Boosting Your Colon's Motility

A sluggish colon can potentially facilitate uncomfortable symptoms of gas, bloating and abdominal discomfort. Severe cases might even lead to a back up of waste products -- stool -- in your lower intestine. Although it is not common, chronic bowel motility problems can result in nausea, vomiting and chronic constipation. If you've been suffering bowel irregularity and have no known medical problems, it might be time to have a discussion with your doctor.

What is Motility?

Motility refers to the way food moves through your digestive tract, into your colon, and eventually out of your body. By the time food reaches your colon it is digested, but there is one more process required before it becomes what we know as stool. The colon removes water and some minerals from the remaining waste through absorption, and then it becomes your bowel movement. Your intestines are responsible for moving this waste out of your body via smooth muscle contractions, which are controlled by nerves.

I Just Ate That for Lunch, Now it's in My Stool

Despite what friends or family might tell you, unless you have had gastric surgery that is pretty much impossible. In a normal, healthy bowel, food takes between one to two days to move through and out of your system. However, if you suffer slow motility, the waste can stagnate and linger for longer time periods in your colon.

A bowel movement every one to two days is perfectly normal, but not every person enjoys such a routine schedule. 

Is This a Type of Disease?

Slow motility is not a disease process. However, if you continually have irregular or sluggish bowels, it can potentially herald a problem in your digestive tract.

The motility of your colon is dependent upon a number of factors; some are controllable and some are not. For instance, you cannot control the aging process, but it is a known contributor to the motility of your large intestine. Likewise, some diseases and conditions can alter your motility including:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Megacolon (or other pseudo-obstruction)
  • Neurological disease including Parkinson's Disease
  • Dietary patterns (low fiber or fluid intake)
  • Hormonal changes (such as estrogen deficiencies in women)
  • Chronic use of laxatives or narcotic pain medications

Bowel or abdominal surgery can also impair your bowel's motility, but in most cases, it is a temporary and anticipated change immediately following the operation.

Signs of Potential Motility Problems

Two common signs that your colon may be sluggish are consistently straining on the toilet or passing infrequent, hard, and uncomfortable bowel movements. The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons define constipation as having two or less stools per week.

 Although chronic constipation can be an indication that something in your colon is not working right, it doesn't have to mean a serious problem. For instance, eating too little fiber or too much processed food can slow things down, but it's correctable with dietary changes. 

Speeding up Your Colon

If you have already talked to your doctor and have a clean bill of health, you may want to consider making some dietary changes to boost your motility. The list of potential dietary impacts on your colon's motility is quite extensive. Something as simple as drinking too little water everyday can slow things down. Dehydration has a leading role in how often your bowels move, as your body works to remove water from your stool prior to expulsion. If you haven't already, you might also want to try:

  • Cutting down on your caffeine and drinking more clear liquids
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Increasing the amount of natural fiber you eat (whole grains, fruits and vegetables)
  • Natural probiotics (the good bacteria) such as those found in yogurt
  • Stopping or limiting processed foods
  • Decreasing your sodium (salt) intake
  • Increasing your activity, if you can safely do so

At some point in your life, chances are you will suffer a brief period of slow motility. As long as the condition doesn't linger, it can be quite normal and easily relieved.


International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. (n.d.). Colon Manometry. Accessed online November 15, 2014.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (n.d.). Your Digestive System and How it Works. Accessed online November 15, 2014.

Ternent, Charles. (2015). Functional Bowel Disease/Constipation. American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons. Accessed online January 24, 2015.

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