The ileum: paste, protection and patches
What is it?
Part of our small intestine, which is ‘‘ small’’ because it is narrower than our large bowel. The small intestine is, however, very long and made up of the duodenum, jejunum, and the two- to three-metre ileum.
What does it do?
It mixes food and pushes it along, while absorbing water and nutrients, especially fats and bile salts. Food in the ileum is usually a pasty consistency.
Why the name?
Ileum is from the Greek word for twisted, as in coiled, which this long tube needs to be to fit inside our belly.
How does it protect us?
Just as our skin is exposed to the outside world, so is the inside of our guts (through the mouth and bottom), which means it’s a breeding ground for micro-organisms. To help deal with them, the ileum’s wall contains lots of protective immune cells, housed in places called Peyer’s patches.