BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Measurements of gastrointestinal transit are made in clinical and research gastroenterology, yet their intrinsic variability is not well characterised. In particular, an influence of hormones on transit has been proposed as the basis for gastrointestinal symptoms that vary with the menstrual cycle. Our aims were to quantify individual differences in transit during the menstrual cycle in healthy women and to compare these with the intrinsic variability in healthy men. METHODS: On two occasions, whole gut transit was assessed scintigraphically and colonic transit quantified by radio-opaque markers. Thirty two healthy volunteers (12 women, 20 men) were studied, women during the follicular and luteal phases, men twice within a similar four week period. Diets and exercise were standardised prior to and during both studies. RESULTS: Colonic transit was significantly faster in men, and postlag gastric emptying was also more rapid; other indices of regional transit were not different between the sexes. Total colonic transit time was equally well reflected by the scintigraphic and radio-opaque marker methods. Important intraindividual differences were noted in both sexes. The variances in our samples predicted an 80% chance of detecting (with 95% confidence) a mean effect of menstrual hormones on transit that was in the same range as the intrinsic variation in men. CONCLUSIONS: Colonic transit was faster in men than in women. Although group means in the two studies were almost identical, single assessments of transit in subjects sometimes exhibited considerable variability, implying broad biological variations. Given this intrinsic variability, the influence of menstrual hormones on gastrointestinal transit must be small and of doubtful clinical significance.
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