Stomach cramps are often caused by over eating, but consuming certain foods can have the same effect. Foods that are difficult to digest, such as broccoli, are often the culprit, because they increase the amount of gas in your intestines. In rare cases, the cramping is because of a food allergy, but you usually experience that pain along with other allergy-related symptoms, such as itching. Most stomach cramps eventually go away on their own, but contact your doctor if the pain persists for an extended period or if you suspect an allergic reaction.
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Typically, gas typically builds up in the intestines, which results from taking in too much air or from the breakdown of foods in the large intestine. Pain or a cramping sensation occurs because of the pressure the gas exerts on the intestinal walls, which burping or passing gas through the anus often relieves. A bloating sensation in the abdominal region is also a common symptom of gas. Although many people describe the symptom as a stomach cramp, individuals usually experience pain in the large intestine, and this is not an actual muscle cramp.
Broccoli is one of several foods that contain raffinose, which is a complex sugar. Human beings don't have the proper enzyme -- known as alpha-galactosidase -- in their small intestines to break down the sugar, so it gets sent to the large intestine, where bacteria break it down. This process creates a lot of gas, potentially leading to cramping. Other foods that contain raffinose include beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus and whole grains -- all of which are common causes of gas in the intestines. Some other vegetables also contain traces of raffinose. Even though human beings do not have the proper enzyme to break down raffinose, not everyone experiences the same symptoms from consuming it.
Raw broccoli that has not been properly cleaned, cooked or stored could be contaminated with harmful bacteria, such as salmonella. This could potentially lead to food poisoning if you eat it, which can cause cramping, bloating, gas, fever, diarrhea or vomiting. A mild case might only cause severe cramping. Less commonly, cramping is a symptom of another problem, such as a food allergy or an underlying digestive disorder. Food allergies often result in additional symptoms, however, such as a tingling in the mouth or lips, itching, sneezing, hives or nausea. More severe symptoms can include throat closure, chest pain and fainting. Certain digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, may include cramping as a symptom.
You can counter the stomach cramps caused solely from difficulty digesting broccoli by avoiding broccoli and other foods that contain raffinose, or you can take an alpha-galactosidase supplement before you eat broccoli. If you suspect that you are allergic to broccoli, contact a doctor, for testing. You may find that you are also allergic to other foods. If the cramps are severe or last for several hours, it could be food poisoning or a severe allergic reaction. In this case, seek medical attention immediately. If you experience stomach cramps along with other symptoms -- such as nausea, diarrhea, or constipation -- and these happen at other times of the day or at night, you might have an underlying digestive disorder. Speak to a qualified health practitioner about your symptoms.
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Gas in the Digestive Tract
- John Hopkins Medicine Health Library: Gas in the Digestive Tract
- Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf: Raffinose
- MedLinePlus: Food Poisoning
- Food Allergy Research & Education: About Food Allergies — Symptoms
- Ohio State University Medical Center: Digestive Diseases