Effect of dehydration on gastrointestinal function at rest and during exercise in humans

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2000 Dec;83(6):578-84. doi: 10.1007/s004210000305.


Dehydration leads to the aggravation of gastrointestinal (GI) complaints during exercise. The aim of this study was to examine the effect of dehydration on various GI parameters during strenuous exercise. Ten healthy well-trained men were investigated in dehydrated and in euhydrated conditions. Dehydration took place before the experiments using a dehydration regimen in a sauna leading to a 3% loss of body mass. Each experiment consisted of 1 h pre-exercise rest, 1.5 h cycling at 70% maximal exercise intensity, and 3.5 h post-exercise rest. During cycling, liquid gastric emptying (GE), orocaecal transit time (OCTT) and intestinal permeability and glucose absorption were measured. The GI-symptoms were scored using a questionnaire. Body temperature, plasma volume and vasopressin were measured before and after cycling. The GE was significantly slower during dehydration [median time to peak 13C enrichment in the breath sample (13C-TTP) 23.6 min, range 13.7-50.0 min, P = 0.02] than in the control situation (median 13C-TTP 17.1 min, range 9.8-38.4 min). The OCTT was unchanged (median 173 min, range 98-263 min compared to median 128 min, range 98-195 min, P = 0.18). Dehydration did not change intestinal permeability, glucose absorption, plasma volume, rectal temperature or plasma vasopressin concentration. In the dehydration experiment, exercise induced a significant increase in nausea (P = 0.01) and epigastric cramps (P = 0.05), in contrast to the control situation. In both experiments, exercise led to a significant increase in rectal temperature and plasma vasopressin concentration, and a significant decrease in plasma volume. The increase in plasma vasopressin concentration was significantly higher in the dehydration experiment (P = 0.015). No significant differences in either the post-exercise rectal temperatures or in plasma volumes was observed. The difference in GE between the two experiments was significantly correlated with the difference in nausea score (r = 0.87, P = 0.002). We concluded that dehydration leads to a delayed GE but not to differences in OCTT, intestinal permeability or glucose uptake during intense cycling. The delay in GE is significantly associated with an increase in exercise-induced nausea.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Adult
  • Bicycling
  • Dehydration / physiopathology*
  • Digestive System / physiopathology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Gastric Emptying
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / physiopathology
  • Gastrointestinal Transit
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Male
  • Osmolar Concentration
  • Permeability
  • Reference Values
  • Rest
  • Vasopressins / blood


  • Vasopressins
  • Glucose