Wow. That was fast.
May 12, 2006 1:32 PM   Subscribe

My curiosity has gotten the better of me. Somewhat gross bodily function question inside.

How is it possible that after eating something that isn't...quite right...its' rush toward the back-door exit is almost immediate?

Last night I went out to eat at an otherwise reputable chain-ish sit down restaurant. I had a chicken dish. The food was alright - tasted propery cooked, anyhow - and I didn't feel sick while eating it, but within minutes of getting into my car to head home I definitely felt it was not going to turn out well, and soon. Mad, rumbling stomach cramps. Up until that point I had been feeling 100% perfectly fine and healthy all day. Luckily it was a short drive.

What's been boggling me since then is:

(1) If the food made me sick, oughtn't I to have puked it up? It should have still been in my stomach, not in my intestines, right?

(2) How is it possible for the food to have gotten from Point A to Point B so quickly? My knowledge of human digestion is admittedly limited, but it seemed like this happened fast. The time elapsed from when the last bite was consumed to when my meal...reappeared...was, at most, about 30 minutes.

I must know, am I some kind of freak of human digestion?
posted by contessa to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are you sure it wasn't something you ate earlier in the day? Staph can show up after an hour, but most other kinds of food poisoning take hours, days or weeks to show up.
posted by acoutu at 1:36 PM on May 12, 2006


Maybe it's an allergy? There's a spice (or something) in a lot of Indian food that does this to me.
posted by clarahamster at 1:42 PM on May 12, 2006


acoutu: I'm reasonably sure (though, not 100% - maybe 98%) that it was nothing I ate earlier in the day. I can't rule it out, of course. But it seems like too much of a coincidence how I felt sick almost immediately after eating my dinner (within, say, 10 minutes).

clarahamster: It was moderately spicy food, but as a rule I don't have trouble with that.

I'm not even so concerned over what caused the reaction, as much as I am morbidly curious about how my recently-eaten food could make its way through my body so quickly.
posted by contessa at 1:49 PM on May 12, 2006


how my recently-eaten food could make its way through my body so quickly
I think it's more likely that it was something you ate earlier -- whether that day or that week. This would cause a response in your digestive system to vacate everything asap. However, clarahamster might be right about allergens or other upsets.
posted by acoutu at 1:55 PM on May 12, 2006


a few times i'd eat these vending machine chili dogs at a place i worked and they had the same effect on me ... every time, within an hour

after that, i was ok ... i thought it was impossible that they would have such a sudden effect on me, but seeing as it didn't happen any other time and it happened 3 or 4 times, there wasn't any other conclusion i could come to

needless to say, i quit eating them
posted by pyramid termite at 2:00 PM on May 12, 2006


Thanks for the answers so far! I want to add, as pyramid termite also said, that I felt completely fine afterwards. Like a whole new person.

I have read acoutu's link and I wonder if it might have been chemical residue or something left on the glassware or utensils or plate -- it says that it can make things happen in 1/2 hour.
posted by contessa at 2:04 PM on May 12, 2006


My last version of this was Waffle House on a rare breakfast visit. I attributed it to all the butter I'm sure the hashbrowns were cooked on and the fact that I don't usually eat breakfast at all.

So, greasey (though it actually tasted great and non-greasey) and throwing a bunch of food at my normally empty stomach. (this was 9:30am after not drinking the night before lol). YMMV.
posted by BillyG at 2:07 PM on May 12, 2006


If the food passed through the gut that quickly, wouldn't it be mostly the same shape as it went in? (No time to digest).

I'm wondering if the chicken caused the reaction, but what was voided wasn't chicken... after all, the intestine is a long thin tube. If your body wanted to speed the most recent meal's passage, it would still have to push everything else out the way, right?
posted by Leon at 2:07 PM on May 12, 2006


One of the teriyaki places I used to frequent served soup before the meal that did the exact same thing. Within an hour, every time. And, uh...it was pretty obvious that it was the soup, so it wasn't food poisoning.

My going theory was "a bad reaction to MSG", but in reality I have no idea whether that would even be possible. Very perplexing. (Fortunately their teriyaki sucked, so I just stopped eating there.)
posted by Vervain at 2:14 PM on May 12, 2006


I have the same reaction to uncooked or undercooked onions - within half an hour, every time. It certainly seems like what I just ate comes out mostly undigested.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:17 PM on May 12, 2006


I've had this happen to me if I've had a soda from one of those soda dispensing machines (like fast-food restaurants or serve-yourself dispensers). Not usually every time (except for one particular machine), but often enough that I know for sure that's what caused it. It always happened in the most dramatically impractical situations, too (like riding on a bus). Like contessa, it happened within 15-20 minutes of drinking the soda. It never happened with bottled or canned soda, only the machine-dispensed stuff. I rarely drink sodas these days, not entirely for this reason, so it hasn't happened to me for years.
posted by redheadeb at 2:18 PM on May 12, 2006


I've had this happen to me if I've had a soda from one of those soda dispensing machines

Hmm. Now you've got me thinking, redheadeb. I had a coke with dinner and it would not suprise me if it was from the fountain. Maybe my brain is filling in facts where they don't belong, but now that I think about it, the coke did taste kinda funny...
posted by contessa at 2:25 PM on May 12, 2006


I'm wondering if the chicken caused the reaction, but what was voided wasn't chicken... after all, the intestine is a long thin tube. If your body wanted to speed the most recent meal's passage, it would still have to push everything else out the way, right?

Seconded. It's just not possible for the food to have travelled that far in that time. But it sent your tract into spasms. The question "wouldn't vomiting be a better way for the body to handle this?" remains though.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:28 PM on May 12, 2006


The gastro-colic reflex activates the colon when the stomach becomes distended, causing a mass movement and subsequent defecation. That's why eating something can provoke a bowel movement.

As for why your GI tract was spasming, you should probably blame some other cause than the chicken you mentioned. Most likely you ate something spoiled, hours or days prior; or else just contracted a GI virus.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:34 PM on May 12, 2006


Here's a Diagram. Thirty hours is normal "travel time", it would appear.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:34 PM on May 12, 2006


This exact reaction happens to me when I overeat fast. Also, the consistency is very liquidy (sorry for the grossness), so I have to make a run for the toilet. If I overeat slowly, I still have to go but I can somewhat control the situation, wait and choose the time I go. I am positive that, when this happens, what you poop has nothing to do what you just ate. It is the reaction of your body to the rate at which you ate or a particular chemical in the food (spice or what not). Back when I was a smoker, whenever I tried quitting for a week and then restarted, the very first cigarette would send me to the loo with the same reaction. This also supports redheaeb's suggestion (some chemical in the soda triggering the reaction in your body).
posted by eebs at 2:41 PM on May 12, 2006


It's not necessarily that your body is trying to do it's best to "get rid of bad stuff."

Linky (refer to references that have diarrhea on the right-hand column)

Bacteria have both endotoxins (which typically mediate delayed reactions - your immune system recognizes these evolutionarily conserved molecules as coming from bacteria and interprets these as danger signals - and then tries to flush out the system) and exotoxins (secrets proteins, also referred to as enterotoxins as these are common in bacteria that likes your gut).

These enterotoxins induce diarrhea by a number of different mechanisms, usually by modulating the function of the cells lining your intestine.

Why these bacteria may produce said toxins? Well, a bacteria that grows well in the gut but doesn't get expelled have a harder time getting transfered to new hosts and may end up killing the current host.

Bacteria that are able to grow well in a host and cause dissemination of it's brethren to other hosts have an evolutionarily selective advantage.

Inducing diarrhea is a good way for a strain of bacteria to get disseminated to other hosts, multiply, and get disseminated to yet other hosts.

Wash your hands, people!
posted by porpoise at 2:47 PM on May 12, 2006


This reaction has happened to me a few times, and each time I couldn't think of *anything* that would cause me to get so sick except what I had *just* eaten. And usually what I had *just* eaten was something very suspect (i.e. a very rare hamburger, other questionable restaurant food).

I know that all the experts say that you cannot get food poisoning that fast, but I don't believe that it isn't caused by what had just been eaten. I agree that it may just have sent your gut into spasms. Usually the sickness is short lived, crampy, but quick.
posted by tastybrains at 2:52 PM on May 12, 2006


Also, I have noticed that this mostly happens when I eat a meal that is exceptionally high fat. A hamburger was the last culprit. And I have vowed never to eat a rare hamburger again so long as I live. But could it somehow be related to grease/fat in foods?
posted by tastybrains at 2:53 PM on May 12, 2006


I don't know it this has been addressed yet but have you ever been checked for lactose intolerance? Sometimes it can take hours for the fermentation to work its nasty magic and make you run for a toilet. For example if you had a significant amt of cream or milk in your morning coffee- then by the time it's dinner-- the rxn hits and watch out.... just a thought...
posted by GoodJob! at 3:23 PM on May 12, 2006


Also, I have noticed that this mostly happens when I eat a meal that is exceptionally high fat. A hamburger was the last culprit. And I have vowed never to eat a rare hamburger again so long as I live. But could it somehow be related to grease/fat in foods?

Same with really greasy, cheesy piece of pizza.
posted by maxreax at 3:58 PM on May 12, 2006


Too much pop or too much grease, Happens regularly. Fast food hamburgers. Pizza hut, The combo is just a killer.

Free pop refills are the real fiend.

My brothers used to joke about the 7-11 big gulp, within 30 minutes they would be on the run!
posted by vidarling at 4:33 PM on May 12, 2006


Howdy.

Some unorganized thoughts on where you could look to find out more, in no particular order:

First, it isn't necessarily the case that evacuation of the colon takes hours.

Under normal circumstances, digestion and waste transit through the colon requires hours. However, there's a phenomenon called "peristaltic rush" that can occur in reaction to irritants or toxins entering the gastrointestinal system, and it can empty the bowels in minutes.

After some more digging, another culprit may be an aggressive triggering of the gastrocolic reflex. On that page, it notes that the gastrocolic reflex appears to be triggered by fats. Given some of the responses about a peristaltic rush in response to fatty foods, gastrocolic reflex's role in this phenomenon might be worth looking into.

It seems relatively likely that that's what's occurring, but to be sure you could call a gastroenterologist. I'll make some calls to friends of mine and see whether my conjectures are accurate or lunatic.
posted by scrump at 4:33 PM on May 12, 2006


I have this after a heavy restaurant meal more often than not. If it matters, I don't have a gallbladder anymore.

I haven't looked at scrump's link yet but it does indeed seem like some sort of reflex. All I know is I don't need to buy laxatives, all I need to do is go to my favorite Chinese restaurant-or the Waffle House, for that matter.
posted by konolia at 6:05 PM on May 12, 2006


Thanks everybody for your help & ideas! I guess I'm not the only one, then. Phew.

Poo stories. That's what the internet is really all about, isn't it?
posted by contessa at 7:25 PM on May 12, 2006


It's the damn pop - I get so many refills that I have that instant "ass-pee" as a former roommate referred to it.

Can't say I get my moneys worth out of those meals.
posted by davey_darling at 7:37 PM on May 12, 2006


As a sort of gross-out story here, Mr. Oflinkey conducted an experiment: he and his family have had what they refer to as the Efficient Digestive System when it comes to certain foods (mostly high-fat)-- bleu cheese, brown gravy, etc. Back in college, husband actually made a meal out of some of the foods that made his system go nutty, along with a piece of a blue plastic drinking straw. He swallowed the bit of straw, ate the food, waited the 20 minutes or so that it took for his system to "process", and found the straw bit in the toilet.
"Peristaltic rush", indeed.
posted by oflinkey at 8:01 PM on May 12, 2006 [2 favorites]


offlinkey, for the sake of my own sanity -- I'm hoping that piece of straw floated to the top. I don't even want to imagine how else he would have found it!

(he left it there, right? Please say he did.)
posted by contessa at 8:21 PM on May 12, 2006


contessa, yes, it was obvious, he did not go fishing ;)
posted by oflinkey at 8:55 PM on May 12, 2006


There is a condition call Irritable Bowel Syndrome which can become a constant case of this. Each person has their own "Trigger Foods" which set it off, although there are some common ones. For some it is a combination of these foods which sets off the reflex so you may eat or drink common foods with no problems, but eating a certain combination may send you running for the toilet.
posted by Yorrick at 10:07 PM on May 12, 2006


I used to get this from a particular (dodgy) food-hall indian place here. If I ate there, I would reliably be on the toilet 15 minutes later. Huge cramps, unload lunch and then all is good again.

The other thing I've seen cause this is ciprofloxacin (an antibiotic). While on that stuff, food lasted me on average 4 hours before it was out again. Still preferable to what erythromycin did to me!
posted by polyglot at 2:52 AM on May 13, 2006


What I don't get is where the past 24 hours' worth of food (that which didn't quite make it in the last bowel movement or which you've eaten during that day) is? If that's already in your bowel when you eat something poop-inducing, then surely that 'old food' should be the first thing out, no?
posted by wackybrit at 6:14 AM on May 13, 2006


Oh yes, this phenomenon is real. Just to add support to the fact, I can tell you that I once ate a dodgy meal which resulted in a rush to the bog probably something just over an hour later and - well, without going into any gruesome detail, let's just say that there were certain easily-identifiable things in the result that had definitely only been put in my mouth during that meal. It's like your system screams "I want that out of me NOW!"
posted by Decani at 7:02 AM on May 13, 2006


What I don't get is where the past 24 hours' worth of food (that which didn't quite make it in the last bowel movement or which you've eaten during that day) is?

If that's already in your bowel when you eat something poop-inducing, then surely that 'old food' should be the first thing out, no?
Not...exactly.

First, visualize a spherical bowel...

Anyway, the key thing to remember is that if we assume peristaltic rush is the problem here, we're talking about a specific bolus of "bad stuff". The stuff you've eaten the past 24 hours wasn't "bad", and it's been wandering through the GI system, getting digested and absorbed as usual.

A cursory search didn't come up with any bombproof numbers on digestion times for various substances, but the general consensus appears to be that it takes about 2-4 hours for the stomach to get done with something, and then between 12 and 24 hours for it to be converted from chyme into feces.

So, basically, if a peristaltic rush occurs, in theory you should only see the stuff from the past 24 hours that hasn't already been absorbed (e.g. indigestible material, combined with anything that has a long half-life in the colon, combined with fluids).

If I were going to take a wild-assed guess, I'd hazard that the stuff from the past 24 hours is the, ah, highly liquid medium within which the "OH GOD GET IT OUT" bad food is suspended.

I'd be thrilled to see a real scientist weigh in, though, as I'm guessing at the answers based on my rudimentary understanding of anatomy and physiology.
posted by scrump at 10:07 AM on May 13, 2006


polyglot - yeah, I was on oral cipro once... man, it's such an effective broad spectrum antibiotic that it killed all of the "good" (or rather, the strains that I got used to) bacteria in my gut and completely changed the heirarchy of power in my intestine that I wasn't sure the runs were worth getting rid of the skin infection...
posted by porpoise at 10:40 AM on May 13, 2006


I've been on a few massive antibiotics in my lifetime. I believe the last time was when I cracked my skull and the doctors were afraid I might contract a menengitis (sp?) infection. Horrible icey IV drips of death straight into my circulatory system. Ugh.

Anyway, in the interest of sharing far, far too much detail, the result is this: my farts no longer stink and I never suffer constipation.

I have no idea what the antibiotics killed in me, and I have no idea what I replaced my bacteria with, but it sure as heck is nice. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 10:48 AM on May 13, 2006


A friend of mine is allergic to spinach and is 100% reliably going to be stuck in the bathroom within an hour of eating the stuff. Anecdotal, yes, but seems similar to what you experience. Chancing TMI, I have been told it exits much the way it entered the body, so this peristaltic rush thing sounds decently plausible.

Mexican food has a similar effect on me on occasion, and it took going to the same restaurant a few times to figure out it was the restaurant, not just spicyness or whathaveyou. Because I would cry if I were unable to continue eating guacamole.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:01 AM on May 13, 2006


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