Colonic content: effect of diet, meals, and defecation

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The metabolic activity of colonic microbiota is influenced by diet; however, the relationship between metabolism and colonic content is not known. Our aim was to determine the effect of meals, defecation, and diet on colonic content.


In 10 healthy subjects, two abdominal MRI scans were acquired during fasting, 1 week apart, and after 3 days on low- and high-residue diets, respectively. With each diet, daily fecal output and the number of daytime anal gas evacuations were measured. On the first study day, a second scan was acquired 4 hours after a test meal (n=6) or after 4 hours with nil ingestion (n=4). On the second study day, a scan was also acquired after a spontaneous bowel movement.


On the low-residue diet, daily fecal volume averaged 145 ± 15 mL; subjects passed 10.6 ± 1.6 daytime anal gas evacuations and, by the third day, non-gaseous colonic content was 479 ± 36 mL. The high-residue diet increased the three parameters to 16.5 ± 2.9 anal gas evacuations, 223 ± 19 mL fecal output, and 616 ± 55 mL non-gaseous colonic content (P<.05 vs low-residue diet for all). On the low-residue diet, non-gaseous content in the right colon had increased by 41 ± 11 mL, 4 hours after the test meal, whereas no significant change was observed after 4-hour fast (−15 ± 8 mL; P=.006 vs fed). Defecation significantly reduced the non-gaseous content in distal colonic segments.

Conclusion & Inferences:

Colonic content exhibits physiologic variations with an approximate 1/3 daily turnover produced by meals and defecation, superimposed over diet-related day-to-day variations.

Ingestion of unabsorbable residues and defecation produce profound changes in colonic content. The rapid turnover of colonic biomass (about 1/3 daily) indicates a high adaptation potential of microbiota to the intraluminal environment.

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