Cabbage is hard of digesting, can produce gases in the intestinal tract, a frequent cause of cramps or pain in the abdominal region for some people. While experiencing pains due to gas is common, an underlying digestive disorder or food poisoning could also be the culprit. If you experience severe cramping for a prolonged period or have other symptoms such as fever, vomiting or diarrhea, consult a doctor immediately.
Stomach cramps are a term commonly used for pain in the abdominal region, although the stomach is not always involved. Gas trapped in the intestines, usually in the large intestine, is often described as a cramping sensation. The majority of intestinal gases are caused by the ingestion of air while eating or the normal degradation of food in the digestive tract. If the gas is excessive, swelling, cramping and nausea may occur. Several foods produce excess gas in the digestive tract because they are difficult to break down and digest. Cabbage is a food that the University of Michigan Health System recommends avoiding for this reason. Intestinal gas is usually temporary and often disappears after bowel movement.
Cramps for cabbage
Cabbage is difficult to digest, mainly because it contains a complex sugar called raffinose. Raffinose is also present in beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and asparagus, according to the John Hopkins Medicine Health Library. Raffinose requires a specific enzyme, known as α-galactosidase, to degrade it into its essential components. Humans do not have that enzyme in their intestine or stomach, so the cabbage reaches the long intestine where the bacteria there work to degrade it. This process creates a lot of gas, which can lead to abdominal distension, colic and flatulence in some people. One cup of raw cabbage has about 1.5 grams of fiber, according to Harvard University Health Services. Fiber is also difficult to digest and can contribute to the accumulation of gas in the intestines.
Raw cabbage that is not properly washed, packaged or cooked may contain harmful bacteria, which can lead to food poisoning. Food poisoning is usually the result of a common bacteria, such as salmonella, staphylococcus or e. coli, according to MedlinePlus. Symptoms of poisoning can include cramping, gas, bloating and diarrhea. More severe food poisoning can induce symptoms such as fever, chills and general weakness and requires immediate medical treatment. Although death from food poisoning is rare, five people in Japan died in August 2012 from food poisoning caused by e.coli from fermented cabbage, according to the Tropical Medical Bureau.
Eating cabbage does not cause cramping or gas in everyone, but it is still difficult to digest. If you have an underlying digestive disorder, the difficulty in the digestion of the cabbage could translate into the symptoms that trigger the disease. Digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, IBS, or the exaggerated growth of bacteria in the intestine, SIBO, are minor illnesses that often include abdominal pain, gas, and belching as symptoms, which can be worsened by eating foods that are difficult to digest. Other more serious diseases, such as Crohn's disease, may present with cramping and gas, as an early sign.
Avoid raw cabbage if it causes severe gas and cramping or if you have an underlying digestive disease. If you have to eat cabbage, cooking it can reduce cramps, as well as taking an enzyme supplement to help degrade raffinose. Washing raw cabbage and cooking it well can help prevent food poisoning. Consult a doctor, if the cramps become severe or continue for more than several hours.