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.
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.
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.
Overeating, 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).
Stomach 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).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
If you're taking antibiotics, consider taking probiotics during and after treatment. Antibiotics kill beneficial probiotic bacteria in the body. The good bacteria wiped out by antibiotics don’t replace themselves unless you intervene with probiotics.
You can boost gut health even further by supporting probiotics with prebiotics — a type of indigestible fiber that serves as food for the probiotics. If you're worried about experiencing side effects from medications, always speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
Leaky 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).
The 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.
Healing 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
Sometimes it can be hard to understand the status of your gut because it's not something you can see with your eyes. But you can get an inside look at your gut health using our free Gut Health Assessment Tool.
When practiced consistently, the methods above that help heal gut rot can also help prevent it. In addition to the above methods, you can prevent stomach pain and upset from occurring in the first place by modifying your diet. First, ensure you eat ample fruits and vegetables — at least 5 servings each day. According to Dr. Jan Sambrook of the online directory Patient, this is an effective way of preventing abdominal pain (12). Dr. Sambrook says eating enough fruits and veggies "reduces your chances of developing heart disease, a stroke, or bowel cancer" (12). Second, ramp up your fiber (AKA roughage) intake.
Eating more fruits and vegetables is a good start — they are high in fiber. Eating fiber helps promote bowel health by keeping bowel movements regular and reducing constipation. A high fiber diet may also help reduce bad cholesterol levels known as LDL, or low-density lipoproteins (12). According to Dr. Sambrook, simply "switching to wholemeal rice and pasta and wholemeal bread can significantly increase your fiber intake. Pulses like lentils and beans are also full of fiber" (12). It's important to note that you should drink a lot of water when following a high-fiber diet — aim for 6-8 cups each day (12).
While "gut rot" is not recognized in scientific literature, it's a common colloquialism used to refer to stomach pain and upset. If you're experiencing gut rot, you're not alone. Over 70% of Americans suffer from digestive symptoms, including abdominal pain.
There are many causes of stomach pain — eating too much or too quickly, dealing with food sensitivities, contracting food poisoning, living with chronic digestive disorders like IBS and IBD, living with bowel cancer, taking prescription drugs, and experiencing leaky gut can all contribute to digestive upset.
You can heal gut rot by taking a holistic approach: reducing stress, sleeping well, eating mindfully, staying hydrated, and cutting back on sugar. Increasing your intake of fruits, vegetables, and fiber can help prevent gut rot. As a friendly reminder, we're not doctors and this information does not constitute medical advice.
If you're suffering from regular gut rot, we recommend that you consult your healthcare provider. If you're ready to take control of your gut health, take our Free Health Assessment and find out what's the best way to tackle your gut issues and find the digestive relief you deserve.
Editor's note: Article edited and updated for comprehensiveness on April, 5th 2022.