ow to change stomach emptying rate

Stomach or gastric emptying rate may not be a term you hear every day.

Whether you know about it or not, gastric emptying is something that’s happening every time you eat.

Numerous factors impact the speed at which stomach content empties. Read on to find out what gastric emptying rate is, what it indicates about your health, and how to change it.


How the Stomach Works

The stomach is the connecting organ between the esophagus and the small intestine.

Dividing the stomach and small intestine is the pyloric canal, the gatekeeper that controls stomach content from moving on to the small intestine.  

As food enters the stomach it is broken down, by stomach acid (HCl), enzymes, and mechanical movement, into a liquid called chyme.

Chyme is then transported to the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine, through contractions of the fundus.

Contractions help push food towards the pyloric canal.  Liquids easily pass through the canal, while foods that are not thoroughly broken down are blocked from entry to further digest in the stomach.

Summary: As food travels from the esophagus to the small intestine, it is digested in the stomach by acids, enzymes, and physical contractions.


Gastric Emptying 101

When food and beverages empty from the stomach, it is known as gastric emptying and the emptying speed is the gastric emptying rate.

It involves complicated metabolic reactions, hormone secretions, and precise timing based on what you eat (1).

The goal of gastric emptying is to deliver the stomach’s contents to the small intestine to continue digestion and absorption. This allows the stomach to prepare for the next meal.  

Hormones such as ghrelin, gastrin, cholecystokinin, and GLP-1 help regulate gastric emptying (2).

  • Ghrelin:
    • The “hunger hormone”
    • When the stomach is empty, it absorbs. When the stomach is full, it stops.
    • Controls gastric motility and the release of stomach acid. 
  • Gastrin:
    • Controls gastric motility and the release of stomach acid. 
    • Releases under the presence of proteins and stretching of the stomach 
  • Cholecystokinin:
    • Acts as a hunger suppressant by inhibiting gastric emptying. 
    • Helps regulate the digestion of proteins and fats. 
  • GLP-1:
    • Released in two phases after eating a meal
    • Slows down gastric emptying rate 

Summary: Gastric emptying is the emptying of the stomach to further digestion. It is controlled by various hormones including ghrelin, gastrin, cholecystokinin, and GLP-1.


Factors Impacting Gastric Emptying Rate

Gastric emptying begins roughly 30 minutes after a eating meal.

However, factors like a meal’s consistency, nutrient composition, portion size, calorie contents, temperature, and pH level all impact emptying rate. 

Variables to Emptying Rate-

  • Liquids:
    • Liquids with no nutrients (i.e. water) rapidly empty the stomach, as they require little to no digestion. 
    • However, liquids that are nutrient dense like olive oil or smoothies empty at a slower rate.
  • Solids:
    • Solids require more breakdown by the stomach to be small enough to pass into the small intestine. This process delays emptying, taking about 1-2 hours.
  • Nutrient Composition:
  • Food Temperature:
    • The temperature of food when it when enters the stomach affects when it leaves. Hot meals and beverages exit the stomach much quicker than cool (4,5).
  • Individual Health Status:
    • No digestive tract is exactly the same. Gastric emptying rates can vary based on existing health conditions such as diabetes, pregnancy, aging, gastroparesis, anxiety, bowel resections etc.
    • It usually takes 4-5 hours for the stomach to be completely emptied in a healthy person.

Summary: Gastric emptying rate is impacted by variables like consistency of food, nutrient profile, meal size, temperature, and health status.


Assessing Your Gastric Emptying Rate 

Numerous tests can help identify gastric emptying rate.

Tests include:

  • Upper Endoscopy:
    • Using a flexible scope, a physician inspects the stomach to detect for ulcers, an obstruction, or dumping syndrome.
  • Barium X-ray:
    • This test is also referred to as an Upper GI Study and is used to detect structural problems. The barium X-ray involves swallowing a barium solution and then undergoing an x-ray to detect abnormalities in the digestive tract.
  • Ultrasound:
    • Ultrasounds are a non-invasive method to collect images of the stomach and GI tract. They are a common test to detect structural problems or obstructions.
  • SmartPill Test:
    • SmartPill Test is an ingestible pill used to detect gastroparesis or constipation. After swallowed, the pill travels through the digestive system measuring pressure, pH, and temperature, providing data to your physician. The pill passes in a normal bowel movement 3-5 days after ingestion.
  • Gastric Emptying Breath Test (GEBT):
    • The GEBT is a breath sample collection that helps detect gastroparesis. It requires patients to eat a special meal of spirulina, eggs, and saltine crackers. Spirulina concentration found in the breath show how quickly the stomach is emptying.
  • Gastric Emptying Scan:
    • This test detects gastroparesis or obstructions. Patients consume meal containing a small amount of radioactive material provided by a physician. Over the next several hours, images are of the stomach help observe transit time.

Summary: Various tests help analyze gastric emptying rate. Talk with your doctor to find out the right test for you.


How To Change Your Gastric Emptying Rate

It is possible to change your gastric emptying rate.

Have a Slow Emptying Rate?

A slow gastric emptying rate may indicate gastroparesis, obstructions, structural problems, or pyloric sphincter nerve damage.

Symptoms of these complications include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and fullness.

  • How to Help:
    • Consume meals low in fats
    • Drink more liquids or smoothies over solid foods 
    • Limit fiber intake
    • Chew food thoroughly
    • Supplements such as ginger and bitters may increase gastric emptying rate (9,10)
    • Studies suggest Vitamin D3 may improve gastric emptying (11)

Have a Rapid Emptying Rate?

Rapid gastric emptying may indicate dumping syndrome.

Symptoms such as weakness, diarrhea, and lightheadedness may occur after a meal.

  • How to Help:
    • Consume smaller, more frequent meals
    • Eat high fiber foods such as legumes, fruits with skin, and fresh vegetables
    • Enjoy adequate healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, and almonds
    • Avoid simple sugars such as, soda, juices, candy, etc.

Summary: If your gastric emptying rate is too rapid or too slow it may indicate a variety of disorders. Altering your diet may help reset the digestive system to a normal rate.


Empty Right for Optimal Digestion

Gastric emptying rate, or how quickly the stomach empties, is influenced by a variety of factors including the amount, type and temperature of food eaten as well as personal health status.

If your gastric emptying rate is too fast or too slow there are dietary methods to alter the speed. Try changing the size of meals, fiber and fat content.

Many tests help analyze gastric emptying rate and detect ailments that may accompany an abnormal rate.

Observing your digestive system is an important element of health and ensuring your gastric emptying rate is normal contributes to good health.

 

By Elise Deming, RDN, LDN @eat.with.elise