Digestion and Posture
Does body position change how fast you digest food?
When I was at the dinner table, my mom used to tell me, “Don’t slouch. You’ll look better and feel better if you sit up straight.” Through the years, I’ve learned the wisdom of those words. Poor posture as we age can lead to all sorts of problems with mobility and flexibility.
Now I also learned that it could affect how quickly the medicine from a pill will kick in and even how long it takes to digest a meal.
It all started with some researchers asking a straightforward question. Can your body position change how fast or slow a pill can be absorbed? Surprisingly the answer is yes. In fact, a simple shift can cause the medicine to work up to five times faster.
Let’s start when you take a pill. Oral medications are typically absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine, but it can take awhile to get there. When you swallow a tablet, it first has to move through the stomach, through the pylorus and finally into the duodenum (small intestine).
The amount of food, fluids or gas can impact the process, which is why some medications are to be taken WITH food and others WITHOUT. But this latest study didn’t analyze differences in stomach content. All they did, was look at how nothing more than changing the position of your body sped up or slowed down the process.
Rajat Mittal, a professor of mechanical engineering at Johns Hopkins, spent three years building a computer model of the stomach. Then they simulated the “interaction between gastric flow and orally administrated drug in the form of a solid tablet.” They looked at different pill densities, analyzed the movement of stomach fluids and even measured the effects of gravity to see what differences each one makes.
Four different postures were compared. Professor Mittal found that for the quickest absorption, you should lean to the right or lie on your right side. Because of how human bodies are put together, leaning or lying on your right side causes the pills to move into the deepest part of your stomach. There, those pills dissolve twice as fast compared to when you remain sitting up straight.
That’s not all. You can slow DOWN the absorption by leaning to the left or lying on your left side. Just that small shift can make absorption take up to five times LONGER.
Pharmacists routinely tell patients, “It can take from 15 minutes to 2 hours for your oral medication to be digested and start working.” That variability now seems to be caused by how you’ve positioned your body. If you’ve just taken something for pain, you don’t want it to take five times longer to kick in.
Here are the different positions.
Leaning to the right or lying on your right side, it’ll take about 10 minutes for a pill to dissolve.
Standing up or lying on your back, it’ll take about 25 minutes for a pill to dissolve.
Leaning to the left or lying on your left side, it’ll take about an hour and a half for a pill to dissolve.
These findings don’t just apply to pills. It’s the same for how food is digested. If you’ve overeaten, you might consider laying on your right side so it will move through your body quicker.
On the other hand, if you’re on a diet and constantly feeling hungry, you can use it to your advantage. Lean or sleep on your left side, and the food will stay in your stomach longer. If you delay that food movement, your stomach will continue to register a feeling of “fullness,” and your brain won’t start bugging you to eat more.
Long-term studies still need to be conducted on position and food digestion to find out how it might help with things like obesity, intestinal infections, nutrition intake and diabetes. We’ll keep you updated as we learn more.
Computational Modeling of Drug Dissolution in the Human Stomach
Jung Hee Seo and Rajat Mittal
frontiers in Physiology, Published online 2022 Jan 10. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2021.755997
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