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Q: surface area in the colon (aka large intestine) ( Answered,   2 Comments )
Subject: surface area in the colon (aka large intestine)
Category: Science
Asked by: svdh-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 06 Jun 2003 15:06 PDT
Expires: 06 Jul 2003 15:06 PDT
Question ID: 214155
What is the surface area of the colon (also called the large
intestine)?  Please do not give me the surface area of the small
intestine; that information is easy to find.
Subject: Re: surface area in the colon (aka large intestine)
Answered By: tehuti-ga on 09 Jun 2003 13:45 PDT
Hello svdh

One of the sites given by pinkfreud in her answer stated:

"The large intestine is 4 ft. long and 2.5 in. in diameter... The
epithelial surface area of the large intestine is only 1/30 that of
the small intestine, because the large intestine is not convoluted and
lacks villi. The colon does have crypts of Lieberkühn and numerous
goblet cells."
Northwest Nazarene University: Digestive Physiology 
Of course we also need to take account of the fact that the large
intestine is actually made up of the cecum, colon, rectum and anal

The EPA estimate for colon surface area, quoted by pinkfreud, is given
in the following poster (Nb pdf format): 
(look under “Parameters” find this estimate)
It is expressed as 3018 sq cm
There are 100 cm in 1 m 
which gives 
100 x 100 sq cm in 1 sq m = 10,000 sq cm 
3018 sq cm is therefore 0.3 sq m.

Lets take the figures given in the first reference for the dimensions
of the complete large intestine.  According to data on 
the caecum, rectum and anal canal account for about 21-23 cm of the
These data also give the following alternative estimates of dimensions
for the colon:
Ascending colon 12-20 cm, transverse colon 45 cm, descending colon
22-30 cm, sigmoid colon 40 cm.   This gives a total length of 123-135
cm for the colon.

OK, using all these figures:

Length of large intestine = 4 ft = c. 122 (121.92) cm 
Diameter = 2.5 inches 
Circumference = diameter x pi = 2.5 x 3.14 inches = 7.85 inches 
= c. 20 (19.94) cm 
Area = length times circumference = 2440 sq cm – which is the apparent
surface area (making no allowances for thickness of the tissue)
Metric conversions used

Another source gives an average length of 1.5 m for the large
Using the same calculation, this would give an area of 3000 sq cm. 

Taking the figures cited above from 
gives a total length of 123-135 cm for the colon, which gives
estimated areas of 2460-2700 sq cm for the colon itself, plus 420-460
sq cm for other bits.

So, taking all the above sources into account, the possible range of
areas for the large intestine as a whole is about 2440-3160 sq. cm,
and the range of areas for the colon is c. 2000-2700 sq. cm.

OK, from these figures we can see that the EPA did not make allowances
for villi or microvilli in its calculations and probably took the
whole of the large intestine into account rather than just the colon.

As aceresearcher has pointed out, the colon does not have villi. 
However, I did find the following reference.  It refers to a species
of rat, but probably provides a rough estimate for humans as well,
since the title of the article claims to relate to mammals in general:
"A pilot experiment to determine the surface enlargement due to
microvilli is presented from material taken from the giant pouched
rat. This was performed by measuring video sequences of microvilli
taken from electron microscopy images. Cecal microvilli increase the
surface area 15-fold, while in the colon the increase is approximately
19- to 20-fold. "
From a paper in Advances in Anatomy,  Embryology and  Cell Biology,.
1997, Volume 138, nos. III-VIII, pages 1-90.
Intestinal absorptive surface in mammals of different sizes. 
By Snipes RL., Institute of Anatomy and Cell Biology,
Justus-Liebig-University, Giessen, Germany.
URL to summary:

Let us take these figures into consideration:

We are only working with estimates of length. Also, we are assuming a
constant diameter over the whole large intestine, which is probably
not exactly the case. This means that we can obtain a reasonable
estimate of total surface area with respect to order of magnitude, but
not an exact figure.

Taking the range of apparent surface areas for the colon to be
2000-2700 as calculated above, and multiplying them by a factor of 20
as suggested by Snipes,  the true surface area of the colon can be
taken as being in the range 38000-54000 sq cm or 3.8-5.4 sq m.

Taking a further 420-460 sq cm apparent surface area for the other
parts of the large intestine, and assuming a 15-fold increase
(although we cannot be sure this is the case for the rectum and anal
canal, since Snipes only discusses the cecum), we can add another
6300-6900 sq cm, ie 0.63-0.69 sq. m to the above.

A reasonable overall estimate for the true surface area of the large
intestine is therefore 4.5-6.0 sq.m. with 3.8-5.4 sq m of that being
due to the colon itself.

I hope this answer meets with your satisfaction.

Search strategies on Google and on Medline
( ): combinations of the
search terms: colon, “surface area”, dimensions, villi, microvilli.  I
also took full account of the previous research done on this question
by pinkfreud.
Subject: Re: surface area in the colon (aka large intestine)
From: cynthia-ga on 06 Jun 2003 16:03 PDT

Once again, I have no time... Her'e some preliminary links:

The Large Intestine

This link is most Fascinating...

I had no idea, but everything in your colon is considered to be
OUTSIDE your body!

DIGESTIVE PHYSIOLOGY - THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM - Large Intestine Anatomy (near the bottom)
The large intestine is 4 ft. long and 2.5 in. in diameter.....The
epithelial surface area of the large intestine is only 1/30 that of
the small intestine, because the large intestine is not convoluted and
lacks villi.

Definition of epithelial:
Membranous tissue composed of one or more layers of cells separated by
very little intercellular substance and forming the covering of most
internal and external surfaces of the body and its organs.

You consume 30 tons of food throughout your life. 
It takes 24 hours to completely digest food. 
The digestive tube from your mouth to your anus is 9 meters or 30 feet
The digestive system has a surface area of 2000 square feet. 
The surface area of the digestive system is approximately equal to
that of a single's tennis court!
The average person eats 3 lbs. of food daily. 
Water molecules in the gut can move at 1500 miles/hour due to
The large intestine averages 5 feet long. 
The colon is home to 100 trillion bacteria. 
Human feces are normally 1/4 dead intestinal bacteria. 
The body's bacteria could fill a soup can. 

"large intestine" "surface area"
"surface area of the large intestine"
Subject: Re: surface area in the colon (aka large intestine)
From: aceresearcher-ga on 07 Jun 2003 04:27 PDT
Actually, the Large Intestine / Colon does **NOT** contain villi:

From the University of Texas Medical Branch's Cell Biology Graduate

The colon is characterized by mucosal folds that are no longer called
villi.   These are lined by many GOBLET CELLS and fewer ABSORPTIVE
CELLS.  The glands are shorter in the colon than in the small
intestine.  There are no Paneth cells."

From David King's page on "Colon, mucosa and submucosa" at the
Southern Illinois School of Medicine (February 14, 2002):
"The mucosa of the colon is characterized by straight crypts with no

When crypts are cut longitudinally (as near the right side of this
image), the columns of lamina propria between the epithelium of
adjacent crypts might be **misinterpreted as villi**.  But note that
the lumenal spaces within the crypts are uniformly narrow (when they
are visible at all), not variable and often wide, as spaces between
villi of the small intestine.

Also note that when the plane of section cuts across a crypt, the
crypt appears to be surrounded by lamina propria.  In contrast, when
villi are cut across, they appear as isolated islands in the lumen.

Note the large number of goblet cells (clear "bubbles") in crypt

My husband is a Pathologist. He confirms that the Colon does not
actually have villi.



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