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How is Your Migrating Motor Complex Function?

Symptoms like gas, bloating, abdominal discomfort, and constipation can indicate an imbalance in the digestive tract and may result in part from a malfunctioning migrating motor complex (MMC).

This physiological process is a recurring motion in the stomach and small bowel that moves debris and pathogens out of these organs and sweeps these potential problems into the large intestine, and it occurs in four phases over about 1 ½ - 2 hours (1) (2).

After all the digestible food has left the stomach, between meals, the MMC creates occasional bursts of strong, synchronized contractions that “sweep” any indigestible food substances and pathogens like bacteria out of the stomach through the small intestines and into the large bowel to be eliminated from the body (1) (2).

Why you should care about your MMC

This periodic, recurring motion (MMC) is necessary to keep food and pathogens like bacteria moving through the digestive organs so that food can be properly broken down, the nutrients absorbed, and the wastes and pathogens can be excreted from the body (4).

When pathogens like bacteria hang around too long they can infect parts of the body, like the small intestines, and create conditions like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) that can lead to nutrient deficiencies and disease over time (5).

Four phases of the MMC (6)

Phase I – a period of motor inactivity, lasting for 40-60% of the cycle
Phase II – increased action potentials and smooth muscle contractions (20-30%)
Phase III – 5-10 minutes of slow-wave rhythmic contractions
Phase IV – transitional period of declining irregular contractions

Disruptors of your migrating motor complex (6)

· Eating disrupts the MMC

· Chronic stress

· Vagus nerve dysfunction

How to care for your MMC

Since the MMC only functions between meals after all of the digestible food has left the stomach (1 ½ - 4 hours), it’s important to leave enough time between each meal for this process to occur (3). Consuming three meals each day with about 4-5 hours between meals will allow your body the opportunity to complete a full cycle and clear debris and bacteria to reduce the potential for issues like the development of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Remember, anything containing calories (snacks, gum, mints, beverages) can stop the MMC from functioning, so stick to sipping water between meals.

The vagus nerve stimulates the MMC to begin its action when the body is in a fasted state (1). The main function of the vagus nerve is to bring information about organs, like the gut, to the brain (7). This gut-brain connection through the vagus nerve is involved with the “rest and digest” (parasympathetic nervous system) state, so when the body is stressed this action is essentially “switched off” which prevents the MMC from being stimulated (7). So, managing stress throughout each day will help to keep your MMC functioning. You’ll find a few tips for reducing stress here.

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