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Published on March 18, 2019

From Fuel to Stool: 5 Tips to Speed Up Digestion

5 Tips to Speed Up Digestion

People often assume that the food that they eat comes out with their next bowel movement. In reality, it can take much longer. Food makes quite a voyage as it travels through the digestive system. The length of time it takes to complete the trip from mouth to anus is called the transit time. This time varies from person to person but is usually around 24 hours for someone with a fiber rich diet.

There are many factors that determine how long it will take for food to pass through the body. These include what was eaten, activity level, psychological stress, personal characteristics and general health. If your transit time is a concern, there are some steps you can take to speed things up.

Exercise for 30 minutes a day. Food and digested material is moved through the body by a series of muscle contractions. These muscle contractions are called peristalsis. Being a couch potato slows down peristalsis, thereby increasing your transit time. This can result in constipation and general discomfort. Exercising increases metabolism which makes the muscle contractions more frequent. This is why some people feel the urge to go to the bathroom right after exercise.

Eat more fiber. Fiber-rich foods such as whole grains, leafy vegetables and fresh fruits will add bulk to your feces and help stimulate the bowel to push food along. Because a quick addition of fiber to your diet can result in gas, bloating and cramps, it should gradually be introduced over time.

Eat yogurt. Yogurt and other probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, soft cheeses and sourdough bread contain live bacteria cultures which promote healthy digestion-enhancing bacteria that live in the intestines.

Eat less meat. Meat, milk, hard cheese and refined carbohydrates, such as white sugar, white flour and instant oatmeal pass slowly through the digestive tract and can slow peristalsis.

Drink more water. We all know that it is recommended that we drink 8 glasses of water per day. There are many health reasons for this recommendation. In this case, water helps keep the feces moist thereby improving transit time.

Waste that sits in your colon for too long has a greater opportunity to be reabsorbed back into the bloodstream and irritate the walls of the intestine. A transit time of more than 72 hours is considered slow and can irritate your colon and increase the risk of candidiasis, diverticulitis or cancer.

Eating right and exercise will certainly help maintain a healthy colon. However, the most powerful way to combat colon cancer is through a screening, such as a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is recommended every three years for folks over 50. If detected early, nearly 90 percent of colorectal cancers are curable. Keep tabs on your digestive health, especially if there is a family history of colon cancer. Don’t forget to talk to your primary care provider about your colon health.

About the Author

R. Michael Rourk, MD, FACG R. Michael Rourk, MD, FACG is a Gastroenterologist at Rockingham Gastroenterology Assoc, PLLC, A Cone Health Medical Group practice.