What Your Growling Stomach Means

Yu Shing Ting
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Friday - September 01, 2010
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There are many reasons our stomachs growl, including being hungry

There are some things about our body that we can control, and then there are things we can’t.

One day I was showing my boss something on my computer when my stomach started to growl embarassingly. It got louder and louder, and although he didn’t say anything, I’m sure he heard it because, of course, it was at a time of day when the office was completely quiet.

But is that really our stomachs trying to tell us to eat? And what can we do to stop it?

According to Dr. Helen Sim, a physician at The Queen’s Medical Center, stomach noises are a normal part of the digestive process.

“From the mouth down, it’s basically a long tube of muscles, and after you haven’t eaten in awhile and the food hasn’t passed from the stomach to the intestines, there’s air that still remains, and that sound you usually hear is when the muscles are contracting and pushing on the air that’s in our stomach and small intestines,” explains Sim. “And that’s that sound that we hear as growling.”

As for whether or not there’s a connection between the grumbling and being hungry, Sim says there often is, but that the stomach and intestines make sounds even when you’re full.

“The noises, that’s part of the normal digestive process. But I think when your stomach is empty there’s more air, so that the sound is a little bit more exaggerated than when there’s actually food in there,” she says.

The medical term for these stomach sounds is borborygmus. When it happens, it’s usually nothing to be concerned about, but if it’s excessive and accompanied by other problems, then you may want to consult your doctor.

“Sometimes if it’s a lot of gas, we do see people with irritable bowel syndrome, and their bowels are a little more active and irritable,” explains Sim. “Also, if it’s associated with other symptoms, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramping, excessive bloating or gas, then that could be some underlying problem.”

As for what you can do to stop the rumbling? Eat, but even that won’t guarantee silence.

“It’s not possible to make it stop unless you’re eating frequent small meals throughout the day,” says Sim. “But the normal sounds of the digestive system are something we have no real control over. So if you’re hungry, then you have to eat, and sometimes eating frequent meals throughout the day decreases that level of aggregation.”

Also, beware of foods that produce more gas, such as cabbage, beans and carbonated beverages.

And have you ever noticed that when you’re hungry and you see food, your stomach starts to growl? Well, that’s no coincidence.

“When you’re hungry, there’s a pathway where your body triggers a hormone from the brain telling your stomach to get prepared to eat, and it gets triggered by looking at food,” explains Sim. “And I think everyone has experienced that before.

“In general, stomach growling is normal. It’s part of the sounds we hear, and unless you have an upset stomach or pain, you shouldn’t be concerned about it. If you want your stomach quiet, I would recommend eating frequent small meals throughout the day.”

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