Are You Taking
Your Pills Wrong?
According to the latest science, the answer is probably yes
Maybe you’ve got a headache. Or your back is acting up again after a particularly active weekend. In any case, you've got some pain. And the modern solution to that discomfort (along with countless other ailments) is to pop a pill. You could also be one of the 86% of Americans that regularly takes a vitamin or supplement. Down the hatch! You're probably not thinking about your body position when you take a pill, right?
I definitely don't. I know some people only take a pill with a proper amount of water (eight ounces, ideally at room temperature), but I've been known to toss back my medication or supplements with coffee, a protein shake or, I'm afraid to say, a beer. But a new Johns Hopkins University study has found that your posture can make a big difference in how fast your body absorbs the pill. And the wrong posture can delay how fast the medicine is broken down and absorbed—by as much as an hour or more. That's a huge difference. Especially when you're taking a pain reliever.
Researchers found that the ideal position is reclining, while leaning to your right side. This speeds up absorption of the pill by about 13 minutes, compared to simply staying upright. Leaning to the left, however, was found to slow absorption by more than an hour.
“We were very surprised that posture had such an immense effect on the dissolution rate of a pill,” says senior author Rajat Mittal, a Johns Hopkins engineer and an expert in fluid dynamics. “I honestly never thought about whether I was doing it right or wrong, but now I'll definitely think about it every time I take a pill.”
How can this be? Well, most pills do not start working until the stomach ejects their contents into the intestine. And while I think most of us have a mental picture of the stomach as this swirling vat of acid, jostling around somewhere in the middle of our bodies, it's really a fairly empty J-shaped organ that produces enzymes and acids to help break down food so it can pass through your gastrointestinal tract. It's not until the partially dissolved foods make their way into the duodenum (the first part of the small intestine), that the nutrients start to be absorbed.
So the closer a pill lands to the lower part of the stomach, the faster it starts to dissolve and empty its contents through the valve at the base of the stomach into the duodenum. That's why your positioning when taking a pill matters. It also means that you don't have to stay in that position, just make sure you're leaning to the right when you swallow a pill to deposit it into the prime spot. And while the exact duration it takes for pills to dissolve in various postures might vary by type of pill or capsule (along with how much food is in the stomach), the timing the researchers came up with is still a pretty good approximation. So keep that in mind the next time you're looking for quick relief from pain.
Before risking it on those long forgotten capsules in the back of your medicine cabinet, look up your medication first. Drugs.com maintains a database of over-the-counter and prescription medications, decoding the meaning behind their shape, size, color and imprinted numbers.