Woman sitting at table and yawning while wondering how to speed up digestion

How to Speed Up Digestion

Medically reviewed on July 12, 2023 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Table of contents

Whether it’s been days since your last bowel movement or taking a few bites of food leaves you queasy, it’s not uncommon to experience sluggish digestion now and then.

Most commonly, slow digestion is simply a matter of making some lifestyle adjustments to give your system an assist. However, up to 70 million people are estimated to deal with digestive issues in the US, so persistent slow digestion may be a symptom of a more pressing underlying condition.[1]

If your digestive system has been struggling to keep it moving, understanding a bit more about what causes stagnation can help you assess what could be to blame for the stall. Below, learn how to detect slow digestion when it hits and 5 science-backed tips for how to speed up digestion.

How Can You Tell if Digestion Is Slow?

Digestion is a highly complex system involving multiple organs. The digestive tract alone is an incredible 30 feet long. But its length and complex processes mean there are many ways for the transiting food to get bogged down.

It normally takes food between 2 to 5 days to complete a full digestive cycle, from eating all the way to passing it as stool.[2] When you have poor digestion, you may experience:

  • Infrequent bowel movements (constipation)
  • Feeling full soon after eating (gastroparesis)[3]
  • Feeling queasy after eating (indigestion)[4]
  • Feeling like food stays in your stomach for longer
  • Feeling bloated or gassy
  • Heartburn

Healthy individuals can range widely in bowel movement frequency. As many as 3 times per day and as few as 3 times per week can be normal.[5]

Most people’s bodies follow a fairly usual rhythm. If you notice your bowel movements have changed in frequency, it may be a sign of stalled digestion.

See related: Why Do I Bloat After Eating?

Slow Digestion Causes

Some of the most common causes of slow digestion include: [6]

  • A low-fiber diet
  • Chronic stress
  • Certain medications
  • Overusing antacids
  • Changes to routine, like traveling or switching time zones

In many cases, solving slow digestion can be a simple matter of adjusting to lifestyle or eating habits. Other times, slow digestion can be a symptom of an underlying condition. For instance, slow digestion is often a symptom of diabetes. [7]

If your digestion is slow frequently or you are experiencing symptoms like stomach pain during bowel movements, it’s best to reach out to your healthcare provider. They can screen for possible underlying causes and determine a proper course of treatment for getting things moving again.

Can Laxatives Speed Up Digestion?

Laxatives and stool softeners are commonly used to relieve constipation, but they aren’t an effective means of speeding up digestion holistically. For instance:

  • Many laxatives are “bulk-forming,” meaning they introduce more water to food in transit, making it easier to have a bowel movement.8 However, drinking more water daily can have this effect, too, and it’s usually much better for your overall health than laxative use.
  • Some laxatives are “stimulants.” [8] They help encourage the muscle contractions that move food through the digestive tract (peristalsis). [8] However, if you take stimulant laxatives frequently, your gut may depend on them to move food along. Essentially, your colon can become addicted to the medication. If you think peristaltic stagnation is behind your slow digestion, talk to a healthcare provider. They’ll be able to more effectively provide you with a long-term recovery solution.[8]

6 Ways to Boost Your Digestion

Achieving optimal digestion is usually a matter of normalizing some core healthy habits: [8]

  • Sticking to a regular meal schedule
  • Eating a balanced diet and indulging in moderation
  • Moving your body regularly
  • Getting sufficient sleep

However, many folks require immediate assistance in pushing things forward. If you’re one of them, the following strategies may be able to provide some relief.

1. Stay Hydrated

One of the most common causes of constipation is low levels of moisture in the body. Your digestive system, as well as your urinary and lymphatic systems, require a lot of water. Staying hydrated helps lubricate food moving through the GI tract; a lack of it can result in food moving more slowly.

The following benchmarks are generally recommended for daily fluid intake: [8]

  • People assigned male at birth – 3.7 liters (15.5 cups) of water or fluids
  • People assigned female at birth – 2.7 liters (11.5 cups) of water or fluids

Remember that even if you’re drinking enough water, environmental factors can deplete the body of moisture. This can be: [9]

  • Caffeine intake
  • Excessive sweating
  • Hot weather
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Having diabetes
  • Tobacco use
  • Vaping

2. Try Probiotics

Everyone’s gut contains flora that contributes to how well the digestive process functions. [10]

Probiotics are a type of good bacteria—mostly Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium—that can be ingested to encourage digestion.10 In one review, other than taking vitamins for digestion, regularly ingesting probiotics was shown to relieve constipation by facilitating more frequent bowel movements. [10]

They may also provide relief for the following digestive conditions: [11]

  • Diarrhea
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

Probiotic supplements have become very popular in recent years, but one of the best ways to ingest them is by eating them as food. Among the most effective food sources are yogurt and kefir containing live and active cultures. [11] If you have a dairy-free diet, you might try fermented foods like tempeh, sauerkraut, kombucha, or miso. [11]

3. Swap High-Impact for Low-Impact Exercise

Ensuring you’re moving your body regularly boosts health and well-being overall. However, certain types of exercise may be better than others when it comes to facilitating digestion.

Intense exercise may be linked to stalled gastric emptying (the process by which the contents of the stomach transit to the small intestine).12 This may be caused by the stress some forms of exercise, like running, can put on the body and digestive system. [12]

If you enjoy strenuous workouts but are struggling with slow digestion, it may be worth experimenting with low-impact forms of exercise to see if it speeds things up. A brisk walk, a martial art like Qigong, or moderate yoga may all be effective ways to achieve optimal digestion and have a more regular bowel movement. [13]

4. Eat More Fiber

Fiber is a constituent of many foods that resists absorption by your digestive system.14 This helps create “bulk” in your digestive tract, which can help food move through the GI tract more smoothly. [14]

There are two types of fiber, both of which have potential benefits for digestive health: [14]

  • Soluble fiber, which turns to a gel-like consistency in the body and can assist with lowering cholesterol and blood sugar. It may also promote healthy gut flora, reducing inflammation in the digestive tract. [15]
  • Insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water, adds more mass to your stool, and can assist with digestive transit.

Both types of fiber can improve your digestive health, but insoluble fiber is particularly helpful for speeding up digestion. So, what is the best food for digestion? Some of the best foods to eat containing it include: [15]

  • Cauliflower
  • Berries
  • Beans and legumes
  • Whole-wheat bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Nuts

It’s recommended most people consume between 21 and 38 grams of fiber (whether soluble or insoluble) per day.15 Eating a diet rich in fruits in vegetables is one of the easiest ways to achieve this benchmark. [15]

5. Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals

On average, it takes 6 to 8 hours for the stomach to process a meal and guide it toward the small intestine. Breaking up your daily dietary intake into smaller portions can help make meal sizes more manageable for the stomach.

However, if you’re finding you get full quickly or feel full for longer than normal, it may be time to reach out to your healthcare provider. Gastroparesis is a relatively common cause of these symptoms; it’s caused by a weakening or lack of motility of the stomach, which keeps food from being processed efficiently. [16]

6. Try an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Many gastrointestinal issues are associated with higher levels of inflammation in the body.17 Diet plays a significant role in inflammation, and avoiding certain foods may help ease digestive distress. [18]

The following foods are generally avoided on an anti-inflammatory protocol: [17]

  • Highly processed ingredients, like manufactured meats and cheeses
  • Highly processed snack foods, like crisps and refined sugars
  • Fried foods, like French fries found in fast food franchises

These types of food are harder for most people to digest, leading to slower transit times in the stomach and GI tract. [17]

If you’re interested in trying an anti-inflammatory diet to encourage digestion, aim to eat a diet containing whole foods. An easy way to create a whole-food diet is:

  • Using ingredients in the closest form possible to when they were harvested
  • Opting for unpackaged over packaged food
  • Choosing processed snacks with as few ingredients as possible

Taking a food sensitivity test may also be worthwhile in reducing inflammation, as food allergies can also inflame the body. By reducing your consumption of these and other inflammatory foods, you may find your slow digestion takes care of itself.

Identify Digestive Issues Conveniently With Everlywell

When digestive issues don’t respond to sensible, healthy habits they can be a frustrating health issue to deal with. Home testing with Everlywell can help take some of the mystery out of the process before you pay a visit to your healthcare provider.

Whether you screen using a food sensitivity test or take a closer look at your metabolic well-being, Everlywell makes knowing what your body is going through simple and convenient. Jump-start your digestion by browsing the complete at-home test kit collection at Everlywell today.

  1. Keeping your gut in check. National Institutes of Health. URL. October 4, 2019. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  2. Digestion: How long does it take? Mayo Clinic. URL. December 31, 2019. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  3. Krishnasamy S, Abell TL. Diabetic gastroparesis: Principles and current trends in management - diabetes therapy. SpringerLink. URL. June 22, 2018. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  4. Indigestion. Mayo Clinic. URL. July 7, 2023. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  5. Indigestion. Mayo Clinic. URL. July 7, 2023. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  6. Sensoy I. A review on the food digestion in the digestive tract and the used in vitro models. Current research in food science. URL. April 14, 2021. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  7. Professional CC Medical. Gastrointestinal diseases: Symptoms, treatment & causes. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  8. Don’t bomb the bowel with laxatives. Harvard Health. URL. June 30, 2023. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  9. Why are you dehydrated? 8 common reasons. Cleveland Clinic. URL. February 3, 2023. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  10. Liu LWC. Chronic constipation: Current treatment options. Canadian journal of gastroenterology = Journal canadien de gastroenterologie. URL. October 2011. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  11. Professional CC medical. Probiotics: What is it, benefits, side effects, food & types. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  12. Systematic review: Exercise‐induced…Wiley Online Library. URL. Accessed July 12, 2023.
  13. Gao R;Tao Y;Zhou C;Li J;Wang X;Chen L;Li F;Guo L; Exercise therapy in patients with constipation: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Scandinavian journal of gastroenterology. URL. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  14. How to add more fiber to your diet. Mayo Clinic. URL. November 4, 2022. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  15. Indigestion. Mayo Clinic. URL. July 7, 2023. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  16. Liu LWC. Chronic constipation: Current treatment options. Canadian journal of gastroenterology = Journal canadien de gastroenterologie. URL. October 2011. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  17. Don’t bomb the bowel with laxatives. Harvard Health. URL. June 30, 2023. Accessed July 11, 2023.
  18. Professional CC Medical. Frequent bowel movements: Causes, diagnosis & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed July 11, 2023.
Everlywell makes lab testing easy and convenient with at-home collection and digital results in days. Learn More