What's Really Happening To Your Body When Your Stomach Growls

You've probably known your stomach to growl when you're hungry. WebMD explains that this is the result of a chemical reaction that actually starts in your brain. When you're hungry and smell food, your brain signals your stomach to release the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite. Ghrelin triggers the muscles in your stomach and intestines to contract in the same way they do when they are digesting food. Your body also releases ghrelin when your stomach is empty or almost empty. This chemical reaction tells your brain that your body needs fuel. The Cleveland Clinic reports that when you eat, ghrelin levels decrease.

Another hormone that can cause some noise in your digestive system is orexin. According to the University of Melbourne, the brain releases orexin after receiving a dose of ghrelin. Orexin acts similarly to ghrelin because it prepares the digestive system for a meal, and that ends up making some (or more) gut noise. The chemical may also be linked to other gastrointestinal disorders that lead to poor gut function, according to a report published in the journal Gastroenterol (posted at the National Library of Medicine).

IBS might cause muscle contractions

Speaking of digestive disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) might cause some unwanted sounds from your belly. Other symptoms of IBS include gas, bloating, and constipation. Growling sounds occur because IBS disrupts the normal flow of food through the digestive tract, which results in muscle spasms. Gastroenterologist Ashkan Farhadi MD, from California-based MemorialCare Medical Group, tells Livestrong that our intestines "move like a wave," that is connected to our nervous system, and any disruptions might lead to noise. "Loud sounds coming from the stomach means this wavelength may be experiencing some disturbances," he explains.

Usually, a growling stomach won't be the only sign of IBS because the condition is linked to food sensitivities that cause other symptoms. Treating IBS symptoms include eating more fiber, avoiding gluten, and following a special diet. Your symptoms might also improve with more or better sleep, exercise, and reducing stress. Some medications, including antispasmodics, might also help ease symptoms, per the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

Indigestion might be a culprit

Indigestion, or dyspepsia, is a common disorder experienced by many people. Symptoms include abdominal discomfort, bloating, and gurgling sounds coming from your stomach (via Cleveland Clinic). Eating too much or eating too fast can cause indigestion. In addition, eating spicy or greasy foods or drinking alcohol or caffeine can trigger it. More serious problems associated with indigestion include gastritis, stomach ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome.

The gastrointestinal disturbances that cause IBS are also related to indigestion. If your doctor has eliminated other possible causes, and indigestion is determined to be the culprit behind your stomach growling, you can keep a food diary and eliminate foods that appear to trigger symptoms. Eating smaller meals throughout the day and limiting caffeine and alcohol might help reduce symptoms. Some over-the-counter medications may be enough to ease symptoms, or you may need something stronger prescribed by your physician, per Mayo Clinic

Stress can cause spasms in digestive muscles

Evidence suggests that your brain and your gut are connected, and this means that stress can have an impact on more than your central nervous system. When it comes to your gut, stress can manifest itself in many ways, including abdominal pain, slowed digestion, and some gastrointestinal disorders, per Harvard Health. Unsurprisingly, many gut issues can lead to growling or gurgling noises (via Verywell Health). The sounds come down to how your intestinal muscles are moving. Gastroenterologist Will Bulsiewicz MD, tells Well+Good that stress causes muscles in your digestive tract to contract and relax, stirring up whatever gas and liquid that may be in them. He compares this phenomenon to squeezing air in a balloon from one area to another, where the movement represents a spasm in gastrointestinal muscles. The sloshing of contents can lead to gurgling sounds. Strangely enough, these sounds can occur whether your stomach is full or empty.

If your doctor thinks stress might be the cause of your intestinal growling, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that some of the best ways to cope with it include getting plenty of exercise and sleep. That said, one of the most important things you can do for your mental health is eat a healthy diet, according to the American Society for Nutrition. The agency reports that deficiencies in some nutrients may affect your psychological well-being. Not only that, but whole foods are linked to lower instances of stress and anxiety.