonuses. It supports a layer of friendly bacteria [probiotics = pro-life] which create a physical barrier against bacteria, yeasts and viruses and which offer a wide range of other benefits. Nestled within the folds of the small intestine lie lymph glands which are a critical part of our innate immunity.

Healthy small intestine

Within the intestinal wall, lymph follicles area the 'engine' of the immune system. They are where the process of identifying potential pathogens starts, and where antibodies are created. The attached illstration gives an impression of the complexity of the process.

Lymph Follicle

The mucus layer provides a place in which immunoglobulins [nonspecific antiviral and antibacterial substances created by immune cells in the intestinal wall] lie in wait for pathogens which have managed to penetrate the probiotic layer.The walls of the small intestine are rich in macrophages, neutrophils, plasma cells and other immune functioning cells. Sometimes however, bacteria or viruses prove to be too much for us and we become ill. Innate immunity plays a major role here. Acquired immunity plays a very small role in the small intestine.

Diet plays a large role in creating a healthy intestine. Excesses of baked refined flour products like breads, pastas, crackers and pizza create the opportunity for yeast growth and make the bowel sluggish while promoting excess mucus which often comes out as a cough, sinus congestion, mucus in the middle ear leading to increased susceptibility to ear infections especially in children.

Dairy products also enhance mucus problems and in my opinion make ice cream and pizza some of the more problematic foods for some people who get mucus being discharged though the respiratory system and may suffer from repeated bouts of "sinusitis", have a chronic mucousy cough or asthma.

Please read the section on digestive immunity if you have problems in this area.