Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Surface area of the digestive tract much smaller than previously thought

Date:
April 23, 2014
Source:
University of Gothenburg
Summary:
The internal surface area of the gastro-intestinal tract has long been considered to be between 180 and 300 square meters. Scientists have used refined microscopic techniques that indicate a much smaller area. "Actually, the inner surface of the gastro-intestinal tract is only as large as a normal studio apartment," says one scientist.

Digestive tract (stock image). "The inner surface of the gastro-intestinal tract is only as large as a normal studio apartment," says scientist Lars Fändriks. Previous estimates stated that it was as large as, or even larger than, a tennis court.
Credit: © decade3d / Fotolia

The internal surface area of the gastro-intestinal tract has long been considered to be between 180 and 300 square meters. Scientists at the Sahlgrenska Academy have used refined microscopic techniques that indicate a much smaller area.

"Actually, the inner surface of the gastro-intestinal tract is only as large as a normal studio apartment," says scientist Lars Fändriks.

The digestive tract, which passes from the mouth through the esophagus and onwards through the intestines, has a length of about 5 meters in a normal adult, and is built up with many folds and protrusions.

Previous calculations, which are reproduced in reference works and textbooks, state that the area of the inner surface of the digestive tract is between 180 and 300 square meters -- as large as, or even larger than, a tennis court.

Wrong figures

A new study from the Sahlgrenska Academy, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroentorology, shows that these figures are wrong.

Scientists Lars Fändriks and Herbert Helander have used quantitative microscopic techniques to determine that the surface area of the gastro-intestinal tract in healthy adults is "only" between 30 and 40 square meters.

By far the greatest part of this is the small intestine. The area of the large intestine is approximately 2 square meters, while the mouth, esophagus and stomach amount to less than 1 square meter.

Half of a badminton court

Lars Fändriks finds it surprising that the area of the gastro-intestinal tract is not that of a tennis court, rather half of a badminton court.

"It may appear to be simply a curious fact, but the dimensions of the inner surface of the gastro-intestinal tract are important for the uptake of nutrients and drugs, and the new information will help us understand how the mucous membrane protects the body from harmful factors in the intestinal contents," he says.

Misleading measurements

The Gothenburg scientists explain how the previously erroneous results were arrived at:

"The gastro-intestinal tract is a dynamic system that is difficult to access in the abdominal cavity, and this makes it difficult to measure. Since the past measurements were carried out either during post mortems or during abdominal surgery, when the tissue is relaxed, it is easy to obtain misleading measurements," says Herbert Helander.

Radiological investigations

The two scientists from Gothenburg have used data from radiological investigations, supplemented with studies of the microscopical structure of the gastro-intestinal tract, where they have used endoscopes to obtain samples of the mucous membrane of the intestines.

The scientists emphasize that the new dimensions are valid for a healthy "average" adult: the length and surface area of the digestive tract differs from person to person. In addition, the measurement for an individual is probably affected by diet and lifestyle.

"From an anatomical point of view, 30-40 square meters is more than enough for the uptake of nutrients. Furthermore, the smaller area is actually quite logical, since it means that the risk of effects from the intestinal contents is lower," says Herbert Helander.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Gothenburg. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Herbert F Helander, Lars Fändriks. Surface area of the digestive tract – revisited. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.3109/00365521.2014.898326

Cite This Page:

University of Gothenburg. "Surface area of the digestive tract much smaller than previously thought." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 April 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140423111505.htm>.
University of Gothenburg. (2014, April 23). Surface area of the digestive tract much smaller than previously thought. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140423111505.htm
University of Gothenburg. "Surface area of the digestive tract much smaller than previously thought." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140423111505.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

House Republicans Vote to Sue Obama Over Healthcare Law

House Republicans Vote to Sue Obama Over Healthcare Law

Reuters - US Online Video (July 31, 2014) — The Republican-led House of Representatives votes to sue President Obama, accusing him of overstepping his executive authority in making changes to the Affordable Care Act. Mana Rabiee reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Despite Health Questions, E-Cigs Are Beneficial: Study

Despite Health Questions, E-Cigs Are Beneficial: Study

Newsy (July 31, 2014) — Citing 81 previous studies, new research out of London suggests the benefits of smoking e-cigarettes instead of regular ones outweighs the risks. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida

AP (July 31, 2014) — Sarasota County, Florida health officials have issued a warning against eating raw oysters and exposing open wounds to coastal and inland waters after a dangerous bacteria killed one person and made another sick. (July 31) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Health Insurers' Profits Slide

Health Insurers' Profits Slide

Reuters - Business Video Online (July 30, 2014) — Obamacare-related costs were said to be behind the profit plunge at Wellpoint and Humana, but Wellpoint sees the new exchanges boosting its earnings for the full year. Fred Katayama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



    Save/Print:
    Share:  

    Free Subscriptions


    Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

    Get Social & Mobile


    Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

    Have Feedback?


    Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
    Mobile iPhone Android Web
    Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
    Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
    Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins