Belching can be embarrassing, but eructation (the medical term for burping) is rarely a sign of anything serious. “In the vast majority of cases, it’s a benign symptom,” says Paul Berggreen, M.D., gastroenterologist and founder of Arizona Digestive Health. “Intestinal gas, on the other hand, may be associated with some food intolerances.” In other words, if you have a lot of gas coming out the other end, it could be caused by lactose intolerance, fructose intolerance, or conditions that interfere with carbohydrate absorption, like celiac disease.
Of course, the fact that burping is usually harmless is probably not much consolation if you’ve ever let one slip during an important meeting or a first date. Still, your burps can offer a few clues about your health and your eating habits. Here’s what they want you to know. (Heal your whole body with Rodale’s 12-day liver detox for total body health.)
1. “You’re Eating Too Fast”
If you tend to rush through your meals—gulping down coffee in the morning, grabbing a quick bite on your lunch break, wolfing down dinner in front of the television—you may find yourself burping more than usual. “The single most common cause of belching is swallowing air,” says Berggreen. (You burp when the upper esophageal sphincter muscle relaxes and all that air gets expelled.) Other good reasons to slow it down: Eating too fast has been linked to consuming extra calories, which can raise your risk of obesity.
2. “Your Sinuses Are Acting Up”
When you’re feeling stuffy, you tend to breathe through your mouth. “[Swallowing air] happens much more frequently when people are having issues with their sinuses,” Berggreen says. If it’s allergy season or you have a nasty head cold, take extra care to eat slowly.
3. “Cut Back on Soda”
Ever noticed how you (or a less well-mannered friend) can really project burps after chugging a can of soda? Carbonated beverages basically deliver air directly to your stomach—and burps that come from the belly, rather than the esophagus, tend to be noisier and smellier. “In general, burps from the esophagus are smaller,” says Berggreen. “Carbonated drinks usually cause gas to come out of the solution in the stomach. Burps that come from the stomach typically have a stronger smell, as the food has been at least partially digested.”
4. “You Might Have Reflux”
If belching is accompanied by nausea or heartburn—or it feels like you throw up in your mouth a little when you burp—you may actually have gastroesophageal reflux disease, better known as acid reflux. “People sometimes feel food or fluid coming up into their chest or even into their throat,” says Berggreen. If those symptoms ring true for you, he suggests a few tips for reducing reflux:
- Avoid lying down for three hours after eating.
- Go to bed on an empty stomach.
- Eat smaller meals.
- Avoid citrus, caffeine, and spicy or acidic foods.