Optimizing Gut Health: A Comprehensive Guide to Bowel Motility

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

August 14, 2023

Optimizing Gut Health: A Comprehensive Guide to Bowel Motility
The processes of digestion and gut motility are incredibly intricate, exceeding even the capabilities and programming of the most advanced supercomputers. From that initial bite of a meal to the conclusion of a healthy bowel movement, the digestive process and gastrointestinal motility involve an energy-intensive collaboration of various elements working together in precise coordination. However, various issues can arise, much like a plumbing system that occasionally experiences backups. If you find yourself spending more time in the “reading room,” it’s essential to make necessary changes before it takes a toll on your long-term health!

Bowel Regularity and Transit Time

Bowel regularity and motility is an important aspect of health at any age. From a holistic perspective, healthy bowel motility means having well-formed, easily passed stools 1-3 times per day. However, it is common to hear from some in the medical field that a bowel movement every 2-4 days or longer is considered normal.

A healthy transit time typically ranges from 18-24 hours. Transit time refers to the duration from when you eat the food to when it was excreted. A longer transit time can lead to dehydrated stools with small pebbles or dry stools that are hard to pass. It may leave you feeling bogged down, bloated, gassy, affect your appetite, and contribute to other health changes.

An estimated one in five adults experience sluggish bowels and occasional constipation, That number is even higher for those over 65. Women are more likely to experience constipation than men.

Gut Motility Players

Gut motility and the ability to have regular bowel movements are controlled by several teams. This includes multiple neurological systems, the gut microbiome, immune system, neurochemicals and hormones, the mucosal lining, smooth muscle function, mitochondria, and the migrating motor complex, etc. A breakdown in communication with one or more of these teams ends up affecting your overall health, including your long-term brain health.

Nerves and Brain

From a neurological perspective, digestion and gut motility are primarily directed by the nervous system within your gut (enteric nervous system), followed by the autonomic nervous system, and finally by your brain. This highly sophisticated, dynamic interrelationship of nerves and neurochemicals involves an ongoing conversation back and forth between each neurological system and your gut environment and microbiome. This comprises the gut-brain axis. Its function affects the health of your entire body.

Gut Microbiome

The gut environment also plays a pivotal role in controlling gut motility. This environment consists of the gut microbiome, the fermentation processes used by the flora for digestion and absorption, and the immune system.

Gut environment motility mechanisms are influenced by the types and balance of flora in your gut. Gut flora produces compounds that support healthy motility, such as short chain fatty acids, bile acid metabolism, mucous secretion, and many neurotransmitter metabolites. Short chain fatty acids are made by your gut flora chewing on dietary fiber. Bile acids are produced and secreted by the liver and gallbladder and then recycled by your gut flora.

Gut Mucosal Barrier

Inside the lining of your gut is a dynamic mucosal barrier that is a protective biofilm. It naturally houses your gut microbiome. It is directly impacted by the amount of fiber in your diet. A low fiber diet can lead to the breakdown of this mucosal barrier which allows non-beneficial germs to infiltrate and multiply. This change impairs gut motility and increases the likelihood of intestinal permeability.

Gut Pacemakers, Mitochondria, and Motility

Another critical factor in gut motility involves the smooth muscles of your intestines, connected to the enteric and autonomic nervous system. Specialized nerves known as the pacemaker interstitial cells of Cajal(ICC) work together with immune compounds and mitochondria in the intestinal muscles. Together, they provide the energy needed to keep sphincters, peristalsis, gut motility, and numerous other digestive functions working and moving in the right direction. Stressed or sluggish mitochondria can interfere with the natural energetic functions of these gut pacemakers.

Other highly important factors affecting gut motility include the migrating motor complex (MCC), choline/acetylcholine, and the vagus nerve. More information may be found in these articles:

Gut Motility: Fundamentals to Master for Metabolism, Weight Management, and Gut Health

Support the Mighty Vagus Nerve

Influence of Gut Bacteria on Motility

Certain gut bacterial strains of Bifidobacteria are especially supportive of bowel motility. Various Lactobacillus strains also play a role in supporting the microbiome, mucosal barriers, neurotransmitters, and neuroimmune compounds for motility. Some forms of Lactobacillus also have been found to stimulate the nerves responsible for gut motility.

The Most Important Thing

Bowel motility and your microbiome depend on starting off on the right foot. Factors such as pregnancy, vaginal or C-section delivery, and breastfeeding versus formula feeding impact the formation and development of your gut-brain axis and microbiome. It is also influenced by factors such as antibiotic and other drug usage, vaccinations, alcohol, stress, cortisol and thyroid hormones and more.

However, the single most important daily factor that influences the overall balance and diversity of your gut flora, motility, mucosal barriers, mitochondria, and gut-brain axis balance is your diet. Hydration and physical activity levels of course also influence things.

Western Diet Causes Constipation

The Western Diet, characterized by high fat, high sugar, ultra-processed foods, and little fiber, diminishes the quality and quantity of beneficial gut flora. This leads to the depletion of beneficial short chain fatty acids and weakens mucosal barriers in the intestinal tract, allowing the infiltration of non-beneficial flora.

These bacteria flourish and release pro-inflammatory LPS toxins that interfere with gut motility. These toxins place great stress on your overall health, like a smoldering fire. The Western Diet deprives your mitochondria and nerves of the nutrients needed for energetic functions and antioxidant support.

Healthy gut motility acts like a report card on your brain health. The Western diet provokes a failing grade and perpetuates problems with gut motility, gut-brain axis dysregulation, nerve cell death, inflammatory stress, and neurological deterioration.

Research clearly demonstrates that individuals with a history of healthy bowel motility and microbiome maintain mental sharpness, memory, motor/movement abilities and overall vitality well into advanced ages compared to those with motility issues.

Additionally, animal research published in the journal Nature showed that the shrinkage of a healthy microbiome due to a poor quality, low fiber diet adversely influenced the microbiome of the next four generations. How is your gut motility report card?

Key Principles to Support Your Bowel Motility

• Change your diet to include 5-13 servings of vegetables and fruit per day. Unfortunately, fewer than 10% of the American population consumes adequate amounts of fiber rich fruits and vegetables each day.

• Fiber intake should be 25-50 grams per day in adults. Most Americans get only about 10 -12 grams. Gradually increase fiber intake over several weeks to allow your body to adapt to the changes. For a more in-depth discussion about fiber, refer to the article Fiber and Your Gut Mucosal Lining.

• Choose whole foods 80-90 percent of the time. Choose a wide variety of foods rather than the same 10-20 foods. A variety of foods is required to help your microbiome thrive!

• Engage in exercise 150-180 minutes or more per week.

• Drink water. A general rule of thumb for basic adequate hydration is to drink one half of your body weight in ounces of water. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, then you need at least 75 ounces of water or fluids daily.

• Don’t ignore the urge to have a bowel movement. Listen to your body!

• Allow time between meals for the ICC and MCC pacemakers of the gut to effectively propel food downward. Frequent grazing, snacks, and skipping meals dysregulates the circadian rhythms of the gut-brain-axis. The Five Rules of the Leptin Diet supports and helps regulate the natural circadian rhythms.

• Reduce added sugar intake to 25 grams or less per day.

• Teach the children in your life about healthy food choices. Be a role model for them!

• Gut health influences family planning and the health of generations to come. Make wise choices.

• Eliminate foods to which you are sensitive. This step further reduces the stress on the gut-brain axis. The top 9 food allergens include dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soybeans, and sesame.

• Check your medications to see if they affect bowel motility or alter the gut microbiome. Antibiotics, pain medications, NSAIDs, acid blockers, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, and many other medications may be problematic.

Favorite Supplements for Gut Microbiome Health

• Super Dophilus provides prebiotics and probiotics, containing several strains of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus proven to reach the large intestine.

• Fiber Helper provides a tasty blend of soluble and insoluble prebiotic fibers. It consists of arabinogalactan, oat beta glucan, and psyllium. It also helps lower cholesterol with the combination of a healthy diet and lifestyle.

• GI & Muscle Helper contains the prebiotic FOS along with glutamine and N-acetyl-d-glucosamine (NAGs), which help build short chain fatty acids and support the repair of the mucosal lining.

• d-Limonene is an oil extracted from orange peel that naturally assists with bile acid movement and motility. It helps stimulate the movement of food down the digestive tract.

• Oregano Oil provides natural support in maintaining the balance of healthy gut flora and protecting the mucosal barrier.

• Turmeric Gold aids in modulating the gut-immune-microbiome system. It also acts as an antioxidant in the digestive tract, brain, and other organs.

Mitochondria and Neurological Pacemaker Support

Remember to provide additional support for your mitochondria and neurological pacemaker complexes. Diets rich in organic, vibrant colored fruits and vegetables, eggs, fish, animal proteins, beans, legumes, seeds, and nuts, and whole unrefined grains provide daily essentials for nerves and mitochondria. For more intensive support, consider supplements like Super Q10 Ubiquinol, PQQ, and Super Brain Booster.

Further information may be found in these articles:

Revitalize Your Gut: How Prebiotics, Probiotics & Postbiotics Work Together

Fiber and Your Gut Mucosal Lining

D-Limonene: Help for Digestion, Metabolism, Detoxification, Mood

Oregano Oil Shines for GI Health and Immunity

How Healthy is Your Gallbladder?

Healthy Mucosal Barriers Makes for a Healthier You

Healthy Poop: What is Your Digestive Tract Trying to Tell You?

Help for the Holiday Bloat

Chewing Well and Relaxed Meals Essential for Metabolism, Brain Health, and Healthy Poop

Support the Mighty Vagus Nerve

Memory Neurotransmitter & Gut Health Linked

Nutrients Help Improve Occasional Constipation Naturally

Dementia Risk Linked with Common Medications

Disrupted Gut Clocks Linked with IBS, GERD, Obesity, and Other GI Concerns

Mitochondria – Drugs that Injury and What Mitochondrial Injury Looks Like

NSAIDs Injury Gut Lining and Mitochondria

Curcumin Supports Gut Lining and Health

Nutritional Interventions to Help Your Gut and Anxious Brain

Leaky Gut Syndrome: More Than Just a Gut Problem

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