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  • Heather Woodruff

How to Measure your Digestive 'Transit Time'

If you have struggled with a chronically inflamed tummy for some time you may be interested to know that how fast or slow you are actually digesting MATTERS when it comes how you are feeling.

If you are suffering from any of the following issues, it will be affecting how food moves through your GI tract:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

  • Chronic constipation

  • Heartburn or reflux

  • Diarrhea or soft stools

  • Bloating or excess gas

After you chew and then swallow your food, it enters into the stomach. Here the food is mixed with acid and digestive enzymes. From your stomach, the food is squeezed through your small intestine, and nutrients from the food are absorbed by your body. From there the food now enters your colon - the large intestine - and the water from the food is absorbed.

Whatever is left over after the nutrient and water absorption, is then combined with bacteria and other waste products to form your stool. This whole process, from the moment food goes in your mouth to when it leaves your body via a bowel movement, is called your digestive transit time.

By doing a bowel transit test, you will be able to see if food is moving too quickly or too slowly through your GI tract.

What is a Bowel Transit Test?

Essentially, a bowel transit test measures how long it takes for food to move through your system - from your mouth, through the digestive tract, to when it is expelled as stool.

The optimal transit time is 12-24 hours. If transit time is too quick we may not be optimally absorbing nutrients and probably experiencing soft stools or even diarrhea.

If transit time is too slow we may be reabsorbing waste products our body worked so hard to detoxify, as well as, excess cholesterol and excess hormones.

Someone can have a slow transit time and still be having a bowel movement every single day. One of the most extreme cases I have seen over the years was a client of mine who was indeed having a bowel movement everyday but her digestive transit time took 5 WHOLE DAYS!

You can find out your digestive transit time through a simple test at home - the Beet Transit Test - which I will outline below. It’s an excellent way to see how effective your body is at eliminating (aka: pooping).

Performing a Beet Transit Test at Home

Performing your own digestive transit test is really easy. When you are deciding on when to conduct the test, choose an ‘average’ day, where you perform your normal activities, eat your normal foods, and drink your normal amount of water. You don’t want anything new or different to affect your test.

Steps To Perform The Beet Transit Test
  1. Cook beets as per instructions below

  2. Eat at least 1 cup of cooked beets and make a note of the time & date consumed

  3. Wait and watch

  4. Make a note of the time and date you see the red pigment (betalaine) in your stool.

  5. The amount of hours it took to appear in your stool is your transit time

*You may also see the pigment in your urine, this is perfectly fine but not your transit time. Transit time is when the pigment appears in the stool

How To Cook Your Beets

Preheat oven to 350⁰F. Wash and scrub beets before placing in a baking dish with just enough water to cover the bottom. Cover with lid or foil and bake for 60 –90min or until beets can easily be pierced with a knife. Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle. Peel beets if desired (though not necessary), slice off the stem end and chop into bite size pieces.

Serve drizzled with olive oil, unrefined salt & pepper or tossed in a salad.

What Can Affect The Test

The following factors may affect the outcome of the test. I recommend choosing to do the test at a time where you aren’t sick, or experiencing any changes to your diet.

  • Eating less than usual

  • Eating different foods to what you normally eat

  • Not drinking enough fluids

  • An infection in your intestines

  • Taking cold medicine, blood pressure medication, pain medication, or iron supplements

What Do The Results Mean?

Transit Time More Than 24 hours

If your transit time is more than 24 hours this is too slow. When food sits in our gut too long it rots, causing excess gas, bloating and produces toxins that get reabsorbed back into the body. Essentially you are recycling your own toxic waste and putting an even heavier burden on the body.

Tips to get things moving…

1. Drink more water (aim for 6 –8 cups per day)

2.Eat more fibre rich foods: sprouted nuts and seeds, vegetables

3.Reduce Stress and increase self care

4.Start slow with fermented foods - if it feels good in your belly

5.Moderate Exercise: Walking, cycling, yoga

6.Gut Superfoods: meat stock, healthy fats - cold pressed olive oil, coconut, avocados, cold water fish, grass-fed butter or ghee, nuts/seeds, chia seeds and flax seeds

Transit Time Less Than 12 hours

If your transit time is less than 12 hours this is too fast. Food speeding through our gut is often a sign of imbalanced diet, irritation and inflammation. It is also a sign that the body is needing to quickly get something out so it doesn’t damage the body further.

Tips to slow things down…

1.Stick to whole foods that your great grandmother would recognize as food

2.Eliminate food sensitivities or gut triggers (like refined sugar)

3.Reduce Stress and increase self care

4.Start slow with fermented foods - if it feels good in your belly

5.Gut Superfoods: turmeric, ginger, meat stock, homemade soup.

Need more help interpreting your transit test results? Join the Natural IBS Support Facebook Group!

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