Motilin is a hormone that plays a role in digestion. It triggers muscle contractions in your small intestine. These contractions move food from your small intestine to your large intestine. Motilin also plays a role in controlling insulin release and triggering your body’s hunger cues.
Motilin is a type of gastrointestinal hormone. Your body releases motilin to help move food from your small intestine to your large intestine. This movement of food through your digestive tract is called the migrating motor complex (MMC).
Your body releases motilin throughout the day. You produce more motilin during fasting periods (when you aren’t eating), such as between meals or during sleep.
Your motilin hormone levels also vary depending on what you eat. For example, motilin decreases when you eat foods with fat or sugar (glucose).
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Motilin’s primary function is to move food through your gastrointestinal tract. Motilin also helps produce a stomach enzyme called pepsin. Pepsin helps your body digest protein.
When your body releases motilin, it binds to cells called motilin receptors. As motilin binds to receptors, the muscles in your small intestine contract. This action moves food to the next stage of digestion.
Motilin regulates the migrating motor complex. When your body releases motilin, it activates the MMC. The MMC:
When your body releases motilin, it also acts on other parts of your body. Motilin helps trigger:
Some conditions can affect your motilin levels. For example, studies have shown that pregnant people typically have lower motilin than people who aren't pregnant. Decreased motilin can cause pregnant people to experience constipation and heartburn.
Low motilin can also cause hypomotility, or slowed muscle contractions and movement in your digestive tract. Certain gastrointestinal diseases are associated with hypomotility, including:
High motilin can cause faster-than-usual food movement and more intestinal contractions. Conditions associated with high motilin include:
You can increase the health of your digestive system and hormones by practicing healthy lifestyle habits. You may:
The migrating motor complex or MMC is timed to help your body move food through your digestive tract. Motilin is part of the MMC.
As you eat, stomach enzymes are secreted to start the process of breaking down food. Your body releases motilin after your stomach has had time to begin breaking down the food. This is the last phase of this process which happens when you are fasting (the time in between meals). The undigested food moves from your stomach into your small intestine.
Gastric emptying is the process of moving food from your stomach to the first part of your small intestine (duodenum). Ghrelin and motilin stimulate gastric emptying.
You have motilin receptors along your digestive tract. Your digestive tract includes your:
Motilin receptors are most concentrated in a narrow part of your stomach called the pyloric antrum. The pyloric antrum is the first part of the pylorus, the opening between your stomach and small intestine.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Motilin is a hormone that stimulates your digestive system. It helps move food from your small intestine to your large intestine. Motilin also plays a role in controlling insulin release and triggering hunger cues. If you have low motilin, you may have slow or delayed muscle contractions in your small intestine.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/16/2022.
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