Gastrointestinal motility in obesity


Department of Internal Medicine, Karolinska Hospital, S-104 01 Stockholm, Sweden


Abstract. Gastrointestinal motility is closely linked to the rate at which nutrients become systemically available. Regulation of gastric emptying represents the most important brake against delivery of nutrients to the intestine in excess of digestive and absorptive capacity. In man, gastric emptying is slowed in proportion to the energy density of the meal, which will level out the rate of energy delivery to the duodenum. Studies suggest a more rapid gastric emptying in obesity, although the opposite has been reported in some experimental settings. Moreover, gastric volume is larger in obese individuals and appropriate satiety signals are not triggered in response to gastric distension. Postprandial intestinal transit time in obesity is similar to that in normal-weight subjects, however, despite this fact, intestinal absorption of nutrients is more efficient in obesity. Several regulatory mechanisms for gastrointestinal motility, such as the autonomous and enteric nervous systems and gastrointestinal regulatory peptides, are also of importance for feeding behaviour and metabolism. Dysfunction of the autonomous nervous system has been observed, the sensitivity to cholecystokinin is decreased in obesity, and plasma concentrations of somatostatin and neurotensin are lower than in normal-weight subjects. These changes in regulatory mechanisms favour rapid gastrointestinal transit of ingested nutrients and promote rapid intestinal absorption in obesity and decreased satiety in response to ingested food. It is presently not known whether the observed changes in gastrointestinal motility in obesity represent a primary feature linked to the pathogenesis of such disease.