Person standing with hole where stomach should be

The Gastrocolic Reflex: “Food Goes Right Through Me!”

Have you ever eaten a meal and almost right after you’ve eaten it you are rushing to the bathroom to have a bowel movement? You’ve probably used the phrase, food goes right through me! Many patients who live with Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis have experienced this phenomenon.

But does food really go right through you?

Let’s think about it: There are about 25 feet of intestine in the digestive tract. If you ate a slice of pizza and stood up to go to the bathroom 5 minutes later, would it really be the pizza that had reached the end of your digestive system? Did it just go right through you? The pizza would have had to travel through your esophagus, stomach, and 25 feet of intestine all in 5 minutes which would be some sort of record transit time. Even though you just ate a meal and had to use the bathroom shortly after, the food did not travel all the way through your digestive system in that short amount of time.

So what is actually happening?

If you are eating a meal and very shortly afterward you need to use the bathroom, the cause is usually the gastrocolic reflex. The gastrocolic reflex is a reflex that stimulates contractions in the colon that can lead to using the bathroom shortly after eating a meal. Basically the stomach and the colon are communicating1 – once the food you have just eaten reaches the stomach, the stomach sends a message to the colon to make room because more food is coming. The colon being the polite guy he is, starts contracting which pushes it’s contents further down and this is why you have a bowel movement shortly after you have eaten the meal. It’s not the food that you just ate that is coming out of you, it’s waste from food that you had eaten earlier that was already further down in the digestive tract.

Stomach (gastro) is talking to the colon (colic) about contractions after eating

The gastrocolic reflex involves the stomach (gastro) and the colon (colic).

Research has shown that some patients with IBS have an over-reactive gastrocolic reflex with high pressure contractions in response to meals.2 Simply eating or drinking can trigger this exaggerated reflex resulting in pain, cramping, diarrhea or constipation. Several patients with IBD have coexistent symptoms of IBS3 so this exaggerated gastrocolic reflex can occur in patients who have Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis.

Greasy foods can trigger reflex

Usually large meals or foods that contain unhealthy fats can also increase the pressure of contractions of the gastrocolic reflex.4 This can explain why you feel like you need to use the bathroom right after you eat fried or greasy foods.

So there you have it! The reason why you feel like you have to use the bathroom shortly after eating is because of the gastrocolic reflex. Needing to use the bathroom right after eating a meal can make a patient assume that food travels extremely fast through their system – that food goes right through them.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The InflammatoryBowelDisease.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
  1. "Control of the GI Tract." YouTube. Khan Academy Medicine, 15 May 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
  2. Am Fam Physician. 2002 Nov 15;66(10):1867-1875.
  3. Lichtenstein, Gary R., MD, Stephen B. Hanauer, MD, and William J. Sandborn, MD. "Management of Crohn's Disease in Adults." The American College of Gastroenterology. 6 Jan. 2009. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
  4. Bolen, Barbara, MD. "What Is the Gastrocolic Reflex?" About.com Health. 7 Jan. 2016. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.

Comments

View Comments (8)
  • Tanya
    4 weeks ago

    I am sorry I wish this article was true but I am proof it is not. I ate beets about an hour ago and had to go to bathroom like 40 minutes later. The color was RED. And this happens ALL of the time. You can definitely see what I just ate when that happens. By the way today was the first time I ate beets in months. So sick of living this way.

  • LindaLewis36
    55 mins ago

    I’ve tried almost everything under the sun to get rid of the painful symptoms of IBS. Starving myself by cutting out my favorite foods, taking dangerous (and expensive!) medications, drinking gallons of water to “wash it out of me”
    ,but I still have the cramps, bloating, stomach upset and embarrassing bathroom runs that IBS throws at me! It wasn’t until I stumbled upon this natural remedy I found here ( http://cure-ibs.bestips.info ), that my life changed completely. I’m feeling so much better now and all of symptoms of IBS are totally gone.

  • thedancingcrohnie moderator
    2 months ago

    Thanks for writing this. So interesting and this makes total sense to me. Sometimes, I get a reaction to food almost instantly after eating it and I would often think, there is no way this piece of food just travelled through my entire digestive system in a matter of seconds.

    Thanks for the read!

    Always dancing,
    Elizabeth (team member)

  • hamster
    7 months ago

    Can’t be taken in liquid form. Thanks for the response.
    They were time release, but they still should not pass through my system so quickly.
    I got the doc to change meds and help find other ways to control my medical problems.
    Though some cannot be fixed or lessened with lifestyle changes.
    Less meds has help with some nasty side effects. Such as less weigh gain. 🙂

  • Bedtdkk
    10 months ago

    I totally disagree. .It does.travel that fast. Have not ate salads or vegetables in four days. Had a Ceasars salad with supper last night and within 20 min was in the bathroom with cramps and D and it was evident that it was the greens. Lasted for hours of constantly running to the bathroom and cramps.

  • kerman
    1 year ago

    Sorry – but I don’t agree with the premise that the food can’t go right thru. I know this happens because of something obvious – like corn or pimento that immediately shows up in the toilet. (foods I know could only have come from the current meal This is the same thing Hamster was saying..) Also, I’ve had an upper GI xray that they said could take up to 4 or 5 hours, and I was done in 15 minutes. So I know that the “going right thru me” syndrome can be very real.

  • hamster
    1 year ago

    What would then be the cause of meds I took soon after eating and had to go within 15 minutes or less and the pills were in the toilet already?

  • Brooke Abbott moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi @hamster, this could be that the pills are time release or haven’t had a chance to be broken down. A good solution for this is to take vitamins and meds in liquid form if possible. Talk to your doctor and pharmacist about options.

    Brooke
    (inflammatoryboweldisease.net Team Member)

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