What is the Gastrocolic Reflex and how does it impact IBS symptoms

What is the Gastrocolic Reflex and how does it impact IBS symptoms

Grilled sandwich on a wooden plate on a blue table; what is the gastrocolic reflex

What is the Gastrocolic Reflex and how does it impact IBS symptoms

This post is for general information purposes only, is not meant to diagnose or treat, and is in no way a replacement for consulting a medical professional.


Have you ever experienced digestive discomfort during or shortly after a meal?

We’re talking about symptoms that start in your gut, like bloating or distention, cramps, flatulence, or diarrhea.

If these symptoms pop up while you’re still eating or 15 to 30 minutes afterwards, there’s a good chance that it doesn’t have much to do with what you were eating. It’s likely due to the gastrocolic reflex that has been triggered just by the act of eating itself.

Everyone experiences the gastrocolic reflex, and it has an important part to play in digestion. In very simple terms, it’s the communication between the stomach and the large intestine. The stomach registers food coming in and senses its walls stretching to accommodate the additional volume. It then tells the gut to move things along from previous meals to make space for the new arrivals. The muscles of the gut walls contract to push the contents along their journey.

While this reaction happens for everyone, people with irritable bowel syndrome can have their symptoms triggered by this communication. The reflex may be exaggerated, creating a more intense response than necessary. In essence, the muscles contractions are more intense than your gut actually requires.

There are also a few things that can trigger a stronger than normal gastrocolic reflex. This includes eating a large meal, meals that are particularly high in fat, as well as drinking a large quantity of cold liquids.

Aside from mealtimes, the gastrocolic reflex is generally more active in the morning just after waking up. This is why many people experience their main bowel movement of the day first thing in the morning!

A group of people sitting around table full of plates of food; what is the gastrocolic reflex

The gastrocolic reflex for IBS subtypes (IBS-D & IBS-C)

With this in mind, if you experience a diarrhea predominant version of IBS (IBS-D), eating smaller, more frequent meals, staying away from high fat, greasy meals, and drinking large amounts of cold liquids could help reduce your chances of triggering symptoms.

Some medications may be helpful in dealing with an overreactive gastrocolic reflex; discuss with your doctor if this may be something for you.

If you’re more susceptible to constipation predominant IBS (IBS-C), you could use the gastrocolic reflex to your advantage to improve the frequency and predictability of bowel movements. Start your day off with a big glass of cool water along with a good-sized, healthy breakfast containing fiber and healthy fats. Some physical activity or exercise can also be helpful.

Giving yourself enough time to have a bowel movement in the morning is also important. Try not to be too rushed and allow the time to relax and use the toilet. Even just making the time to sit there, even if you don’t have a bowel movement could help your system learn and adapt over time eventually making bowel movements more frequent and regular.


Curious about what might be behind symptoms that pop up at other times of the day? Check out this blog post for more info!





Find out what to do when bloating rears its ugly head. Grab the free guide for 12 tips to help you find bloating relief and IBS success!

Foods to Boost Digestion Naturally

Foods to Boost Digestion Naturally

Foods to Boost Digestion Naturally

Food is so much more than fuel – it can be a powerful tool to use for ensuring your body is running as it should and is in proper balance.

If you’re struggling with digestive issues, like:

  • Feeling excessively full after a meal
  • Acid reflux or heartburn
  • Burping
  • Bloating / Cramps
  • Gas
  • Constipation / Diarrhea

Looking to your diet may give you some relief.

Starting with food as a tool is an easier and cheaper way than immediately reaching for the supplements, so read on for some great additions to your diet that could just make all the difference!

Lemon or Apple Cider Vinegar with water

We need those digestive juices going in order to properly break down our food in the stomach! Drinking 1-2 tablespoons (15-30mL) of fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar diluted in a glass of water prior to a meal can help the stomach kick-off this process. Try it out before larger meals and see if it starts to make a difference! However, this is not for you if you struggle with acid reflex or heartburn as it could cause additional irritation / damage to existing sensitive areas.

Beets or Beet Juice

Beet are rich in a compound called betaine, which improves our stomach acid levels. It’s often added to supplements contained HCl (stomach acid), but you can get some naturally just by adding some beets into your meal or having some beet juice! If you’re new to eating beets, don’t be alarmed, but it does naturally colour your stool – nothing to be afraid of!

Papaya & Pineapple

Both these tropical fruits contain enzymes that we can use in our own digestive system. These proteolytic enzymes are crucial for the proper digestion of protein (among other functions). The enzymes in the fruit, papain and bromelain, aren’t exactly the same as what our body produces, but they can function in the same way. These two fruits are the most common sources, but you can also get proteolytic enzymes from: asparagus, ginger, kefir, kimchi, kiwifruit, sauerkraut, and yogurt.


Artichoke can help improve bile production by the liver. The liver is where the bile is produced, then it is passed on to the gallbladder, which is triggered during digestion to secret the bile into our small intestines. There it emulsifies the fats we have eaten and helps ensure we are digesting them properly.


This golden spice has become increasingly popular over the last few years, and helping your digestion can be added to the list of positive benefits! In addition to its antioxidant properties, it can help promote the secretion of your digestive juices, and may improve gallbladder function. It may also help with symptoms like heartburn, gastric pain, burping, and gas.

(Check out my recipe for a Golden Turmeric Latte!)


Capsaicin is the hot/spicy component of hot peppers and may help protect the stomach lining. However you should avoid it is your are already struggling with stomach inflammation or acid reflux / heartburn.


Ginger is already fairly well-known for it’s anti-nausea properties (I know I took it in copious amounts as a car-sick suffering child!). It can also help protect the digestive tract like turmeric and capsaicin.

Digestive Teas

Teas can be such an amazing way to take advantage of different plant’s positive properties. Enjoy a tea after a meal from one of the substances above, like turmeric or ginger, for digestive benefits. Or try chamomile that can also be anti-inflammatory and sooth heartburn or irritation of the digestive tract. Tea containing fennel seeds can also be very helpful (they are usually included in any “digestive blend” teas). Fennel seeds help the muscles of the digestive tract relax and can reduce gas, bloating, and cramps.

Fermented foods

A great source of probiotics, fermented foods help ensure that your gut has the right balance of bacteria and promotes good bacteria while inhibiting the bad. They will help boost your immune system (did you know 97% of your immune system is in the gut!?) and your resistance to infection. These are foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, or other fermented veggies, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, miso, and tempeh.


Making sure you get enough fibre is vital to ensuring your digestive system is function properly – especially in terms of keeping everything moving in an orderly fashion! Adults need 25-30g of fibre (or more!) per day, and many are just not getting enough. Whole fruits and veggies contain fibre (make sure you keep the skins on for the extra boost – especially with potatoes!). You can also get fibre from nuts and seeds, whole grains, and lentils / legumes.

(Read more about fibre here!)


Digestive struggles?

Getting an outside opinion can always help us see things that we’re missing! Sign-up for a free breakthrough session to chat about how we can work together to boost your digestion.

How to Eat for Better Digestion

How to Eat for Better Digestion

How to Eat for Better Digestion

Your digestion is not just about what you eat, but also how you eat.

If you’re struggling with digestive issues, then there are quite a few things that you can improve upon when it comes to mealtimes to help make the process a whole lot easier on your body.

1. Don’t eat in front of a screen

Whether it’s the TV, computer, or cell phone, eating in front of a screen can seriously upset your digestive process. For one, you’ll be distracted from eating and your brain won’t necessarily be able to pick up on your hunger & satiation signals as effectively – meaning you’re more likely to over eat. Another reason is that across all these devices is the possibility of our stress response getting trigger; messages coming in, work to do, or a dramatic scene on your favourite show. If we are in a stress state then our body isn’t going to be in the right state to properly digest our meal.

2. Don’t talk shop at the table

Similarly to staying away from screens during a meal, you also want to try and stay away from stressful conversation topics while eating. If you’re at work, leave the meeting debrief for after lunch. If you’re at home, wait until another time to talk about your finances or complain about the rough day you had. Your digestion will thank you!

3. Slow down!

When we eat quickly, we are again disrupting our system from efficiently being able to send us hungry and satiated signals, increasing your chance of overeating. On top of that, the first stage of physical digestion is in the mouth – chewing your food to break it down and mix it with enzymes in your saliva. Properly chewing your food takes a huge burden off the rest of your system, so aim for 20-30 chews for every single mouthful!

4. Take care not to over eat

We all have those foods that we could just keep eating and eating! But when we over eat we are putting a higher demand on our digestive system. Over eating is when you know you should stop – you’re clearly getting the satiated signals from your body, but you keep going, resulting in that uncomfortably full feeling. Your stomach feels full and heavy, you’re probably burping, and maybe even experience acid reflux. If you’re taking the previous three steps into account you’re going to be less likely to end up at this point.

5. Skip beverages during a meal

If you’re struggling with digestive issues, you could try skipping drinks during a meal. Even water can throw off the acidity level of your stomach and if you often feel overly full, it would also be contributing to this, especially if you’re drinking carbonated beverages. Try skipping drinks 15 minutes before until 15 minutes after a meal and see how you feel. If you need some liquid to help keep your mouth moist try and keep it to small sips as needed.

6. Play detective

If you’re struggling with digestive issues you might be getting triggered by a certain food, or type of food. Keep a food journal where you also note down how you’re feeling throughout the day. This way you might be able to see specific patterns in how your food is making you feel. It might also be a question of quantity – sometimes we can do OK with a small amount, but can have issues once a certain threshold is passed.


Digestive struggles?

Getting an outside opinion can always help us see things that we’re missing! Sign-up for a free breakthrough session to chat about how we can work together to boost your digestion.

Stress & Digestion

Stress & Digestion

Stress & Digestion

Have you ever struggled with digestive issues like:

  • excessive fullness
  • acid reflux
  • burping
  • cramps
  • bloating / gas

Within a couple hours of eating a meal?

Digestion is a complex process, but stress can have a big impact on it! Luckily it’s one area that’s pretty easy to actively work on improving.

Digestion starts in the brain, triggering the digestive process to get started. We need to be in a relaxed mode in order to digest our food. So if you’re still in an energetic or stress mode this isn’t going to happen!

Our nervous system has two different states. The sympathetic state, commonly called “fight or flight” is our more energetic, active state. It’s when we’re reacting to things, being physically or mentally active, and also where our system is when we’re stressed. 

The second state is the parasympathetic state, or the “rest and digest” mode. This is where our body rests, recovers, and most importantly (for this blog post!) digests our food. We need to be calm and relaxed in order to be in this state, so you can see how significant this system is on our digestion!

If we’re consuming food but are not in the parasympathetic state, our body will give priority to other tasks before tackling digestion. 

Not only will stress cause our system to not be in the digestion state, but it can also decrease the level of acidity in our stomachs. Having a properly acidic stomach is incredibly important for effectively breaking down our food. This can lead to all of the digestive systems listed above. Plus it puts more burden on the rest of our digestive system to pick up the slack from the stomach.


So what can you do?

If you feel stressed or anxious before eating take a few minutes to do some deep breathing and relax your body. Even do a short mediation if you need it!

Don’t eat in front of a screen! Whether it’s the TV, your cell phone, or in front of your computer at work, these all trigger stress responses. Plus your brain won’t be fully registering that you’re eating and therefore not triggering your digestive system properly.

Stay away from stressful conversation at the table. Don’t “talk shop” with your colleagues over lunch or have hard conversations with your partner at dinner. Leave those topics for later!

Slooooow dooooown. Often we eat quickly when we’re stressed, and are therefore not chewing our food enough! Take a beat to count how many chews you do – I bet it’s less than 10! Try and aim for 20-30 chews per mouthful. It will feel tedious at first, but properly chewing our food is the first step of physical digestion and if you skip this part then the rest of your system has to pick up the slack.

Want to learn more about digestion? Check out these other blog posts!


Find out what to do when bloating rears its ugly head. Grab the free guide for 12 tips to help you find bloating relief and IBS success!

Nutrition 101 – When bad digestion happens to good people

Nutrition 101 – When bad digestion happens to good people

Nutrition 101 – When bad digestion happens to good people

So we’ve already talked about what proper digestion looks like. But with so many steps, and such a complex and interconnected process taking place, it means there are a lot of opportunities where something can go wrong. As I’ve said before, you can be eating the most nutritious diet, but if your digestion isn’t on point, those nutrients could be going to waste! Let’s take a look at some of the ways proper digestion can be compromised.

Some Basics:

Eating in the stress state

Digestion happens when our autonomic nervous system is in a parasympathetic state. This is the “rest and digest” mode when our system is calm, it can rest, repair, and of course, digest our food. In contrast, the sympathetic state, or “fight or flight” mode, is our stress state. Maybe you can already see where I’m going with this? If we are eating while feeling stressed our body won’t be in the right state to properly digest our food. Eating quickly, eating on the go, eating while multitasking (like at your desk, while working), can all disrupt your system from digesting properly.

What can you do?

Stop what you are doing, sit down, take a couple breaths, and eat in a relaxed environment – your body will thank you!


Not chewing your food sufficiently

Chewing is the key first step once the food enters our body, breaking it down and mixing it with saliva which starts the digestion process. If you aren’t taking the time to properly chew your food you are putting a lot of extra pressure on the rest of your digestive system to pick up the slack; the enzymes in your pancreas might not be able to complete the breakdown in the small intestine.

What can you do?

Take the time to properly chew your foods – think upwards of 30 chews per mouthful! Drink your solids and chew your liquids.



More Complex:

Having insufficient stomach acid

Some people might scoff at this one, considering how we all probably know someone who is often popping antacids. But did you know that a common cause of acid reflux is insufficient stomach acid? Let me explain… it’s not just about the quantity of acid in your stomach, but the level of acidity. Stress, excessive alcohol consumption, nutrient deficiencies, allergies, and excessive carbohydrate consumption can all suppress your acid production. The stomach is churning and churning the chyme (what your food is called once it reaches your stomach for digestion) to try and acidify it and break it down – remember it aims to only releases the food into the small intestine once it reaches a sufficient acidity level. So if your food is hanging out in the stomach too long, in a nice warm environment, the carbs can start to ferment, the proteins can putrefy, and the fats can go rancid. This can cause gas build up and pressure on the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus – a recipe for acid reflux disaster!

The stomach also releases enzymes when food is present to aid in the chemical breakdown, but some of these, like the enzyme pepsin which breaks down protein, is only secreted when the acid level of the stomach is sufficiently low. Without pepsin, your protein won’t be broken down sufficiently, leaving the particles too big but also not making the nutrients available to your body for absorption. There are several vitamins and minerals that are absorbed in the stomach, but if the food isn’t properly broken down these won’t be made available.

Eventually, even if your chyme is not acidic enough, the stomach needs to make room for more food to be digested, so improperly broken down contents get passed into the small intestine. Now even though the chyme was not acidic enough by the stomach’s standards, it is still extremely acidic for your small intestine. With normal function the acidity of the food triggers the small intestine to secrete a protective mucous and the pancreas to release sodium bicarbonate which neutralizes the acidity. But if the chyme isn’t acidic enough, this trigger might not happen properly. The acid can burn the lining of the small intestine causing ulcers. Without the neutralizing process happening properly, the further breakdown or your food by pancreatic enzymes may also not take place.


Not consuming enough or improper fats

Healthy fats are a key component for the liver to produce quality bile and quality bile is needed to digest fats. It’s just one of many catch-22s within our body! If we don’t consume enough healthy fats, or over consume the unhealthy ones, our bile can become old and viscous, accumulating in the gallbladder and potentially causing gallstones. If this happens, when the gallbladder does try and release bile insufficient amounts will be released meaning the fats cannot be properly broken down and absorbed.


The gut lining can become leaky

With all of these issues potentially happening upstream, the result can be poorly digested food reaching the small intestine to be absorbed into our bloodstream. These food particles wreak havoc in your gut causing the gut lining to lose it selective permeability (aka. it’s ability to only allow certain things through to the bloodstream). The gut can become leaky and the undigested food gets through into the bloodstream. This can trigger an immune response as your body will recognize these particles as foreign invaders.


Our gut bacteria can get thrown off balance

The large intestine has to deal with everything that is leftover from the digestion process. Of course, if everything is running smoothly, this isn’t a big deal. But if the earlier steps weren’t running optimally, it can mean poorly digested food coming in that could be full of parasites, microorganisms, and undigested fats that can throw off the balance of bacteria in your gut and weaken the cells of your colon. This could eventually lead to conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, colitis, and celiac disease, just to name a few.

These are just some ways improper digestion can directly impact the organs of the digestive system. Poor digestion could be behind a whole host of other issues that you might not even think are related!

What can you do?

Don’t despair if you see some of yourself in the above descriptions. Nowadays digestive issues are all too common, but the great thing is that digestion is fundamental to our health, so if we can get it back on track the benefits can be truly profound. If you want to improve your digestion, the best thing to do is to discuss it with your doctor and work directly with a qualified professional like a Nutritional Therapy Consultant or Practitioner.


Healthfully Heather

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