There is this commercial on television showing a young man relaxing on a sofa bed with his loving dog by his side.
Then suddenly the dog lifts its head up and growls in a threatening manner. The dog’s posture indicates combat readiness and he makes it clear with his loud determined barks. The dog then ominously lowers and tilts its head to identify where the noisy and threatening sounds are coming from. Meanwhile, his master looks around with embarrassment as he knows that his dog is being agitated by the gurgling from his stomach; his insides were having a party! And it was a noisy one, noisy enough to put his pooch on high alert.
Doctors have a word for stomach noises. It’s called borborygmi, (pronounced BOR-boh-RIG-mee) ‘basically the sounds that come from your digestive system as food, air and gas move through.’
“To get an idea what’s happening down there after a meal, think of the motion of a slithering snake,” says Thomas A. Gossel, Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology and Associate Dean of the College of Pharmacy at Ohio Northern University. “Bathed in stomach acid, your food is squeezed slightly forward and slightly back through your digestive tract, helping break the meal down to absorb nutrients, and sometimes creating noise.”
But, says Jorge Herrera, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine in Mobile and member of the American Gastroenterological Association and the American College of Gastroenterology, most of the food is emptied from the stomach within four to six hours.
And the Mayo Clinic Foundation for Medical Education and Research says that stomach noise ÔÇö such as rumbling, gurgling and growling ÔÇö typically is due to normal digestion. They point out that stomach growling can occur when one is hungry, adding that it can also occur after eating or between meals when food is passing through the intestines.
“Hunger and appetite are controlled by a complex system of hormone-like substances primarily made by your digestive system,” says the Clinic. “When you haven’t eaten for a while, these substances are released and cause a part of your brain called the hypothalamus to “switch on” your desire to eat. A message is then sent to your stomach and intestines. This triggers muscle contractions and the release of acids and other digestive fluids ÔÇö which causes the rumbling, grumbling sounds you hear ÔÇö as your body prepares for you to eat.”
The thought, sight or smell of food also can trigger this response from your intestines.
“Your appetite is controlled by your appetite center in the brain’s hypothalamus,” says Dr. David Robbins, an advanced fellow in endoscopic ultrasound at the Medical University of South Carolina. “You think about eating that cheeseburger and it stimulates acid secretion in the bowels.” That very act then encourages the gastrointestinal tract to move more, hence the noises.
Whether you’ve eaten or not, however, every one to two hours, there’s a rush of digestive juices sweeping through the digestive tract to clear out anything that remains behind, says Herrera, adding that this can also cause gurgling sounds.
But researchers acknowledge that sometimes excessive stomach noise can be a symptom of an underlying gastrointestinal disorder such as irritable bowel syndrome. But, they point out, in such cases, stomach noise usually is accompanied by other signs and symptoms such as bloating, cramping, diarrhea or excess gas.
And these thunderous noises have bad timing. They rumble during an interview or in a waiting room when everyone is quiet and reading a paper or magazine…and during examinations in a tomb-quiet classroom or when you have turned on the charm and campaigning hard to get that beautiful lady to agree to a date.
I recall with despair when I was once embarrassed as I presented a live programme on television.
But you have to consider that your body makes 2 gallons of digestive juices a day and recycles much of it. That’s as much blood as you have in your whole body! In addition, there is acid in our stomachs (hydrochloric acid) which is so strong it can eat metal. Fortunately, our stomach slime protects the inside of our stomachs from being eaten away, too.
But does that rumbling mean you are hungry and it is time to eat?
“It doesn’t make sense because it’s when you eat that the stomach is most active,” says Robbins. He says rather than being brought on by the actual need to eat, the gut may grow restless and active at the sight or thought of food.
“I don’t think there’s always a correlation between hunger and the rumbles in your stomach,” concurs Dr.
Herbert Lim, a gastroenterologist at the Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu. “It might be mostly in your head, or your belly, no pun intended.” That’s because the notion that the stomach is louder than it ordinarily is when you need to eat goes against the physiology of the gastrointestinal tract.
“Although these noises may appear to come from the stomach, they’re actually generated by the intestines, which undulate in a wave-like motion called peristalsis,” says Lim. “This moving of food particles, acid and gas from one end of the intestines to the other produces a sometimes-discernible sound often likened to a gentle grumble.” Different things cause it to speed up or slow down, he says, and a lot of it is air and gas produced by carbonation or bacteria. “It is normal functioning.”
Lim says that if you’re nowhere near famished and the din is accompanied by some discomfort, you may have eaten something that doesn’t agree with you.
“Dairy products are common culprits, especially if you’re lactose-intolerant and are having trouble digesting what you ate,” he says. Or, you may have had too much of a good time; carbonated beverages such as beer and soda can cause diarrhea and loud stomach noises. “It could be something as benign as too much partying or ice cream.”
Eating and digesting food is a chore, no wonder, at times, we sweat as we eat. Consider the following:
It takes 3 hours for food to move through the intestines which, by the way, are at least 25 feet in an adult. (The coiled-up intestines of a full-grown horse are 89 feet long!)
Chewing food takes from 5-30 seconds
Swallowing takes about 10 seconds
Food sloshing in the stomach can last 3-4 hours
Food drying up and hanging out in the large intestine can last 18 hours to 2 days!
In your lifetime, your digestive system may process about 50 tons of food!
But good advice is that if you’re concerned that your gut is making a strange racket and don’t feel well, check in with your doctor. “While it’s likely to be nothing, it’s best to leave the diagnosis to the experts who can translate your digestive tract’s foreign language with an interpreter’s ease.”
Meanwhile, a too-quiet belly is far more frightening, however.
“The absence of bowel movements can speak of a serious problem, especially if there’s pain in the abdomen,” Lim says. You may have appendicitis, for example, or a gallstone in the bile duct that’s causing inflammation and irritating the small intestines.
So, when the bellowing reaches a crescendo as you sit during that interview, remind yourself that it is normal functioning. You are alive!