At the recent Probiota Conference in Copenhagen we attended many seminars. One of these had a section about gut transit time and what this can mean for gut health.
Normal Gut Transit Time
A properly functioning stomach will normally empty in 4 to 6 hours. Food generally takes 5 hours to move through the small intestine and then up to a further 70 hours (almost 3 days) to move through the colon – travelling around 7-8 metres in total. The total time from eating to emptying the bowel is called the gut transit time (GTT). It varies from person to person and from day to day depending on your metabolism and how much you have eaten.
The ideal gut transit time is 12-48 hours – if it is quicker the gut doesn’t have the opportunity to absorb all of the nutrients from the food. The impact of a slow transit time can result in poor gut health and lead to other complications.
Impact of Slow Movement
A study was conducted by Postdoc Henrik Munch Roager from the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark with 98 Danish adults and was published in Nature Microbiology. This showed that the longer food takes to pass through the colon, the more harmful bacterial degradation products are produced.
In simple terms, when the gut bacteria run out of their favourite food – fibre, they then start consuming protein. When the bacteria eat fibre it releases short chain fatty acids which provide all kind of positive health benefits. However when they consume protein they produce by-products such as ammonia and sulphur compounds, which at high concentrations can damage the cells of the bowel directly.
In extreme cases, the bacteria can start to feed on the protective mucus layer of our intestinal cells, causing it to become thinner. This is really NOT good as a thinner mucus layer makes the intestinal cells more prone to DNA mutations. This increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
The opposite is also true, so when the transit time is shorter the team found a higher amount of the substances that are produced when the colon renews its inner surface. This may be a sign of a healthier intestinal wall and make you less prone to disease.
So in short if waste takes too long to travel through the intestines it is a bad thing, whilst a speedier (but not too quick) transit time can bring very positive gut health benefits.
How Many People Are Affected?
One sign of a slow bowel transit time is constipation. The prevalence of constipation is quite surprising. In the UK it affects 1 in 7 adults at any one time; it is more prevalent in children and in women. It causes 182 hospital admissions every day and costs the NHS £145m for hospital treatments and a further £101m for laxatives at the last count.
Many people suffer in silence, with 1 in 5 people too embarrassed to even talk to their GP’s about their constipation issues and another fifth likely to try to sort it out themselves without talking to anyone about it. This needs to change as it can result in bigger, long term issues that are more difficult to resolve.
Test Your Gut Transit Time
You can do a very simple test to give a very basic assessment of your gut transit time. Eat some sweetcorn kernels and see how long it takes to notice it when you go to the toilet. Note this down, but also keep checking until you STOP seeing sweetcorn. It might not all come out at once, the last you see indicates your transit time.
What Can Be Done To Improve Gut Transit Time?
There are 3 key things that can improve gut transit time:
- Eating a fibre-rich diet
- Drinking plenty of water
- Exercise / do something physical
Troo is here to help you eat more fibre and get you to the magic 30g of fibre per day. Troo Spoonful of Fibre, liquid inulin syrup and Troo Granola both contain high levels of soluble fibre per portion due to the inulin content. A comprehensive review of research studies involving inulin and people suffering from constipation from 1995-2013 concluded that inulin has a significant overall effect on stool frequency, stool consistency, transit time and hardness of stool.
Conversely eating too much meat or an diet containing too much protein can actually reduce your gut transit time.