The gastrocolic reflex is a normal reflex involving the gastrointestinal tract that occurs when stretch receptors are activated which thereby results in increased peristalsis of the colon resulting in an increased urge to defecate. This reflex thereby makes more room for incoming food and usually occurs after about 15 minutes following the stretching of gastric receptors.
How is it done?
It is performed by drinking a couple of pints or more of water preferably in the morning and over a short period of time to activate the stretch receptors in the stomach.
Are there any risks?
It is generally extremely safe but we still advise that you first consult your doctor before starting as there are a few concerns:
1. If you are suffering from constipation, it is best to check with your doctor to determine if there are any underlying causes or illnesses that are causing the constipation. While most cases of constipation are not the result of underlying illness it is always best to rule any such causes out before performing any type of treatment. A few examples of underlying causes can include hypothyroidism, Parkinson's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, eating disorders, colon cancer and certain medications such as narcotics, antidepressants and iron supplements. We cite special concern if you were normally regular but have suddenly or gradually developed constipation over time. Bloody or tarry stools require immediate medical attention and should not be ignored.
2. It is also important to be sure that your body is not low in sodium which in clinical terms is referred to as "hyponatremia". If you are low in sodium already and then consume a large amount of water, this could cause your cells to swell. This isn't serious with most cells in the body, but is can become a big concern with the brain cells because if they begin to swell there is only a small amount of room to work with due to the confines of the skull. Some examples of what can cause low sodium in the body or hyponatremia are cirrhosis of the liver, kidney failure, congestive heart failure, Addison's Disease, an underactive thyroid, severe vomiting or diarrhea, dehydration, a low sodium diet, drinking water during intensive or long term exercise commonly referred to as "exertional hyponatremia", the syndrome of inappropriate diuretic hormone (SIDADH), excessive thirst or "primary polydipsia" and certain medications including antidepressants, some pain medications, diuretics, and the drug "Ecstasy". Normally, hyponatremia does not occur in a healthy population unless a gallon or two of water are consumed over a very short period of time. This did however happen in a water drinking contest held by a radio station in Sacramento, CA. A woman, Jennifer Strange, 28 entered a contest held by KDND to win a Nintendo Wii. She was found dead in her home several hours after participating in the contest. It is believed that she drank close to, or in excess of 2 gallons of water. Certainly, far in excess of what is required to produce a healthy gastro-colic reflex. While nobody with the intent of treating constipation with the gastrocolic reflex would likely go to this extreme, we include it anyway as a warning to that overly zealous "one-in-a-million" person who is convinced that "more is always better".
I'm already drinking 8 glasses of water a day and I'm still constipated, why should I expect this method to work?
The issue is not simply one of volume, but also of time. A person could conceivably drink 16 glasses of water a day and not see any results if it is spread out over a long period time so that stretching of the gastric receptors never really occurs to any significant degree. By drinking a few glasses of water over a short period, you will stretch the stomach and activate the stretch receptors and thereby activate the gastrocolic reflex.
How exactly do I perform the gastrocolic reflex?
It is really quite simple with only a few details:
1. Prepare 2-3 pints in a pitcher of water and let it sit over night. It is best to use water at room temperature since cold water tends to slow down the gastrointestinal tract while warmer water can cause it to move along faster
2. We generally advise that people do this upon arising from bed in the morning since defecation or any other gastrointestinal function is best performed when the body is relaxed state or when the parasympathetic nervous system is the most active. This concept is also mirrored in Chinese medicine as the large intestine meridian in acupuncture is most active from 5-7am in the morning.
3. Drink one pint of water upon arising from bed in the morning and about 5 minutes later, drink another pint. This can be followed by a third pint 5-10 minutes later. We generally find that more water is needed the first time someone uses this method but after several days when the body has established a sense of rhythm, less water is usually needed.
4. You can follow this with a cup of coffee or tea as warm water can help to speed up the process.
5. We advise that you do not use this method just before going on a long trip as you will need to make frequent trips to the bathroom for the next couple of hours or so.
6. Do not be discouraged if it doesn't work the first day you try it. You will still affect the colon by stretching the gastric receptors and should see positive results on the following day.
7. The advantage of this method is that it is drug free, will not result in a more severe case of constipation when you stop use as might be the case with certain types of laxatives, and finally because water has no calories, using it as a vehicle to stretch gastric receptors will provide no concern in the area of weight gain.