You don’t have to be a doctor to know that when you swallow a pill, it traces a long journey to your stomach, from where it gets absorbed into your small intestine and then released into your bloodstream. But did you know that this absorption process might take an hour longer than it’s supposed to, depending on your posture?
Yes, this is exactly what a new study by researchers at John Hopkins University has revealed.
When the researchers stimulated how pills and tablets dissolve in the stomach and are released into the upper intestine, they discovered that the ideal posture for the fastest absorption of the medicine wasn’t sitting upright, but leaning to your right.
“We were very surprised that posture had such an immense effect on the dissolution rate of a pill,” says Rajat Mittal, one of the researchers and a computer scientist studying fluid dynamics at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
While pills and tablets have a less immediate effect, they are a better alternative than injecting medicines. Vitamin and other nutrient supplements can absorb at a slower rate, but it’s important for medicines like pain killers or blood pressure stabilising medicine to be absorbed by the body at a faster rate.
“For elderly, sedentary or bedridden people, whether they’re turning to the left or to the right can have a huge impact,” explains Mittal.
The researchers tested four postures using a computer model of a human stomach, known as StomachSim, which was based on high-resolution body scan images of a 34-year-old male.
This model simulated the fluid and biomechanics of a pill moving through the digestive tract and traced how fast it would be ejected from the stomach into the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine where absorption of nutrients begins.
It was discovered that taking pills while leaning to or lying on the right side meant the drugs slipped into the deepest part of StomachSim and were dissolved twice as fast as when taken in an upright position. They also found out that if taken while leaning towards the left side, it would take five times longer to absorb pills as compared to an upright posture.
The right posture while taking pills can have a huge impact on people suffering from stomach conditions like gastroparesis, where damaged nerves or weakened muscles slow down the absorption process.
But the computer model used by the researchers is a very simplified version of the complex process that happens inside our body. The absorption rate is affected by how much liquid, gas, or food we have in our stomach at the time of digestion and this was not factored in the simulation. It is also to be noted that the absorption rate of pills into our bloodstream depends on our genetic background as well.
So while you can try leaning to your right while taking your medicine the next time, it might not work for you the way it does for someone else. That’s just a tough pill you’d have to swallow.