Loose bowel movements are often a cause of embarrassment and discomfort to many people. Diarrhea is generally a sign of some upset stomach that will subside within few days. If the symptoms remain for a longer period of time then it is a good idea to get it checked out by a doctor to make sure there is not a more severe underlying cause for the condition.
What is Diarrhea?
A simple definition is that diarrhea is a loose stool movement which is caused by a viral infection, bacteria or parasite. It can be a sign of some nasty diseases such as rotavirus, cholera, dysentery and botulism. In general it is not a big problem, but can be a sign of more severe problems if it persists.
Though diarrhea has many different causes, the treatment is generally the same. Part of the recovery process involves getting more fluids into your system. That’s because diarrhea, especially a prolonged bout, puts you at increased risk for dehydration.
Both alternative and mainstream medicine offer a range of remedies for recovering from a bout of diarrhea and its sidekick, dehydration. Here’s what practitioners recommend.
Plenty of Drink
Try to take in as much fluid and electrolytes as you possibly can. People who are suffering with diarrhea are at a greater risk of dehydration and it is important to make sure that you getting enough fluids into your body. Especially children who are suffering with loose stools are in danger of dehydration and it is essential to make sure that they are getting enough to drink and that their electrolyte levels are kept in the normal range. By giving them frequent drinks of water, broth and electrolyte drinks you will help to keep dehydration from occurring.
Be a Bratt. The acronym BRATT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, tea, and toast. All of these foods are binding, which means they add bulk to loose stools, explains Anne Simons, M.D. Bananas are also rich in potassium, one of the electrolytes that’s depleted as diarrhea robs the body of water.
Bring back good bacteria. Diarrhea wreaks havoc on the helpful “probiotic” bacteria that normally live in your intestines and support the digestive process. Naturopaths have long recommended restoring these beneficial bugs by eating yogurt that contains live Lactobacillus acidophilus or L. bulgaricus cultures. Now mainstream M.D.’s are buying into the yogurt remedy, too.
If you have chronic diarrhea, try eating 4 ounces of yogurt every day, advises Jose Saavedra, M.D., director of pediatric nutrition at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. Just make sure that the yogurt contains live bacterial cultures. The label should say so.
If you don’t like the taste of yogurt, you can buy L. acidophilus capsules in most health food stores and some drugstores. Take one capsule three times a day.
Gradually rebuild your diet. As your symptoms subside, slowly reintroduce other foods to your diet. Stick with bland items such as crackers, soups, cooked vegetables, skinless chicken, and fish. Steer clear of high-fat items-pizza, burgers, french fries, and ice cream-until the diarrhea is gone for good.
For the time being, avoid certain foods. As long as your bout of diarrhea lingers, stay away from dairy products, fruit juices, and spicy, fried, and junk foods. These items usually aggravate diarrhea instead of making it go away. Also refrain from drinking alcohol, which is dehydrating.
[ Read: How To Get Rid Diarrhea In Children ]
Add a multi to the menu. You may need supplements when your body is depleted of vitamins and minerals. Deficiencies of the mineral zinc, for example, have been linked to diarrhea. So if you’ve been taking a daily multivitamin/mineral supplement, you definitely don’t want to skip a pill during a diarrhea episode, says Melvyn R. Werbach, M.D., assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Medicine.
Check your C level. Have you been taking more than 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C on a daily basis? If so, cutting back your dosage may well help get rid of diarrhea, says Joseph Pizzorno Jr., N.D.
Befriend fiber. A certain type of fiber, called soluble fiber, can help solidify your stools and bring an end to diarrhea. James A. Duke, Ph.D., suggests adding a few teaspoons of psyllium seed, which supplies soluble fiber, to water or juice. Psyllium seed is sold in most health food stores.
Temper symptoms with tannins. Tannins are compounds that give many herbs their lip-puckering astringent properties.
“Tannins also help relieve intestinal inflammation, which is why tannic herbs have been recommended for diarrhea for centuries,” says Dr. Duke. One of his favorite tannic herbs is tea, or Camellia sinensis. “It’s one of the most astringent herbs around, which is why it’s widely recommended for diarrhea,” he explains.
Probably the easiest way to prepare tea is by using tea bags. Any black or green tea will do. Allow the tea to steep until it’s the desired strength, then remove the tea bag and drink up.
Cure the runs with carob. Carob is a fiber-rich herb with a long folk history as a diarrhea remedy. Dr. Duke relied on carob while on a trip through the Panamanian rain forest. His successful experience with the herb has since been confirmed by scientific research.
A 150-pound adult can safely take about 4 ounces of carob a day. But even in such a large amount, the herb is considered safe. Use carob powder, either mixed into hot water as a beverage or added to foods.
Get better with goldenseal. Goldenseal contains an important antibiotic compound called berberine. Several studies have shown that goldenseal is an effective treatment for infectious diarrhea caused by Escherichia coli, shigella, and salmonella bacteria as well as by intestinal parasites. Dr. Pizzorno suggests taking 1 to 2 teaspoons of goldenseal tincture three times a day until your diarrhea goes away. You can buy the tincture in health food stores.
Choose the right microdose medicines. Several homeopathic preparations have proved effective as treatments for diarrhea, according to homeopath Dana Ullman. Generally, he recommends Arsenicum album for diarrhea caused by food poisoning or by eating too much fruit; Chamomilla for diarrhea accompanied by irritability; Mercurius for diarrhea that produces bloody stools; and Podophyllum or Sulfur for diarrhea that’s urgent or forceful. Though these medicines are available over the counter, it’s best to see your homeopathic physician for a proper diagnosis.
Keep the fluids flowing. When every ounce of liquid seems to make a beeline for a single exit, you might think the best way to halt diarrhea is to stop taking in fluids. In fact, you ought to drink as much as you can for as long as your diarrhea lasts, Dr. Simons says. She recommends bouillon, Gatorade, and other fluids that contain sodium and potassium. Water is okay, except that it doesn’t replace those lost electrolytes.
Dr. Pizzorno offers an old naturopathic remedy for rehydration: mix equal parts tomato juice and sauerkraut juice, then drink up. “This concoction is high in electrolytes,” he explains. “And some naturopathic studies suggest that sauerkraut juice helps heal intestinal problems.”
Curb the coffee. The one fluid that you should avoid during a bout of diarrhea is coffee, Dr. Werbach says. It has a laxative effect, which is why many folks use it as a remedy for minor constipation. In addition, there’s some evidence that the caffeine in coffee increases the secretion of fluids into the intestines-something that you don’t want when you have the runs.
Shun sorbitol. Foods that contain the artificial sweetener sorbitol can cause or aggravate diarrhea in some people. So look for sorbitol in the ingredients lists on food labels. It’s most common in sugar-free and low-sugar candies and sweets.
Run for Imodium A-D. “Imodium works by slowing down intestinal contractions and decreasing fluid loss,” says Joe Graedon, coauthor of The People’s Pharmacy books. Follow package directions for proper dosage.
Pop the pink stuff. Pepto-Bismol, that is. Whether you prefer the liquid or chewable tablets, follow the package directions for proper dosage.
If you’re sensitive to aspirin or you’re already taking aspirin, Pepto-Bismol isn’t for you. Like aspirin, it contains salicylate. And too much salicylate can impair blood clotting and cause other problems.
Other Good Choices
Find the offending foods. If you suspect that your diarrhea might be related to a food intolerance, Dr. Pizzorno suggests trying an elimination diet to identify the problem foods. (Consult with a doctor or practitioner for guidance.) Or you can switch to a rotation diet: Don’t eat anyone food more than once every 4 days. Even if you have a low-level food intolerance, you’ll be reducing your exposure to the problem foods. For some people, that’s enough to prevent diarrhea.
Strengthen your Spleen. Chinese medicine views diarrhea as a weakness of the Spleen that’s often caused by toxins. As the body tries to eliminate the toxins, diarrhea occurs, explains Efrem Korngold, O.M.D., L.Ac.
For patients with diarrhea, Dr. Korngold often prescribes Curing Pills. This formula contains 15 herbs-among them medicated leven, a combination of fermented barley, wheat, and rice sprouts that’s rich in the same digestion-enhancing bacteria found in yogurt. “Curing Pills normalize the gut,” he says. “I’ve had very good experience with them, especially for traveler’s diarrhea. I give them to many people who are traveling to exotic destinations, and most, if not all, return home saying that they didn’t get sick.”
Press here, then there. Acupressure can speed relief from diarrhea symptoms, says Michael Reed Gach, founder and director of the Acupressure Institute. He suggests applying steady, firm finger pressure to each of the following points for 3 minutes.
- Spleen, located on the arch of your foot, one thumb-width behind the ball of your foot
- Spleen, located at the bottom of your rib cage, about 1/2 inch in from either nipple toward your breastbone
- Stomach, located four finger-widths below your kneecap and one finger width toward the outside of your shinbone
- Conception Vessel, located three finger-widths below your navel
If your symptoms persist, consider consulting a licensed acupuncturist. Needle stimulation may help when finger pressure doesn’t.
Sip an exotic beverage. Ayurvedic practitioners believe that diarrhea is a Pitta condition, caused by excessive dampness in the colon. To treat it, Vasant Lad, B.A.M.S., M.A.Sc., director of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, recommends drinking pomegranate juice with a pinch each of ground nutmeg and ginger. Pomegranate juice contains tannins, astringent compounds that help relieve intestinal inflammation.
Both nutmeg and ginger have antibacterial properties and help improve fluid absorption in the colon, according to David Frawley, O.M.D. You can buy pomegranate juice in many health food stores.
Before visiting a foreign country, consult a travel medicine specialist or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They can advise you about diseases that may cause diarrhea and about appropriate precautions you should take.
If you experience any of the following, see your doctor right away.
- Diarrhea that does not respond to home treatment within 5 days
- Diarrhea that’s accompanied by fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloating, or loss of appetite
- Stools that appear black or red, which suggests bleeding
- Stools that appear bulky but greasy, which suggests nutrient malabsorption