November 6, 2014

 When Your Stomach Growls, It Isn’t Telling You it is Hungry

When you eat food, there are muscles along the digestive track that help to move food from your mouth, down your esophagus, through your digestive tract, and out the other side. These are rhythmic, peristaltic wave like patterns that help to move the food along your digestive tract.

When your stomach rumbles and growls in between meals, you likely take this as a cue that you are hungry. These aren’t hunger pains that you are feeling. The growling and rumbling that you hear in between meals is triggered by the Migrating Motor Complex. This complex sends peristaltic waves through your stomach and small intestine, in a regular cycle during a fasting state. This is during the interdigestive phase, in between meals. This isn’t in response to something that you just ate. The Migrating Motor Complex is active when you aren’t eating.

"When Your Stomach Growls, It Isn’t Telling You it is Hungry"

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These actions are thought to serve a housekeeping role. To help sweep undigested material and residual organisms further down the digestive tract. There are four phases of activity. During the third phase, which last 5-15 minutes, we see the most rapid and evenly spaced wave like contractions occur. This is an important role that we don’t want to inhibit. These phase III contractions occur after 90-120 minutes when you are in a fasting state (post meal). The second you eat something, the Migrating Motor Complex is inhibited.

Migrating Motor Complex





If you don’t allow enough space between your meals and snacks, or if you eat too close to bedtime, your Migrating Motor Complex will not be activated and you won’t benefit from this sweeping motion. Gastric content will stick around in the digestive track for a longer period of time. This is linked to SIBO, a small intestinal bowel overgrowth. Inhibition of the Migrating Motor Complex allows gastric contents and organisms to stick around longer and this creates a prime environment for large numbers of bacteria to take up residency in the small intestine. This can also lead to dyspepsia, which is really a collection of digestive symptoms, such as bloating, abdominal distention, pain, early satiety and or nausea. A connection is also seen among people with an overgrowth of h. pylori, which is a bacteria overgrowth that can occur in the stomach, though we are not sure whether h. pylori is causing the inhibition of the motor complex, or if the inhibition of the motor complex is making people more susceptible to an h. pylori overgrowth.

The Migrating Motor Complex is not as active during the night, so eating right up until bedtime may not be the best approach. This is why I recommend a nightly mini-fast. Refrain from eating after 7PM. This offers a 12 hour mini fast and time for the rapid sweeping motion of the Migrating Motor Complex Phase III activity, prior to bed.

The other thing that interferes and inhibits the Migrating Motor Complex is stress. You have already heard me speak on the numerous ways that stress diverts resources away from digestion, at every level. In response to stress, you produce less saliva, digestive enzymes, and stomach acid and peristalsis while you are eating. We can now add to this, that stress will inhibit the sweeping motion of the Migrating Motor Complex in between meals. This is really a recipe for disaster in the digestive tract. This is one more reason why stress levels needs to be addressed when addressing any digestive symptom and condition.

The next time your stomach growls at you, you’ll know that this is your Migrating Motor Complex cleaning up your digestive tract.

Angela Pifer is a Functional Medicine Nutritionist

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from 22 people


Hi Michelle,

Likely nothing - If you have any pain, it is really uncomfortable, or interferes with your life/ habits in any way, please consult with your doctor.


Angela | August 21, 2016

My stomach is growling constantly from wake up through the day till I go to bed why what's wrong with me

Michelle | August 12, 2016


This shouldn't be painful, please consult your doctor.

Angela | July 23, 2016

When this happens its painful, why?

S f | June 27, 2016


Hi Travis,

It can take a while to heal and rebalance after a food poisoning event. If symptoms begin to worsen, I would seek out an functional medicine practitioner to assess your situation.


Angela | July 23, 2016

I recently recover from food poisoning/upset stomach i am a pescaterian i don't understand why my stomach has been growling

Travis | June 18, 2016

Amazing explanation! Thanks a lot for the video. BTW, you got an amazing voice :-)

Yoda | May 1, 2016


You get hungry - you actually have an urge to eat. I recommend eating at consistent times each day as well. I have found this to be the most stabilizing for the patients with whom I work.


Angela | July 23, 2016

So how do you know when you are hungry?

Meeka | April 27, 2016


I would speak directly with your doctor about this Roswin.

Angela | July 23, 2016

I have problem my stomach too.I heard my stomach trampling I can heard my stomach.. In I have hard time too a middle a night I feel hungry.I'm very concerned my self.sometimes I can't sleep.. In then I get sleeping already 4am.and I keep going restrooms just pee.

Roswin | April 16, 2016

So, metaphorically...the work of the Migrating Motor Complex is like street sweeping in New York City. There aren't any tow trucks to haul away the 'parked' food bits, so if you want your gut swept clean, you've got to stick to the alternate side parking hours.

Leslie Henry | February 3, 2016

HI Angela,

I started setting my eating pattern from 12 noon to 7pm. In short no food until Man I feel way better and I feel like my body is falling into balance.

dan | January 29, 2016

Awesome article I will heed to this way of eating for sure I ate nuts and trail mix in the middle of the night and now my stomach hurts and painful growling going on. so from the article I just read it is because its cleaning my eating to close to my resting state ?

Beth | January 17, 2016


The MMC works at the 90-150 minute mark after the last meal moves through. It is best to wait 4 hours in between meals to eat for optimal movement. If you have drastically lost weight, or if you have blood sugar dysregulation or an adrenal issue, you must eat more often than this.

Angela | July 23, 2016

is MMC disabled during sleep?
if answer is yes then when MMC is activated.
so that I can space and time my meals accordingly.

Rajiv | December 23, 2015


Hi Donna,

I would discuss this with a doctor - rumbling should not wake you up at night.



Angela | July 23, 2016

What if your rumbling is uncomfortable. kind of acidy and just uncomfortable or wakes you up at night ?

Donna | July 22, 2015


Hi Kelcey,
There are various prokinetic medication and herbs that could be used. We would also need to take a look at why the MMC is inhibited in the first place. Eating pattern can play a role here. Chronic stress is also an issue. New studies are showing that this may (not always) be connected to an autoimmune condition - this is linked to a food borne illness exposure where your body produces antibodies to the CDT-B toxin and these antibodies also act on a protein in your wall of your GI tract - called vinculin. When vinculin is attacked it cannot bind to your muscle fibers, connecting through f-actin, and pull the muscle fibers taught. When these muscle fibers remain in a relaxed state, this can affect the MMC and during meal peristaltic waves from contracting and relaxing. There is always a lot to look at and assess...

The prokinetics available are what is used, yet, most people acclimate to these quickly and they begin to lose their effectiveness.


Angela | January 29, 2015

Hi Angela - how does one treat a slow MMC? Any supplements or meds that can help?

Melissa | January 29, 2015


Hi Isaac,

I would target the 6-8 hours in the middle of the day, to eat. Say, 10-4PM or 10-6PM. That way, your MMC will have time to perform, prior to bed. And, you'll get more restful sleep with an empty stomach. Keep me posted!


Angela | November 8, 2014

Great article! I didn't realise that the MMC wasn't as active at night. I've been doing some intermittent fasting and my eating window is about midday to right before bedtime, maybe I'll shift the hours around.

I also notice that on SSRIs my MMC is much stronger, I guess that comes back to the stress in a way. Anyway, great read.

Isaac | November 8, 2014

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