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Gases + growls = giggles

Explaining bodily sounds to kids made simpler

Explaining bodily sounds to kids made simpler

July 07, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

From hiccups to belly growls to burps, kids are fascinated with the sounds their bodies make. An involuntary noise is made. Giggles follow.

That humorous curiosity provides fertile ground for a lesson to which all of us can relate.

"We each make 1 to 2 liters of gas a day, even if we don't belch the alphabet," says Dr. Patricia Raymond, a gastroenterologist and assistant professor at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

Our bodies make gas as our food is digested. We also ingest gas. Common culprits are chewing gum, carbonated beverages and drinking through a straw.

That gas has to go somewhere, either out through the mouth or down through the colon.

"We pass gas 12 times a day," Raymond says, noting that sometimes we don't realize we're passing it.

Kids can learn about what causes the sounds their bodies make and how they can reduce the likelihood that they'll make unexpected, embarrassing noises.


For example, some foods create more gas than others. Chemical reactions occur in our digestive system when we eat foods such as bagels or soft pretzels, which are prepared in a bicarbonate solution. When the bicarbonate mixes with the acids in us, gas is made. This is similar to the reaction that occurs when baking soda and vinegar mix.

Foods such as baked beans, cabbage and hot dogs pose a challenge to the digestive system, particularly for people who lack the enzymes that help break them down. Taking activated charcoal in the form of capsules before eating these foods can help to absorb gas in a natural way.

Other foods, such as chicken, summer squash and plums, tend to make us not so gassy.

Food is digested in the gastrointestinal - or GI - tract. This is where the body takes nutrients we need out of the food we eat. It's also where solid waste is made from the leftovers.

Digestion begins in the mouth. The teeth and tongue break down pieces of food and move them into the esophagus, a tube-like structure that moves the food from the mouth to the stomach. The stomach grinds up the food. Activity in the stomach is similar to waves crashing onto a beach, Raymond says.

The growling that occurs is not actually coming from the stomach but from the next stop in the GI tract - the small intestine. (The small intestine is named such because it is smaller in diameter than the large intestine. There's actually about 22 feet of small intestine inside each one of us.)

The rumbling noises, technically called borborygmi, are caused by the gas that is made as the small intestine absorbs nutrients from food, Raymond explains.

The small intestine is aided by the gall bladder, which squirts bile into the intestine to help it digest fat. If a gall bladder isn't squirting well, the bile crystallizes, forming gall stones.

The small intestine is also aided by the pancreas, which squirts enzymes into the small intestine, helping it to digest protein, carbohydrates and fat.

"So you have the food, digestive enzymes and the bile floating downstream," Raymond says. The small intestine absorbs the nutrients we need in a very efficient manner. It won't absorb just what we need but all the nutrients we send it. That's one of the reasons so many people are overweight. Our small intestine processes all the good stuff and sends the rest to the colon, or large intestine.

In the large intestine, water is removed from the waste and the waste is formed into what Raymond likes to call "nice packages."

"The colon's only purpose is to package the poop," she says with a laugh.

Doctors like to encourage their patients to eat fiber because fiber makes bowel movements "softer and squishier," and easier to pass, Raymond says. This helps keep our colons healthy.

And it certainly makes for a happy ending.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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