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Long-held secret of bowel movement now understood, leads to improved nutrient absorption

Posted:  Tuesday, March 04, 2014

A research team has found a segmentation motion occurs when not one but two sets of pacemakers interact with each other to create a specific rhythm. Then they work together with nerves and muscle to generate the movement that allows for nutrient absorption inside the human digestive system. The discovery is important as it gives direction for development of drugs or nutrients which will combat disorders when people have diarrhea, constipation, bloating or malabsorption of nutrients from food.

High performance athletes like Olympians can push their bodies to optimal potential, but some of the ways the human body actually works is still a mystery. Now McMaster University researchers have cleared up one aspect of how the bowels move that had mystified scientists for, well, forever.

Gastroenterology scientist Jan Huizinga and his team have learned that of the two types of movement, the segmentation motion occurs when not one but two sets of pacemakers interact with each other to create a specific rhythm. Then they work together with nerves and muscle to generate the movement that allows for nutrient absorption. The other type of movement moves the food along.

The discovery was made by Huizinga, a professor of medicine, and his researchers at the Farncombe Family Digestive Health Institute at McMaster University working with investigators of Wuhan University in China and colleagues at the University of Toronto. The paper was published by the science journal Nature Communications on Feb. 24.

"In the long run, it's simple," said Huizinga. "It's like when a stone is dropped in water, it creates waves or motion that pushes things along, but when a second stone is dropped in the water, the movement changes to up and down, appearing to stay in the same place."

The discovery is important as it gives direction for development of drugs or nutrients which will combat disorders when people have diarrhea, constipation, bloating or malabsorption of nutrients from food. With diarrhea, the segmentation activity is too low; in constipation, the same activity is too high and pain related to eating is often caused by abnormal contractions, said Huizinga.

Jan D. Huizinga, Ji-Hong Chen, Yong Fang Zhu, Andrew Pawelka, Ryan J. McGinn, Berj L. Bardakjian, Sean P. Parsons, Wolfgang A. Kunze, Richard You Wu, PremyslBercik, Amir Khoshdel, Sifeng Chen, Sheng Yin, Qian Zhang, Yuanjie Yu, Qingmin Gao, Kongling Li, Xinghai Hu, Natalia Zarate, Phillip Collins, Marc Pistilli, Junling Ma, Ruixue Zhang, David Chen. The origin of segmentation motor activity in the intestine. Nature Communications, 2014; 5

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