When Your Stomach Growls, It Isn’t Telling You it is Hungry
When you eat food, there are muscles along the digestive track that help to move food from your mouth, down your esophagus, through your digestive tract, and out the other side. These are rhythmic, peristaltic wave like patterns that help to move the food along your digestive tract.
When your stomach rumbles and growls in between meals, you likely take this as a cue that you are hungry. These aren’t hunger pains that you are feeling. The growling and rumbling that you hear in between meals is triggered by the Migrating Motor Complex. This complex sends peristaltic waves through your stomach and small intestine, in a regular cycle during a fasting state. This is during the interdigestive phase, in between meals. This isn’t in response to something that you just ate. The Migrating Motor Complex is active when you aren’t eating.
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These actions are thought to serve a housekeeping role. To help sweep undigested material and residual organisms further down the digestive tract. There are four phases of activity. During the third phase, which last 5-15 minutes, we see the most rapid and evenly spaced wave like contractions occur. This is an important role that we don’t want to inhibit. These phase III contractions occur after 90-120 minutes when you are in a fasting state (post meal). The second you eat something, the Migrating Motor Complex is inhibited.
If you don’t allow enough space between your meals and snacks, or if you eat too close to bedtime, your Migrating Motor Complex will not be activated and you won’t benefit from this sweeping motion. Gastric content will stick around in the digestive track for a longer period of time. This is linked to SIBO, a small intestinal bowel overgrowth. Inhibition of the Migrating Motor Complex allows gastric contents and organisms to stick around longer and this creates a prime environment for large numbers of bacteria to take up residency in the small intestine. This can also lead to dyspepsia, which is really a collection of digestive symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal distention, pain, early satiety and or nausea. A connection is also seen among people with an overgrowth of h. pylori, which is a bacteria overgrowth that can occur in the stomach, though we are not sure whether h. pylori is causing the inhibition of the motor complex, or if the inhibition of the motor complex is making people more susceptible to an h. pylori overgrowth.
The Migrating Motor Complex is not as active during the night, so eating right up until bedtime may not be the best approach. This is why I recommend a nightly mini-fast. Refrain from eating after 7PM. This offers a 12 hour mini fast and time for the rapid sweeping motion of the Migrating Motor Complex Phase III activity, prior to bed.
The other thing that interferes and inhibits the Migrating Motor Complex is stress. You have already heard me speak on the numerous ways that stress diverts resources away from digestion, at every level. In response to stress, you produce less saliva, digestive enzymes, and stomach acid and peristalsis while you are eating. We can now add to this, that stress will inhibit the sweeping motion of the Migrating Motor Complex in between meals. This is really a recipe for disaster in the digestive tract. This is one more reason why stress levels needs to be addressed when addressing any digestive symptom and condition.
The next time your stomach growls at you, you’ll know that this is your Migrating Motor Complex cleaning up your digestive tract.
Angela Pifer is a Functional Medicine Nutritionist
Work with Angela one on one: www.NutritionNorthwest.com
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