When your stomach growls, here's what's really happening

Our bodies are far from silent. From belching to flatulence to the rumbling sounds coming from our guts, we are nonstop noise-making machines. But what causes the rumblings?

Brilliantly named 'borborygmi' (plural of borborygmus) by the ancient Greeks (via Scientific American), our stomach rumbles might be considered a nuisance, but they're actually harmless in most cases.

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is more or less a hollow tube running from the mouth to the anus, also includes the esophagus, stomach, and small and large intestines (via NIDDK). Food, air, and digestive juices work their way along this tract through a process called peristalsis, which involves a squeezing, or contracting of the smooth muscular walls of the GI tract to mix and move the contents a little at a time. It is these contracting movements that actually produce the rumbling sounds.

Although the stomach usually gets called out for being noisy, these sounds are just as likely to come from the small intestines. And peristalsis doesn't stop just because the stomach is empty. In fact, as we've all experienced, it's an empty stomach that often produces the loudest sounds.

Drinking water can help quiet the growl

Dr. Shawn Khodadadian, a gastroenterologist in New York City, explained why to Fox. "About two hours after your stomach empties, there is signaling from the brain for the digestive muscles and peristalsis to begin again," he said. "These contractions and vibrations of an empty stomach may make you hungry, and the growling may be louder in this case because your stomach and intestines are empty so the noise created is not muffled."

Thankfully, if the loud rumblings start at an awkward time, drinking some water or grabbing a quick snack should help quiet the growl. Avoiding foods that are known to produce excessive gas, like beans, cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflower), artificial sweeteners, and carbonated beverages, may also help (via Healthline).

In most cases, stomach growls are normal and harmless. But not always. Khodadadian notes, "Although stomach gurgling can be completely normal and part of healthy digestion, if accompanied by symptoms, this should be looked into a little bit closer. For example, excessive gurgling together with cramping, abdominal pain, and possibly nausea and vomiting may be a sign of an obstruction in the bowels." If these symptoms persist, you should consult with a doctor.