You may or may not be familiar with the term "gut rot." While this term is not found in scientific literature, it is colloquially used to refer to stomach pain or upset. As reported on Fox News, as many as "74% of Americans are living with digestive symptoms like diarrhea, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain" (1). That's a lot of people suffering from gut rot. In this post, we'll walk you through what gut rot is, what causes it, how to heal it, and how to prevent it in the first place. Here's everything you need to know about gut rot.
What Is Gut Rot?
The Collins English Dictionary defines gut rot as "an upset stomach" or "stomach pains" (2). Gut rot is commonly used as a slang word to refer to stomach pain, particularly after eating. This term can also be used as slang to refer to pain or upset stomach that is caused by consuming a sugary, alcoholic drink. While there is no scientific backing for the term "gut rot" in the medical community, there are a variety of studies examining the cause of upset stomach and stomach pain — which gut rot informally refers to. We'll use these science-backed explanations of digestive upset and stomach ache while exploring gut rot.
What Causes Gut Rot?There are many reasons you can experience stomach pains and digestive upset, ranging in severity. It may simply be from eating too much. It may also be from chronic digestive disorders, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn's disease, or even bowel cancer. Let's explore some of these causes of an upset stomach.
Eating Too MuchOvereating, specifically binge eating, has been linked with multiple gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. Binge eating is characterized by eating large amounts of food quickly with little psychological control over how much you're eating. A 2009 study examined the link between binge eating and GI symptoms. Researchers found binge eating was "independently associated with upper GI symptoms such as acid regurgitation, heartburn, dysphagia, bloating, and upper abdominal pain, as well as lower GI symptoms like diarrhea, urgency, constipation, and the feeling of anal blockage" (3). A food allergy or food intolerance can also cause an upset stomach. An article by MD, Sheila E. Crowe examined food allergies and intolerance in patients with irritable bowel syndrome. She says many people with food allergies and intolerances reported exacerbated IBS symptoms after eating select foods. Most food allergies in Crowe's study were related to “milk, wheat, soy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, and corn” (4). Common symptoms included stomach pain, as well as "bloating, cramping, diarrhea, dyspepsia, and nausea" (4). It's important to note that food poisoning can also be the cause of digestive upset. In 1999, 62 patients of the Nagasaki Municipal Hospital experienced salmonella food poisoning after eating an omelet for dinner. 82% of those affected experienced abdominal pain. Other symptoms included diarrhea, fever, nausea, and vomiting (5).
Chronic Digestive DisordersStomach pain, informally known as gut rot, may also be caused by a chronic digestive disorder. For example, one of the most prevalent symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome is abdominal pain (6). Two inflammatory bowel diseases — Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis — are also characterized by abdominal pain. Other symptoms include diarrhea, constipation, bloating, stomach cramps, and more (7).
Prescription DrugsMany prescription medications can cause stomach pain and digestive system issues. These include (8):
- Over-the-counter painkillers like Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen
- Cholesterol drugs (AKA statins)
- Opioid painkillers like oxycodone and hydrocodone
- Iron supplements
- Chemotherapy to treat cancer
Leaky GutLeaky gut essentially refers to "holes" in the lining of your intestine. The holes allow toxins, bacteria, and food particles to "leak" from your intestine into your bloodstream (9). This can result in a host of chain reactions — from chronic inflammation to food sensitivities to joint pain to abdominal pain, gas, and bloating (9). The cause of leaky gut boils down to two things: your genes and your diet. According to Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, "Some people may have a weaker barrier because they were born with it, or they follow an unbalanced diet low in fiber and high in sugar and saturated fats, which may be the trigger that weakens the gut lining." (9).
Bowel CancerThe early warning signs of bowel cancer can be hard to spot, but according to Colorectal Cancer Canada, persistent stomach pain can be a symptom of bowel cancer (10). This isn't your typical stomach pain. This would be a severe pain that does not go away. Other symptoms to watch for include bloody stool, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, significant weight loss, and fatigue (10). Always consult your healthcare provider immediately if you're dealing with persistent stomach pain or digestive upset.
How to Heal Gut RotHealing the stomach pain and upset frequently referred to as gut rot ultimately depends on the cause of that pain. However, there are a variety of actions you can take to promote gut health in general. Many of these actions also help heal leaky gut. These include (11) :
- Consistently getting a good night's sleep
- Avoiding sugar
- Eating your food slowly, taking the time to thoroughly chew each bite
- Drinking lots of water to avoid dehydration
- Reducing unnecessary stress
- Supporting your digestive system with prebiotics and probiotics