Digestive difficulties affect up to 70 million people, but many of us—and especially many women—don’t like to discuss what’s going on inside our guts. “There’s definitely embarrassment, and women tend to suffer in silence,” said Jacqueline Wolf, M.D., a women’s GI disease specialist at Harvard Medical School.
Our discomfort with discussing our digestive tracts means that many of us have unresolved questions about whether our systems are functioning optimally—or even normally! One common concern is the amount of time it takes for food to travel through our systems. So, how long does food stay in the stomach?
Experts say that, on average, it takes 24 hours for food to be digested. After you chew and swallow a bite of food and it reaches your stomach, your body releases approximately 3 liters of hydrochloric acid that begin transforming the food you eat into goop. Once roughly half an hour has passed, your system transports the goop into your small intestine, which absorbs the nutrients it contains and distributes them to your bloodstream.
Our intestines use rhythmic contractions to move the goop along, which can sometimes cause rumbling sounds technically known as borborygmi. These gurgling sounds can be a source of embarrassment (rest assured, they seem loudest to those experiencing them!) but they’re rarely of medical importance. As the contractions continue—audibly or not—the remaining goop enters your colon, which takes in any liquid left to be soaked up. The leftover waste must then be pushed through your colon, a process that takes between 1 and 4 days, depending on how much fiber you eat.
There’s plenty of variability when it comes to normal digestion times, but if you’re concerned that you may have overly slow digestion, or that your food may not be digesting at all, you may be dealing with gastroparesis.
What Is Gastroparesis?
Gastroparesis, or “stomach paralysis” as some with the condition refer to it, is poorly understood, and the number of people dealing with unpleasant symptoms associated with it appears to be rising. Fortunately, organizations like the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) are working hard to raise awareness about gastroparesis, inspire further research into causes and treatments, and improve care for individuals living with this condition. Since August is Gastroparesis Awareness Month, this is the perfect time to take a moment to learn about its symptoms, possible underlying causes, and how to treat it.
Gastroparesis, sometimes abbreviated as GP, occurs when food empties slowly and sluggishly from the stomach. Sometimes, the emptying process comes to a complete halt. Remember, this part of the digestion process should take only about 30 minutes. For individuals with gastroparesis, testing reveals food can remain in the stomach for 4 hours or longer!
The most common symptoms of gastroparesis are…
- A feeling of fullness after consuming a small amount of food
- Vomiting up undigested food
Some individuals also report gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), stomach pain and bloating, and a lack of appetite. Symptoms can vary widely in terms of intensity and frequency, both between individuals and for the same individual over time. Because people can experience a range of symptoms which overlap with those of other diseases, diagnosing gastroparesis can be quite challenging.
If you are diagnosed with gastroparesis, odds are it will be idiopathic gastroparesis, meaning that even after conducting medical tests, your health care provider can’t pinpoint the cause. The most common known cause for gastroparesis is diabetes. Other less common identifiable causes include intestinal surgery and nervous system disorders like Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
What Doctors Recommend for Gastroparesis
Conventional treatments for gastroparesis focus on managing symptoms and typically involve some or all of the following measures…
- Dietary and lifestyle changes
If your gastroparesis symptoms are mild and come and go, they can likely be alleviated if not eliminated using only dietary and lifestyle changes, such as cutting out greasy or rich foods and carbonated beverages. Moderate to severe symptoms can require medications like prokinetic agents that can encourage the stomach to empty more quickly. In some cases, when symptoms result in dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or malnutrition, gastric electric stimulation and other surgical procedures may become necessary.
5 Natural Options for Managing Gastroparesis Symptoms
If you’re looking for holistic ways to quickly relieve the discomfort caused by gastroparesis, there are several effective options out there to choose from. These six simple, natural options for managing gastroparesis can help quell a flare-up and even prevent future occurrences.
- Soothe your stomach with ginger: both Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine use ginger as a potent digestive aid. It can alleviate nausea and discomfort, and studies indicate it can also encourage gastric emptying.
- Eat mindfully: in addition to eliminating foods that worsen your symptoms, you may find it helpful to eat smaller meals, to eat more slowly, and to accompany meals with plenty of fluids to aid movement through your digestive tract.
- Try drinking pineapple juice: drinking pineapple juice can support healthy digestion and bowel movements. Additionally, because the juice contains a laundry list of vital nutrients—including a spectrum of B vitamins, calcium, vitamin C, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc—it can be a crucial way to fuel your body when you’re having difficulty eating much else.
- Use yoga to limit triggers: this technique can be especially helpful for individuals with diabetes-related gastroparesis, since doing yoga can regulate blood sugar levels by stimulating the liver and pancreas. Certain special breathing techniques and meditative chanting can also improve GERD symptoms and enhance the function of the vagus nerve, which controls the stomach’s muscles.
- Seek out acupuncture and acupressure: exciting new research shows that acupuncture, acupressure, and transcutaneous electroacupuncture can be used to treat gastroparesis. Testing reveals that gastrointestinal function improved and symptoms decreased after the sessions, and patients self-reported improvement in their condition.
You can also consider natural digestion supplements designed to help promote healthy digestion. Give your digestive tract some TLC with Rejuva Digest, made with 18 critical enzymes known to break down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins…or Dyflogest, made of a powerful blend of the following herbs:
- Black Radish is shown to help with liver detoxification and food metabolization, supporting bile production which helps break down fat and protein
- Artichoke Extract helps stimulate secretion of digestive juices in the stomach and bile in the liver
- Peppermint Oil is known to relieve stomach upset and inhibit growth of certain bacterias
- Artemesia, or Wormwood extract is a natural antiseptic and helps eliminate microbes