Q: This morning, I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room full of people and my stomach wouldn’t stop rumbling and grumbling. People kept looking around wondering what the noise was. It was so embarrassing! Why is it that my stomach seems to growl at the worst times, and is there anything I can do to stop it?
A: Well, you can’t exactly tell your stomach to be quiet like you can your 2-year-old. (Although that might not be so effective, either). Fortunately or unfortunately, our bodies do many things we cannot control.
Let’s travel back in time to ninth grade biology and find out why our stomach growls in the first place. We will begin by reviewing the details of a digestive process called peristalsis — not to be confused with another digestive process — catastalsis (I know you were confusing the two). Ring a bell? Waves of muscle contractions propel the food you eat from your stomach down to your intestines and onward. (Kind of like the contractions that propel your baby out of your you-know-where, but not nearly as painful.) Along with the food, though, the muscles are also churning liquid and digestive juices all in one big appetizing mixture called chyme, and sometimes gas and air get caught in the process too. It’s this gas and air that cause the noises you hear.
So why do we hear the noises when we haven’t eaten and when we’re hungry? About two hours after we eat, our stomach produces hormones that send a “hungry signal” to our brain. Our brain then sends a signal to our stomach to start the peristalsis process over, to sweep out any remaining food and to make you hungry for your next meal. This time, there may not be that much food in your stomach, and all it’s propelling is gas and air — hence the growl. Kind of like the noise a car wash would make without the car inside — nothing inside for the water to spray, nothing for the brushes to brush, and nothing for the dryer to dry. Loud.
So what to do?
First, it’ll definitely help if you eat smaller, more frequent meals. The more food you have in your stomach on a consistent basis, the less likely it will be to growl hungrily. Another way to prevent stomach growling? If you know you’re going to be in a quiet place like church, or say, at a wake — try to avoid certain gassy goods and drinks beforehand. This means no seltzer, beans or broccoli. This will also prevent any unwanted noises coming from another uncontrollable bodily function farther down the chute.
In more severe cases, excessive stomach growling can be caused by a more serious problem, such as irritable bowel syndrome. In those cases, the growling is usually accompanied by cramping and pain and other fun digestive symptoms.
For the most part, stomach growling isn’t an indication of a problem; it’s an indication that everything is working as it should down there. And you know what? At least your stomach growling isn’t accompanied by anything else, ya know what I’m saying? Count your blessings. There are a lot more embarrassing things your body can do!
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