Doesn't it seem like the only time you hear your stomach start to gurgle and grumble is when you haven't eaten for hours and feel pretty certain that you will rip that bagel right out of your coworker's hand if they let their guard down even for one second?
Katherine Mounce, an Ohio-based registered dietitian, told POPSUGAR that the noises you hear aren't solely coming from your stomach (you can thank your intestines, too), and they are actually happening all the time. They just happen to be a bit more amplified when there isn't any food or liquid in your system to muffle the noise or when you swallow too much air when eating.
These noises have a name — borborygmi — that goes all the way back to ancient Greece. That just goes to show you how long humans have been trying to understand why your stomach actually growls in the first place, if it's normal, and if there is anything you can do, to quote Winnie the Pooh, to stop the "rumbly in your tumbly."
Where Are Those Noises Really Coming From?
There's a lot going on behind the scenes in your body all day long. In somewhat simple, totally nonmedical terms, what goes in must come out. After a meal or snack, your body starts the process of digesting the food you've just eaten. The muscles of your stomach and intestines squeeze and contract to push the food (as well as any air and liquid) downward through your digestive system — a process called peristalsis. It may be inconvenient in the middle of a big meeting, but these waves of movement naturally generate a bit of noise.
So why does your stomach growl when you're hungry if it's already empty? Hunger can also cause a few gurgles and grumbles as your body prepares for your next meal. Even before you take your first bite of food, your brain begins sending signals to your digestive system that it's time to eat (usually a few hours after your last meal), and, in turn, your stomach and intestines begin their next round of peristalsis. This usually lasts only 10 to 20 minutes, but it'll keep happening every hour until you eat something. (So maybe it's time for a snack.)
Is Stomach Growling Normal or Something to Be Concerned About?
Mounce reassures that a little gurgling and roaring is "common and typically nothing to worry about if it occurs occasionally." If everything else about your digestion seems to be in good working order, the only time stomach growling isn't normal is if it isn't normal for you. Typically, these abnormal sounds will be accompanied by other annoying symptoms, such as bloating, gas, or diarrhea and, Mounce added, "may be rooted in a serious underlying cause, like a food allergy or intolerance, ulcerative colitis, or inflammatory bowel disease."
If you are noticing any unpleasant changes in your abdominal sounds (or any of the aforementioned symptoms), it's a good idea to get checked out by your general practitioner or a GI doctor to get things back in check.
Is There Anything You Can Do to Quiet a Growling Stomach?
Some stomach growling is just a part of life, but there are things you can do to turn down the volume a few notches. First of all, slow down when you eat. Every dietitian will tell you this, and with good reason. When you take the time to chew your food slowly and relax while you eat, your body can get into "rest and digest" mode. This will make the digestion process go more slowly and smoothly, resulting in less noise and less swallowed air. Mounce added that "avoiding talking while you eat, ditching the chewing gum habit, and drinking from a straw" can help you swallow less air.
It sounds simple, but according to Mounce, "If your stomach growls because you are hungry, simply eat food! If you find that you are becoming hungry at a particular time of day on a regular basis, you might not be eating enough or eating the right balance of foods at the prior meal. Consider eating some source of protein and/or fat at that meal, as these components promote satiety, or fullness."
It's also a good idea to avoid foods that make you bloated and gassy. These vary from person to person, but dairy, beans, and cruciferous veggies are common culprits.
Most importantly, relax, and don't worry too much about the symphony in your stomach. It's totally normal and happens to everybody. Even if it happens at an inopportune time, try to laugh it off, and others probably will, too.