The ileocecal valve is located at the bottom right quadrant of your abdomen (think somewhere between your right hip bone, and belly button). This valve (sphincter muscle) connects our small intestine to our large intestine. More specifically it connects the ‘ileum’ (the final part of the small intestine), to the ‘cecum’ (which is the first portion of the large intestine) — hence the name. The ileocecal valve’s main purpose is to allow contents to flow from the small intestine, into the large intestine; after nutrients are absorbed via the mucosal barrier in the small intestine, the sphincter muscles will open the IC valve, allowing the remaining contents to pass through. With normal function, this valve is meant to only allow flow in one direction (from the small intestine to the large intestine), but certain dysfunctions can allow this valve to open up ‘backflow’ from the colon, into the small intestine, which can set the stage for issues to arise.
Ileocecal Valve Dysfunction
As mentioned above, there are certain scenarios where the ileocecal valve dysfunctions, allowing bi-directional flow between the small intestine and the colon (which we don’t want!). This backflow could mean that unwanted substances (like toxins, byproducts and metabolites, dead cells and organisms, and undigested food particles), as well as bacteria from the large intestine, can make their way into the small intestine.
This could lead to imbalances in bacteria in the small intestine — like SIBO, or ‘small intestine bacteria overgrowth’ — as well as disturbances to the lining of the small intestine. The lining of the small intestine is where we absorb the majority of our nutrients, so it’s really important that we keep this lining healthy and robust.
Likewise, the ileocecal valve can be ‘stuck’ closed, which presents its own set of issues!
Here are some things that can lead to ICV dysfunction:
adhesions or scar tissue
structural or functional issues
stress (especially chronic stress)
dietary contributors (like alcohol and caffeine intake, excessive amounts of ‘roughage,’ etc.)
stagnancy (not moving your body enough)
Symptoms of ICV dysfunction can be vague, and correlate with many other conditions: altered bowel movements, nausea, pain, headaches, etc. — if you’re struggling with any vague symptoms that you haven’t been able to resolve with other interventions, I’d definitely recommend into looking into your ileocecal valve function.
How to Correct ICV Dysfunction
see a chiropractor and/or osteopath to look into how structural, functional, or nervous system issues could be contributing to dysfunction in the ileocecal valve
try a self-massage (like this one), to encourage proper function of the IC valve
be mindful of the intake of stimulating foods (stimulants like caffeine-containing foods, spicy foods, etc.), pro-inflammatory foods, and lots of roughage
movement (like walking, yoga, etc.), can be helpful to support ICV function
To learn more about how to support good digestive function and gut health through nutrition, lifestyle, and supplementation, check out my “Beginners Guide to Gut Healing”