Here's Why Cucumbers Might Upset Your Stomach

Cucumbers can cause gas, stomach pain and diarrhea for people sensitive to cucurbitacin.
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The list of foods that can cause gas is long — so long that you might worry there are few options left for your side dishes at dinner.

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Typical gassy veggies including those from the brassica family, such as cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage, per the Mayo Clinic. And to this group of common offenders, you can add green peppers and even the seemingly innocent cucumber.

Indeed, this salad staple can cause dyspepsia (indigestion) for some people, and eating cucumbers may worsen symptoms like stomach pain, bloating and gas in those prone to indigestion, per a January 2015 study in Middle East Journal of Digestive Diseases. The report found that cucumbers were second only to watermelon among fruits that cause stomach discomfort and worsen symptoms of indigestion.

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Read on for more about the chemical make-up of cucumbers, the myth related to cukes and diverticular disease and what to do if you suspect this veggie is the source of your stomach distress.

Cucurbitacin Sensitivity Is the Likely Culprit

If you're wondering "Why do cucumbers give me diarrhea?" it could be related to cucurbitacin sensitivity. Courtney Cary, RD, a senior registered dietitian in the Baylor College of Medicine section of gastroenterology and hepatology, notes that cucurbitacin is a chemical compound that causes burping, gas production and sometimes bitterness. "This biochemical compound is also prominent in the gourd family, such as in squashes and pumpkin,"she adds.

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According to the Oregon State University Extension Service, this compound can vary in amount from cuke to cuke and is concentrated in the fruit's skin.

What's worse, adds Jeremy Matloff, MD, a gastroenterologist at Yale New Haven Hospital, "If people have other dietary sensitivities or gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation, the consumption of cucurbitacin-containing foods can put them over the edge and lead to symptoms."

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Getting to the bottom of the symptoms you experience may take some trial and error, though, because gas, stomach pain or diarrhea could arise after eating a salad that contains cukes. "It might be the other ingredients in the dish that are causing the problem, so trying each item individually is a good way to determine where the issue lies," Dr. Matloff says.

Can You Eat Cucumbers With GERD?

Cucumbers may intensify GERD symptoms (gastro-esophageal reflux) if you nosh on the ones that are pickled, as these are acidic and tend to worsen burning sensations felt in the throat.

What About Cucumbers and Diverticular Disease?

There was a time when it was thought that eating foods with seeds triggered diverticulitis, says Dr. Matloff. "But the data over the last decade or so has refuted this notion, and patients with diverticulosis do not have to restrict cucumber intake," he says.

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He notes, though, that these people may be sensitive to the cucurbitacin in cucumbers like anyone else, which could cause uncomfortable symptoms.

How to Ease Stomach Pain From Cucumbers

1. Look for 'Burpless' Cukes

Cucumber-lovers are in luck, as the creation of burpless cukes has made enjoying this veggie safer and easier. Look for the cucumber variety with a "burpless" label at the supermarket or farm stand, as breeders have developed certain cucumbers with greatly reduced cucurbitacin in the fruit, resulting in less gas and stomach pain.

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And if you're keen to sow and harvest your own cukes, check out your local home and garden center for "burpless" or "bitter-free" seeds. "When growing cukes, be sure they're watered frequently, as thirsty cucumbers create bitterness in the fruit," Cary says.

2. Ask About Oils

You could also ask your doctor about trying delayed-release peppermint or caraway oil to help ease symptoms of bloating, Dr. Matloff says. "These are best taken on an empty stomach," he notes.

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3. Hold the Cucumbers

But if your pain is severe, avoiding cukes altogether may be the best solution.

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references

Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.

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