While it's known that emotions, including stress, can worsen symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it's also possible that certain foods might cause the stomach to roil and make loud noises.
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IBS is a common gastrointestinal disorder, affecting an estimated 12 percent of Americans, more women than men, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). The condition can be unpredictable and vary in severity, but common symptoms include gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea — as well as those embarrassing stomach sounds.
Read more: 6 Reasons Why Your Stomach is Making Weird Noises
Understanding How Food Moves
The digestive tract is a busy place, and for people with IBS, the normal flow of food may experience spasms or disruptions, explains Ashkan Farhadi, MD, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Medical Group in Fountain Valley, California.
"The intestines move like a wave and this wavelength is called peristalsis, which is connected to our nervous system" he says. "Loud sounds coming from the stomach means this wavelength may be experiencing some disturbances. It doesn't necessarily mean a serious medical condition."
In fact, IBS doesn't directly cause loud stomach noises. Anyone can have these stomach noises, including people who do not have gastrointestinal disorders, as well as those with digestive issues such as celiac disease or Crohn's disease, Dr. Farhadi says.
However, people with IBS may have sensitivities to specific foods, and this is unique to each individual. Foods that irritate one person with IBS might not bother someone else, says NIDDK. Patterns observed among people with IBS suggest that certain foods have a higher likelihood of setting off IBS symptoms and disrupting gastrointestinal wavelengths.
Possible Trigger Foods for IBS
Consider these five categories of food and drink that could spark IBS symptoms.
Dairy. Dairy products can be a common trigger, and people who are lactose intolerant may experience an overlap in symptoms with their IBS. Lactose is the sugar that naturally occurs in milk and dairy products, including cheese, yogurt and ice cream.
People who can't digest lactose properly in the small intestine may experience gas, bloating and diarrhea, and possibly gurgling and stomach noises as a result of this indigestion. Some probiotic dairy products, such as yogurts, may actually help ease digestion, but this depends on the individual's constitution and degree of sensitivity to dairy.
Gluten. A protein found in wheat, barley and rye, gluten and is ubiquitous in everyday foods, ranging from breakfast cereals to pastries to pasta. People with celiac disease develop antibodies in response to gluten, which can damage their small intestine.
Eating gluten can potentially trigger IBS symptoms, including bloating, gas, cramping and diarrhea, and interfere with nutrient absorption. Sometimes people with IBS (as well as those with celiac disease) are advised to avoid eating gluten altogether.
Coffee. Coffee is a stimulant that's hard on the digestive tract for many people with IBS, says Dr. Farhadi. However, it's not just coffee that those with IBS may need to avoid but rather any food or drink containing caffeine, as well as over-the-counter painkillers that have caffeine. Consuming coffee, tea, soda, chocolate and certain painkillers for headaches that contain caffeine can worsen diarrhea.
Carbonated drinks. Champagne and soda are fun to drink, but the carbonation that creates their fizziness can worsen IBS symptoms. Moreover, the sugar in these drinks can also be a trigger, creating a double whammy for people with IBS. (For this reason, fruit juices might not be the best alternative.) Instead, stick with water or sugar-free (and caffeine-free) beverages.
Spicy foods. A June 2017 study in the World Journal of Gastroenterology has shown a direct correlation between eating spicy foods and flare-ups of IBS symptoms, particularly among women. Capsaicin, which is an active component in red chili, may accelerate normal gastrointestinal transit, which could cause abdominal discomfort, such as gas or bloating.
Read more: Your Ultimate Guide to Living Well With IBS
Is This an Emergency?
- World Journal of Gastroenterology: “Diet in Irritable Bowel Syndrome: What to Recommend, Not What to Forbid to Patients!”
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: “Definition & Facts for Irritable Bowel Syndrome”
- Ashkan Farhadi, MD, gastroenterologist, MemorialCare Medical Group, Fountain Valley, California
- NIDDK: "Eating, Diet, & Nutrition for Irritable Bowel Syndrome"