Relieve Headaches Faster: Scientists Reveal the Best Way To Swallow Pills

Man Pill Water

The researchers discovered that consuming pills while resting on the right side was by far the best, allowing pills to enter the deepest portion of the stomach and dissolve 2.3 times quicker than even an upright posture.

According to a recent Johns Hopkins study, how you swallow pills can impact how quickly your body absorbs the medicine.

You probably don’t consider your body posture while taking pills when you have a headache. However, recent research from Johns Hopkins University discovered that your posture can significantly impact how quickly your body absorbs the medication, as much as an hour longer.

The conclusions are based on what is thought to be the first model to replicate how a drug dissolves in the human stomach.

“We were very surprised that posture had such an immense effect on the dissolution rate of a pill,” said senior author Rajat Mittal, a Johns Hopkins engineer and an expert in fluid dynamics. “I 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.”

Their findings were recently published in the journal Physics of Fluids.

In recent years, models that accurately represent the working of various important organs, most notably the heart, have been developed. The team’s model, StomachSim, appears to be one of the first to be able to conduct realistic simulations of the human stomach. StomachSim simulates what happens within a stomach as it breaks down food or, in this instance, medicine by fusing physics, biomechanics, and fluid mechanics.

Pill Posture

Your posture when taking a pill makes a big difference in how fast your body absorbs the medicine. Credit: Khamar Hopkins/Johns Hopkins University

The majority of pills don’t start working until the stomach passes its contents into the intestine. As a result, the closer a pill falls to the antrum, the quicker it begins to break down and unload its contents into the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine. If you’re aiming a pill for this part of the stomach, your posture is crucial in order to take use of gravity as well as the inherent asymmetry of the stomach.

Four postures were tested by the team. Taking tablets while resting on the right side was by far the most effective, sending pills into the deepest part of the stomach and achieving a dissolution rate that was 2.3 times quicker than even an upright posture. The worst was lying on the left side. The team was astounded to discover that if a tablet dissolves in 10 minutes on the right side, it may take up to 23 minutes in an upright posture and over 100 minutes while laying on the left side.

“For elderly, sedentary or bedridden people, whether they’re turning to left or to the right can have a huge impact,” Mittal said.

Standing upright was a decent second choice, essentially tied in effectiveness with lying straight back.

The team also considered stomachs that aren’t functioning at full strength due to gastroparesis caused by diseases such as diabetes and Parkinson’s Syndrome meant for pill dissolution. Even a small change in the conditions of the stomach can lead to significant differences in the outcome of an oral drug, said lead author Jae Ho “Mike” Lee, a former postdoctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins.

The impact of stomach disease on drug dissolution was similar to that of posture—which underscores how significant a difference posture makes.

“Posture itself has such a huge impact it, it’s equivalent to somebody’s stomach having a very significant dysfunction as far as pill dissolution is concerned,” Mittal said.

Future work will attempt to predict how the changes in the biomechanics of the stomach affect how the body absorbs drugs, how food is processed in the stomach, and the effect of posture and gastroparesis on food digestion.

Reference: “Computational modeling of drug dissolution in the human stomach: Effects of posture and gastroparesis on drug bioavailability” by J. H. Lee, S. Kuhar, J.-H. Seo, P. J. Pasricha and R. Mittal, 9 August 2022, Physics of Fluids.
DOI: 10.1063/5.0096877

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

17 Comments on "Relieve Headaches Faster: Scientists Reveal the Best Way To Swallow Pills"

  1. Not well written, wording, paragraph arrangement, … leading to umbiguity tho an interesting topic.

    • “Umbiguity?” Poorly constructed sentence! Do you really expect people to take your criticism seriously?

      I have been known to be pedantic about details. However, I had no difficulty reading this and comprehending what they had found.

      Perhaps you could provide some specific examples to redeem yourself.

  2. zack that was wak. Don’t look back. We got plenty vitamin Irony now.

    I wonder what pill would treat irony.

  3. Initially, when I read the title of this article, I didn’t think it was THAT serious. The only reason that I read it is because, as a person with significant experience interning in university research labs, I wanted to see how this was set up and especially how the variables were controlled. Also, Because I’ve been chronically ill since infancy, I have and still do swallow many pills most frequently with breakfast. Years ago, I used to go to a camp for kids, like myself, with juvenile arthritis and 99% of us were pro multi pill in one gulp swallowers lol. I expected this research to focus on a Single pill which it did. I’ve occasionally had a medical professional, like inpatient get REALLY upset about me taking all of my pills at once. Occasionally I do gag but I’m not about to take 1 pill at a time when I have 10 pills.

    I digress.. anyways, I’m actually a little impressed about this study. It’s very small but interesting after all.

    I was especially impressed that gastroperisis was mentioned since I know a number of people with it and I think my mom has it at subclinical level. When I proposed it to her GI, she was impressed, because I’m not a doctor but she took me seriously and said it’s a good possibility. I’ve seen the horrors of severe gastoperisis with young people requiring feeding tubes and forget swallowing pills!!

    I do wonder about the impact of swallowing multiple pills on absorption in the ideal position. The ideal position sounds like a potential choking hazard even with 1 pill. If I’m understanding it correctly, it sounds like you are supposed to be reclined on your side. I’ve swallowed pills like this but it requires some effort and it’s only happened when I was in really bad shape and couldn’t get out of bed.

    I hope the study will take a step further to help those with multiple pills and just how much accuracy is needed in the swallowing position. What does leaning/reclining mean. Did they specifically measure peoples positions to real life vs laying on a exam or hospital bed? My issue with research is it’s extensive need to control variables, although understandable, but then it doesn’t help extrapolation to the real world. Glad some things were mentioned like gastroperisis and Parkinson’s because that’s a very relevant and important need.

    I’m definitely going to read the cited paper for more details. Glad I read this article despite my initial smirk.

    • Doctors or nurses don’t like you to take multiple pills at the same time because the pills could counteract with the other pills and you might not even realize as it would be normal for you to take them all at one time. My mother was doing the same thing with her pills and when she found out she was taking them wrong, she took them spread throughout the day and she felt 100 times better. Some issues she was having from day to day went away within 2 days of her taking them correctly. She also moved all her scripts to 1 pharmacy only. The reason being if there is something you’re taking that will conflict with the other medicines and make you feel weird, it will show up in the pharmacys system that those 2 pills shouldn’t be taken together or even at all. It could be potentially dangerous to take some pills together even if they were prescribed by the same dr. The doctor might not know the medications would conflict. Its best to take your pills spread out over time. My mom takes over 12 pills a day so I have her taking 2 pills every hour for 6 hrs. If she runs into issues I might change a pill to a different hour in those 6 hours.(just pairing a different pill if she felt weird for some reason that would not be normal. She took pain pills and muscle relaxers at the same time one day and she had to be picked up off the floor because they made her feel crazy. There’s not an hour in the day that she’s not physically popping a pill as she’s prescribed to take each pill 3 times per day.

  4. So would laying on the right side when taking a pill that normally causes stomach irritation help?

    • Whenever I lay on my right side my heartburn is much worse since the stomach is upward on that side versus being toward the floor. Maybe that is affecting you.

  5. I mean if it causes irritation for 23 minutes if you swallow it upright vs just for 10 minutes if you swallow it on your right side. I would consider that helpful.

  6. How did this article have poor wording, paragraph placement? You forced me to go back and read it again and what I found were pretty big or complex wording that might look/sound confusing to some people. I found there’s nothing wrong with the article. I guess some people just feel the need to make themselves seem smarter because they couldn’t understand the article and some of its bigger words.

  7. What/where is the data for taking pill(s) while sitting? Also, is this current data only for single use pill taking? Or multiple?

  8. Take ALL your meds sitting upright, with a full glass of water, please. Then you may position yourself as you prefer. Do NOT try to swallow pills lying down or side lying, as it presents a choking hazard.
    Interestingly, this researcher omitted studying the effects of lying PRONE on pill absorption time. I have friends who are stomach sleepers and this would affect them

  9. Russell, I’m in agreement re your comments about the wording and structure of the article. I found it informative and helpful since I have a terrible time with swallowing any pill larger than an aspirin. If I had to take them in a prone position, it would be scary.

  10. On a related topic, when you have those giant horse pills to take, place it sideways on your tongue. Have the length be at a right angle to your tongue. Think of a football being handed off to a running back. Or, you can imagine how you would place it on your tongue so you can roll it down your throat. You will not have problems swallowing them again.
    One other tip, when you get hiccups, eat a fold-over peanut butter sandwhich. The labored chewing the combo creates, resets the muscles to a calm normal position. If you have a peanut allergy, substitute something that has the same constency. The tackiness to hold the bread and PB to slow chewing is the key.
    Hope my tangent subject is useful for you. Blake.

  11. With aspirin, I chew them up before swallowing. They dissolve just fine.

  12. Zack, you spell umbiguity “ambiguity”

  13. I always bite mine up and swallow

  14. I’m no expert. Yet, you need to swallow pills initially in an upright position. Sitting or standing is best. Then yes, going into the recommended positions after that. Laying dwn horizontally as someone mentioned being difficult or dangerous, is both. Let gravity get it to your stomach for at least a few seconds before laying dwn. It’s gotta get to your stomach 1st. & they didn’t convey this well at all in my opinion. Drinking fluids sideways is also dangerous.

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