Body Position Makes ‘Tremendous Impact' in How Fast Medicine Kicks In, Study Finds

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, studied how differences in posture can change how quickly medicine is digested

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Whether someone is sitting, standing or lying on their side when swallowing pills can make a major difference in the amount of time it takes for the medicine to start working, Maryland scientists say.

A team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore found that there is actually a science to posture and taking medication.

"It really kind of blew our minds," Dr. Rajat Mittal, the lead researcher in the study. "Whether you're standing straight, whether you're lying down and how you're lying down has a tremendous impact on the way a pill dissolves in your stomach."

Mittal and his team spent three years developing a high-tech computer model that mimics the biomechanics of the stomach to learn posture and body position affects the way medicine and food is digested.

"What we found, kind of to our surprise … Lying down on your right side actually made the pill dissolve a lot faster than even being upright," he said.

Mittal said the closer a pill lands to the deepest part of the stomach, the faster it dissolves and starts working.

So, why the right side? Mittal said it has to do with the shape of the stomach.

"Your stomach is very asymmetrical. It's a bean-shaped organ that curves toward the right of our body. And that asymmetry, combined with gravity, has a huge impact on the way the body moves," he said.

Using the computer simulation, the team tested four different positions and found that it took about 10 minutes for a pill to dissolve when someone was lying on their right side.

It took twice as long, about 25 minutes on average, for a pill to dissolve when taken standing up or lying on their back.

But lying on the left side was the least effective, taking more than an hour-and-a-half for the pill to dissolve.

"If you are somebody who is bedridden, elderly … you definitely don't want to be on the left hand side because that could slow down the rate at which the pill dissolves and affects your body by a factor of 10 or more," Mittal said.

The findings also apply to how food is digested, which is something to consider when eating a big dinner, Mittal said.

"If you want to digest that meal fast, then you probably want to sleep on your right-hand side. Conversely, if you ended up sleeping on the left-hand side, you know, it might take your body a lot more time to digest that food," he said.

The team said they have just scratched the surface and plan to study how food digestion and posture impact different diseases like diabetes and obesity, as well as nutrition and intestinal infections.

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