Could You Eat So Much That Your Stomach Explodes?

After eating too much, have you ever felt
like that dude from Alien whose stomach explodes? Like somewhere in the meat and potatoes a
baby alien snuck in? We all have. But, baby alien explosion aside,
how much can the human stomach hold? It’s tempting to equate your stomach to
a balloon. Both start out small when empty. Both get bigger when stuff goes in them. And, yes, both have a breaking point. The difference? If you blow up a balloon, pressure and volume
have a fixed relationship— as pressure goes up, so does volume. That relationship in the stomach, though,
isn’t necessarily so. That’s because the state of the stomach
is determined not only by what you put into it. Instead, it’s mostly controlled by nerve
inputs. (Oh, and hormones, but it’s harder to
measure their effect on the gut.) A resting, empty stomach can hold six and
a half to just over ten fluid ounces. That’s not even a full can of Coke. That volume can more than double the instant
you start eating— even if you’re just salivating
and thinking about eating. A brainstem reflex through the Vagus nerve
tells the stomach, “INCOMING!” and as the food goes down the hatch,
the stomach relaxes to make room. Unlike a balloon, the increase in pressure from food or liquid doesn’t cause the stomach to relax and expand. It’s all anticipatory—the result of your brain
talking to the nerves in your stomach. THIS expansion isn’t really at all like
a balloon filling with air; it’s more like an unfolding. The stomach is actually covered in folds—or
rugae—that unfurl as the organ grows. But these folds have limits. A layer of nerve cells
line the walls of your stomach. Once you’ve reached a point of too many sandwiches and too much cheese and beer, those nerves send a signal to your brain, saying: “Woah. WOAH. Woah. Hey. Hey Woah.
Stop Eating.” So, just how big can the stomach get? Well, keep in mind,
the stomach has an exit hatch. And it only takes about 10-15 minutes before
all that food and drink begins to pass through it. So, a better question might be: just how big
can the stomach get in 10-15 minutes? Of course, it depends on a lot of factors:
age, health, eating habits, hormones. But, most importantly, if you listen to what your
stomach is telling you. For most people, that “Oof, I ate too much”
feeling kicks in after your stomach contains
between 16-50 fluid ounces. But the stomach can stretch over time
too, especially if you practice overeating and ignore your body’s cries for help. For example, the 2017 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating
champ downed 72 hot dogs. That’s about two gallons worth of food in
his stomach. Simply put, your brain has the final say in
how much you can eat. But what you’re probably wondering is: “Can a perfectly healthy stomach explode from eating too much?” There have only been 6 documented cases—ever. So, pretty much: no. The stomach is an amazing, wondrous thing
we take for granted every day. Be honest. How often do you really listen to it? So, take a minute to say thanks. Give your belly a nice pat. Because, heck, it’s always looking out for

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