Does your Migrating Motor Complex need some love? (And did you even know you had one?)

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a doctor and I don't pretend to be one on the internet. Before making any sort of change, always talk to your doc first! 

Another day, another blog post. This is one that I'm extra excited to share with you guys!

Why, you ask?

Because today, we get to talk about digestion and the brain... 2 of my FAVOURITE topics! 

My hope is that by the end of this post, you'll have a stronger belief in the fact that the brain and the gut are SO intimately intertwined - More than you could have ever imagined before! As a matter of fact, this body-mind unity is EXACTLY where the word "Unite" in "Unite Wellness" came from!

As you may or may not know, 2 years ago I developed a fairly severe imbalance of bacteria in my digestive system. I haven't received an OFFICIAL diagnosis yet, but my doctors believe I am dealing with a condition is called "Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth," or "SIBO" for short. The testing I did for SIBO actually came back negative, but this often means that the bacteria I am dealing with actually create a different type of gas (hydrogen sulfide) that is NOT picked up by any available test. Confusing, right? In other words, we THINK it is SIBO but it's still up in the air. 

The 3-hour lactulose breath test kit. This is the most common (and most recognized) testing method for SIBO.

The 3-hour lactulose breath test kit. This is the most common (and most recognized) testing method for SIBO.


Since this has been an ongoing mystery in my life over the past 2 years, I have done as much research as I can on my own about it. Here's what I have come to understand:

Despite it's name, SIBO is not really an "overgrowth" of bacteria at all (which kind of sounds scary and gross). Oftentimes, SIBO happens when the GOOD bacteria (like lactobacillus - The same stuff in your favourite probiotic capsule) moves in the wrong direction, taking up camp in the wrong place along the digestive tract. There are supposed to be plenty of these beneficial bugs in our large intestine, but our small intestine (all 20ish feet of it), typically contains much less bacteria. The small intestine is the place where our food is broken down and we absorb vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and so on, so it tends to be a bit more "sterile" than the large intestine. When this bacteria moves from the large intestine backwards into the small intestine, the small intestine continues to do it's job, which is to ABSORB.

This can lead to issues - One of which is a malfunctioning migrating motor complex.

(And as a matter of fact, it could go both ways - SIBO can lead to a malfunctioning motor complex, and a malfunctioning migrating motor complex can lead to SIBO, too!)

Confused yet? 


Migrating motor...what??

You might be familiar with the word "peristalsis," which refers to the wave-like movement of the intestine that helps to move food along toward the "exit" as we digest it. The migrating motor complex can sometimes be mistaken for being the same as peristalsis, but they're actually two very different things.

The migrating motor complex (or MMC for short) is a wave that moves through the intestine when our body is FASTING. The MMC only occurs BETWEEN meals if there is enough time to do so. If we snack before it has time to do it's job, the MMC cannot work to it's fullest potential.

Here's a cool fact: When your tummy rumbles, reminding you that you're hungry, this sensation is actually the MMC in action! This electrical wave through the intestine helps to "sweep up" all of the extra bits of undigested food, fibre and bacteria out of the small intestine and toward the exit.

In essence, the MMC is the custodian of the intestines, dropping by after the party's over to sweep away the leftover mess.

With someone like myself who is potentially dealing with SIBO, the MMC may have completely shut down, thus causing the condition to manifest. 

How can I give my MMC some love?

There are a few ways to help your migrating motor complex work to it's fullest potential. It doesn't have to be malfunctioning to try these things and to see how they make you feel. You might even notice more energy, less brain fog, and an overall better function of your digestive system.

1. Fast:

Before you close this blog post and run, thinking you'll have to starve for days on end, hear me out: When I say fast, I'm talking about the time between meals. A good general rule of thumb is 4-5 hours between meals, and at least a 12-hour overnight fast (For example, Having breakfast at 7, lunch at 12, dinner at 5, while avoiding snacks between meals or late at night). Herbal teas are totally fine to sip during these times, and if you've got a blood sugar issue requiring you to eat more often, this can be adjusted to your individual needs. (Always talk to your practitioner before making a dietary change to ensure you've got the best strategy for your unique situation!).

2. Stimulate your vagus nerve:

Before reading this blog, you might not have even known you had a migrating motor complex. 

But here's another one: Ever hear of the vagus nerve? 

The vagus nerve is a long nerve that begins at the base of your brain and travels all the way down your spine, branching out to each organ. It plays an ENORMOUS role in digestion. I like to think of the vagus nerve like a telephone line connecting our brain to our digestive system. When we get ready to eat something, the brain calls up the digestive system and says, "Hey - It's time to start this whole digestion thing, okay? Saliva, wake up! Gallbladder, send out some bile! Pancreas, do your thing! Stomach, start churning! MMC, get ready to ship it on out!" 

Okay, so it's probably not EXACTLY like that, but you get the idea. :)


In some instances, the vagus nerve might not be able to send the proper signals to the digestive system. In some people with SIBO, they may need to retrain this nerve so it can begin functioning again. Otherwise, the MMC might not get that ever-so-important phone call reminding them to sweep bacteria down toward the exit.

This allows them the opportunity to make a home in places they have no business being, thus resulting in SIBO.

(And by the way: Did you know that it is estimated that about 75-80% of those who have been diagnosed with IBS ACTUALLY have SIBO and they don't even know it? Crazy!)

Here are a few techniques you can use to begin retraining your vagus nerve to send the digestive system the proper signals:

- Gargling water aggressively (Seriously. Constipated? Try doing this a few times throughout the day and give it 24 hours. The change you experience in your digestion may totally surprise you!)

- Stimulating your gag reflex. Sounds totally weird, but it is commonly done to help with vagus nerve stimulation!

- Singing super loudly. Maybe save this one for when you're in the car. ;)

- Ujjayi breath. That breathing technique you do in yoga class? It's not just for show! It actually can help to stimulate the vagus nerve!

- Spend the last 60 seconds of your shower in COLD water. 

There are dozens of other ways to stimulate the vagus nerve, but these are some of the most well-known. A quick google search and you'll find lots of others!

3. Use a prokinetic

Prokinetics are either drugs or herbs which can help to enhance motility through the digestive tract. Some folks (especially those just finishing a SIBO treatment) tend to need this extra support to re-train the MMC to do it's thing.

And lastly, many practitioners are also toting the benefits of Lion's Mane (must be water-extracted) in conjunction with a prokinetic for an even more significant benefit to the MMC! I personally love the Lion's Mane powder from Four Sigmatic because their extraction process allows for the highest bioavailability of of the mushroom's health promoting properties. 
(And you can save 10% on your purchase with them using code "UNITEWELLNESS" :)

So there you go! I hope you learned something new and interesting about the human body and the brain-gut connection. It is truly incredible how all things in the body work in unison! 

Happy gargling!


P.S. I recently shared what I've learned about SIBO with someone who had been seeking answers to their son's digestive issues for several YEARS. They had him tested for SIBO and he came back positive for both methane AND hydrogen bacteria, meaning his healing journey can now finally begin! If you know of ANYONE currently dealing with IBS or any sort of digestive symptoms, please send them this post. You never know who it may help!

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In health (and with a fully functioning migrating motor complex),