Diarrhea is an unpleasant condition where one experiences the frequent evacuation of loose or watery stools and an urgent need for bowel movements. Diarrhea is usually accompanied by abdominal pain or cramps, as well as abdominal bloating and intestinal gas. In some cases, nausea and vomiting may also be experienced. Most people experience a feeling of weakness or light-headedness during bouts of diarrhea, an overall feeling of being unwell may also be present.
More severe cases of diarrhea or diarrhea that involves infection may have additional symptoms, such as fever, chills, or bloody stool.
Diarrhea is usually categorized at either acute or chronic. Acute diarrhea lasts for less than two weeks. These cases are very common and do not pose any significant health risks in adults. Chronic diarrhea is diarrhea that lasts more than four weeks or is intermittent over months or years. Chronic diarrhea is often a symptom of a more serious health condition or illness.
Most cases of acute diarrhea last 1-3 days and resolve on their own or can be easily treated. Since chronic diarrhea usually occurs because of another health issue the underlying condition needs to be resolved, but there are many things which can be done to gain some relief in the meantime. The suggestions in this article will help cure mild diarrhea and reduce the length and severity of diarrhea in more complex cases.
The following topics are covered in this article:
- Types of Diarrhea
- Causes of Diarrhea
- Self-Treating Diarrhea vs Seeking Medical Help
- Controlling Diarrhea Through Diet
- Herbal Remedies for Diarrhea
- Other Natural Remedies for Diarrhea
- Essential Ways to Support Your Body During Diarrhea
- Relieving Diarrhea Associated Problems
Types of Diarrhea
There are 3 basic categories of diarrhea: watery, fatty (malabsorptive) and inflammatory. Not all diarrhea is purely watery, malabsorptive, or inflammatory because some categories overlap. Also, individuals may experience diarrhea which has multiple causes, thus presenting a more complex situation.
1. Watery Diarrhea
Watery diarrhea is characterized by runny or watery bowel movements. There are 3 subcategories of watery diarrhea: osmotic, secretory and functional.
Osmotic diarrhea occurs when something is drawing water from the rest of the body into the bowels. In most cases, osmotic diarrhea will cease when one stops ingesting the food or substance that is causing water to be drawn into the bowels.
Secretory diarrhea involves a higher stool volume, diarrhea that often occurs through the night and will continue even if one in fasting.
Secretory diarrhea occurs when more water is released into the bowels than is usual. This happens due to an increase in secretion or a decrease in absorption of electrolytes in the bowels. There are a variety of causes for this disruption.
Functional diarrhea involves hypermotility (excessive movement of the muscles in the GI tract) and is characterized by smaller volumes of diarrhea. Functional diarrhea improves at night and with fasting. Functional diarrhea does not have any associated abdominal pain.
People with functional diarrhea don’t usually have it all the time. Normal bowel movements, and even constipation can occur between bouts of diarrhea.
Functional Diarrhea has no know cause. There are no structural or biochemical abnormalities with this type of diarrhea, part of the GI system just does not function quite right.
2. Fatty or Malabsorptive Diarrhea
Malabsorptive diarrhea occurs when the digestion or absorption of nutrients is impaired. It often includes the presence of excess fat in the stool (appearing as frothy or greasy stool), a foul odor to the stool, and symptoms such as bloating, gas, and weight loss.
Malabsorptive diarrhea improves with fasting.
3. Inflammatory or Exudative Diarrhea
This type of diarrhea results from a damaged intestinal lining. Inflammation is usually present in the bowels, which is why it is described as inflammatory. There is often blood or pus present in the stool so it is sometimes referred to as exudative diarrhea.
Causes of Diarrhea
This is a listing of the more likely causes for diarrhea. There are of course other circumstances or rare conditions that may cause diarrhea, but the majority of cases relate to factors below.
Ingestion of Certain Substances:
- Sugar Alcohols – Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, and xylitol are difficult for the body to absorb. These substances remain in the bowels and cause water to be drawn in resulting in osmotic diarrhea. Once an individual stops the intake of sugar alcohols, the diarrhea will subside.
- Nutritional Supplements – Taking an excess of Vitamin C or Magnesium can cause osmotic diarrhea.
- Caffeine – The caffeine in coffee and other highly caffeinated beverages may trigger the bowels to become overactive.
- Alcohol – Alcohol causes less water to be absorbed by the bowel, it also stimulates the contents of the bowel to move through more quickly.
- Osmotic Laxatives – Certain laxatives alleviate constipation by drawing water into to the bowel. Over-use of these substances will result in diarrhea. Some common osmotic laxatives include magnesium hydroxide, magnesium sulfate (epsom salts), magnesium oxide, sodium phosphate, and lactulose.
- Stimulant Laxatives – Stimulant laxatives such as senna, aloe vera, castor oil, dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate, bisacodyl , and phenolphthalein disrupt electrolyte and water absorption. Overuse of these substances can lead to secretory diarrhea.
- Other Toxins – Ingestion of heavy metals, insecticides, MSG, seafood toxins, or toxic mushrooms results in secretory diarrhea.
Microbe Related Conditions:
- Foodborne and Waterborne Illness – Bacteria such as Shigella, Campylobacter, Salmonella, and E. coli are common culprits in cases of food poisoning and traveler’s diarrhea. Infection with these strains often result in secretory diarrhea, but can also develop into inflammatory diarrhea. Contact with Cholera, which is only common in countries with poor sanitation, will cause secretory diarrhea. Rotavirus is the most common cause of viral infectious diarrhea in children, but Norwalk virus is a more common viral cause in adults. Other viruses, Astrovirus and Adenovirus for example, can also cause infectious diarrhea. Protozoal infection, most commonly Giardia, also causes infectious diarrhea.
- Bacterial Overgrowth – Bacterial overgrowth occurs when the small population of bacteria, which normally inhabits the intestines, increases significantly or when the intestinal bacteria is overtaken by other pathogens. The overgrowth of C. difficile is a common cause for diarrhea which can also lead to pseudomembranous colitis. Klebsiella, the bacteria most often responsible for tropical sprue, a malabsorptive disease, is another example of bacterial overgrowth that will result in diarrhea.
- Viral Infection – In rare cases ulcerating viral infections such as Cytomegalovirus and Herpes simplex virus can cause inflammatory diarrhea.
- Whipple’s Disease – This rare disease is caused by Tropheryma whipplei, a bacteria that effects the digestive tract and causes malabsorptive diarrhea.
Digestive System Disorders:
- Dietary Intolerance – Conditions such as celiac disease (gluten intolerance), lactose intolerance, and fructose intolerance are caused by enzyme deficiencies or abnormalities in the intestinal mucosa, this impairs the necessary functions of the GI tract and leads to malabsorption of nutrients. When nutrients are not absorbed properly, they build up in the intestine and draw fluids to the intestines. Such conditions can cause secretory or malabsorptive diarrhea.
- Bile Acid Deficiency – A reduced amount of bile acids will impair the absorption of fats resulting in fatty or malabsorptive diarrhea. Low bile acids can be due to a number of causes including decreased liver or gall bladder function, low cortisol levels, or prescription medications. Bile acid deficiency is different than bile acid malabsorption, which involves excess secretion of bile acids into the bowels, resulting in secretory diarrhea.
- Pancreatic Insufficiency – The loss of pancreatic secretions which occurs in cystic fibrosis and pancreatitis also effect digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – Functional diarrhea is one of the symptoms experienced by people with IBS. Functional diarrhea and IBS are often mistaken for the same condition, but they are not since IBS includes other symptoms, such as abdominal pain.
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases – There is usually a lot of damage to the intestinal wall in inflammatory conditions such as Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis. Exudative diarrhea is most common in such conditions. Secretory diarrhea occurs in microscopic colitis and in earlier stages of some of the other inflammatory bowel diseases.
Other Medical Conditions:
- Neuroendocrine Tumors – Tumors such as carcinoids, vipomas, gastrinomas, medullary carcinomas, and somatostatinomas produce hormones and other substances which affect the absorptive capacity of the bowels causing secretory diarrhea.
- Neoplasia – Abnormal masses or tumors (neoplasms) due to cancers such as colon carcinoma, lymphoma, and villous adenocarcinoma, can cause inflammatory diarrhea.
- Hyperthyroidism – In hyperthyroidism the thyroid produces excess thyroid hormone which increases the motility of the GI tract.
- Prescription Medications – Medications, such as NSAIDS, antiarrythmics, and a variety of other prescription medications can cause secretory diarrhea as a side effect. Malabsorptive diarrhea can be caused by other medications; orlistat, for example, inhibits the absorption of fats, and acarbose tends to inhibit the absorption of carbohydrates. Metformin can cause diarrhea because it leads to a deficiency in vitamin B12, an important nutrient for intestinal health. These are just a few examples, there are many other drugs which may cause diarrhea as a side effect.
- Antibiotics – Most often antibiotics cause diarrhea because of their effect on the digestion of carbohydrates or changes in bile acid absorption. Antibiotics also kill off the beneficial bacteria, this leads to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria which also causes diarrhea.
- Chemotherapy – Some chemotherapy drugs can cause diarrhea because they damage the cells lining the intestine and can also kill off the healthy bacteria in the bowels.
- Radiation Therapy – A common side effect of radiation therapy is radiation colitis, an inflammation of the colon.
- Gastric Bypass Surgery – A gastric bypass is a surgery done for weight loss. The stomach is made smaller and connected to the middle portion of the small intestine, completely bypassing the upper portion where many important digestive functions occur. Malabsorptive diarrhea is likely to occur as a result of this procedure.
- Bowel Resection – When a large segment or multiple segments of the bowel are removed, the absorptive surface area decreases. This is known as “short bowel syndrome” and is a cause for malabsorptive diarrhea. Intestinal resection can also result in secretory diarrhea because it may cause an increase in the amount of bile salts in the bowels.
- Other Surgeries of the GI tract– Having a cholecystectomy, gastrectomy, vagotomy or other surgery that effects the GI tract may decrease secretion of digestive enzymes and lead to malabsorption, or effect the release of bile acids which have an influence on the colons absorptive ability.
- Long Distance Running – Individuals may experience “runner’s diarrhea” during times of intense training or marathons. This type of diarrhea is functional; it is suspected that prolonged running may alter the GI tract motility.
Self-Treating Diarrhea vs Seeking Medical Help
Treatment of Diarrhea will vary depending on the cause of diarrhea.
Diarrhea brought on by the intake of certain substances will subside once the substance is no longer taken. If you think your diarrhea may be the cause of a prescription medication, do not stop taking it until you consult your doctor about reducing the dosage or switching to another medication.
Foodborne and Waterborne illnesses are the most common cause of diarrhea, and will often resolve themselves in a few days. But don’t brush off all cases of infectious diarrhea; sometimes infections can last more than two weeks, or they can be quite serious, resulting in severe dehydration, mineral and electrolyte depletion and bloody stool.
Diarrhea brought on by digestive system disorders, or other medical conditions will not be fully cured until the underlying condition is treated. However, there are ways you can control diarrhea and reduce its severity.
Self-treating diarrhea is often very simple, but there are some cases where it is advised to seek medical help.
When to Seek Medical Help
Do not attempt self-treatment if you have diarrhea in conjunction with any of the following symptoms:
- Blood or pus in the stool
- Undigested food in the stool
- Black, tarry-looking stools
- Fever higher than 38.8ºC or 102º F
- Significant weight loss
- Abdominal pain that does not get better after a bowel movement
- Vomiting prevents you from keeping down fluids
- Signs of dehydration (thirst, dry mouth, dry skin, dark, scanty urine, fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness, rapid heart rate, light-headedness, headache, irritability, confusion)
Seek medical opinion if:
- Diarrhea lasts more than 3-5 days
- Diarrhea developed during or after recent travels to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, or the Caribbean.
- Diarrhea started after taking a new medication
Diarrhea in Children is more of an emergency situation than it is in adults. Seek medical care immediately if:
- It is a newborn or infant with diarrhea.
- Diarrhea lasts more than 24hours in small children, who are exhibiting signs of dehydration (no tears when crying, decreased number of wet diapers, sunken eyes or cheeks, skin that does not flatten out after being pinched, high fever, irritability, dry mouth and tongue.
Controlling Diarrhea Through Diet
The following foods and beverages help control diarrhea.
Starchy foods can reduce recovery time considerably. They help restore electrolyte balance and soothe the membranes of the digestive tract.
The best starchy foods to eat are porridge made from white rice, tapioca pudding, boiled or steamed potatoes or carrots, plain white toast, saltine crackers, and bananas. An excellent starchy beverage is rice water, which is made by boiling a small amount of rice in water. Sip the fluid throughout the day.
Pectin is a soluble fiber that helps stop diarrhea because of its ability to absorb excess water in the intestine and slow the passage of stool.
Pectin-rich foods that can help with diarrhea include: steamed or mashed carrots, fresh carrot juice, grated apple or applesauce, and bananas
Although dairy is not recommended during bouts of diarrhea, fermented dairy products such as yogurt kefir and buttermilk are beneficial. Fermented dairy products help repopulate the intestines with good bacteria which restore balance in the intestine and relieve diarrhea. Fermented dairy does not have the same aggravating effects as regular dairy because the bacteria predigest some of the lactose.
Make sure that the products you buy contain “active cultures.” Many of the yogurts sold today are far from being natural and will not contain any active bacterial cultures.
If you do not eat dairy products, some alternatives you can take during bouts of diarrhea are water kefir and probiotic supplements. See the section on probiotic supplements for more information.
The following foods and beverages can stress the digestive system or encourage diarrhea to become worse. Avoid these foods while you have diarrhea.
- high-fat, greasy or fried foods
- dairy (except probiotic yoghurt)
- red meat
- whole grains
- nuts and seeds
- beans and legumes
- most raw fruits and vegetables
- spicy foods
- desserts, candies, and other high-sugar foods
- artificial sweeteners
- caffeinated beverages
- carbonated beverages
Dietary Considerations After Diarrhea Has Subsided
When your diarrhea has stopped, do not jump immediately into eating regular foods. Wait until diarrhea stops for at least 24 hours before resuming a normal diet. Wait 2-3 days before you introduce particularly aggravating foods such as spices, oily or fried foods, dairy products and caffeinated beverages.
Fasting and Waiting it Out
Some types of diarrhea can be treated by abstaining from food for a short period of time. During this time, drink only light fluids such as water, rice water, and natural vegetable broth. Fasting gives the digestive system a rest and prevents any further irritation to the digestive tract. After 24-48, hours slowly introduce solid foods, starting with rice porridge and other starchy foods as well as some pectin-rich foods.
Fasting is a great thing to do if you choose to “wait out” diarrhea. Waiting it out simply means letting the body run its course. Most cases of mild diarrhea resolve within 1-3 days because diarrhea is most often a means for the body to get rid of something that should not be there. Mild cases of food poisoning or viral infections are such examples. If you try to stop diarrhea in such situations, you run the risk of not fully eliminating the infectious microbe.
Healthy adults should wait a few days to see if diarrhea stops on its own. People that should not wait it out include young children, infants, the elderly, and anyone suffering from a chronic illness.
If you choose to wait out your diarrhea, be sure to get adequate rest and replace your electrolytes. Consider treatment or medical help if it lasts more than a few days or comes on frequently.
Herbal Remedies for Diarrhea
Mucilaginous herbs form a slippery gel when mixed with water. These herbs, due to their absorbent nature, will attract and carry out toxins that may be present in the intestines. Psyllium is a very effective bulking agent which will slow down any type of diarrhea. Slippery elm and marshmallow root are very soothing to the digestive tract and are especially beneficial in cases of diarrhea involving inflammation, infection, or damaged intestinal walls.
Psyllium Seed or Husk (Plantago ovata) – The high amount of soluble fiber in psyllium makes it very efficient at absorbing water from the intestine, thus firming up the stool. Slippery elm will also help to absorb and carry out toxins from the digestive tract.
Marshmallow Root (Althaea officinalis) – The mucilage in marshmallow root coats and soothes the intestinal wall, reducing the irritation and inflammation that occurs with diarrhea. It also protects the mucous membranes and helps heal damage in the digestive tract.
Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva) – Slippery elm has all same benefits of marshmallow root. In addition, slippery elm has a high nutrient content which can be particularly beneficial in cases where diarrhea has caused nutrient depletion.
*** These herbs must be taken with a large quantity of water.
**** Because psyllium, slippery elm, and marshmallow coat the intestinal tract they can prevent the absorption of other substances. Be sure to take supplements and medications at least two hours away from these herbs.
Anti-microbial herbs are useful in cases of infectious diarrhea. They can kill off many of the harmful microbes that cause diarrhea. If you suspect that your diarrhea is caused by a bacteria, virus, or parasite, you may recover much faster by including one of these herbs.
Wild Oregano (Origanum vulgare) – The essential oil of wild oregano contains many potent compounds, including carvacrol and thymol, which have significant antimicrobial properties. It is important to use oil of oregano and not the oregano sold as a cooking spice, as the oil is much more potent.
Take 3-6 drops of oregano oil 3 times per day until symptoms subside.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) – Goldenseal contains the alkaloids berbine and hydrastine which have antimicrobial effects against a wide variety of pathogens.
Take 1,000 – 1,500mg goldenseal in capsule form or ½ teaspoon of powdered goldenseal, or if using a tincture, use the suggested dose on the bottle. Take this dose 3 times per day until symptoms are gone.
*** Berbine can produce toxic effects making goldenseal unsuitable for long-term use. Do not take goldenseal for more than 10 days continuously.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) – Aside from its antimicrobial properties, turmeric also has astringent and anti-inflammatory qualities. Turmeric is a tonic for the gastrointestinal system, and it may aid in nutrient absorption. Turmeric is useful in infectious or inflammatory diarrhea, as well as in some cases of malabsorptive diarrhea.
Mix a teaspoon of turmeric powder in a glass of water and drink it down before the powder settles on the bottom of the glass. Alternatively, make a hot tea with it by allowing it to steep for 10 minutes.
These plants are astringent in nature, meaning that they contract or constrict bodily tissues. Their astringent effect is due to the presence of tannic acid, a compound that occurs naturally in many plants. When taken internally these tannins contract the mucous membranes of the digestive tract, reducing secretions from the cells. Astringent herbs will “dry up” diarrhea and reduce intestinal inflammation. These herbs are most effective in mild or acute cases of diarrhea.
Black Tea (Camellia sinesis) – Black tea is an old and well-known remedy for diarrhea because of its high level of tannins.
Make a strong cup of black tea by steeping a teaspoon of loose tea leaves or one tea bag in boiling water. Drink 2-3 cups per day.
Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus) and Blackberry Leaf (Rubus fruticosus) – Raspberry and blackberry leaves are not only rich in tannins they are also high in vitamin C, which boosts immunity and promotes tissue repair. Taking raspberry or blackberry leaf in tea form will aid in a faster recovery from diarrhea.
Add 1-2 teaspoons of dried raspberry leaf or blackberry leaf to 1 cup of boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. To make a more tannin-rich tea – boil a handful of dried raspberry or blackberry leaves in 1 liter of water, let simmer until the water has been reduced by half. Drink 2-3 cups of tea per day.
*** Do not drink raspberry or blackberry leaf tea if you are in the first 32 weeks of pregnancy, as it may induce premature labor.
Blueberries (Vaccinium myrtillus) and Blackberries (Rubus fruticosus) – Although not technically herbs, these fruits contain a high level of tannic acid. Blueberries and blackberries also contain antioxidants and are an excellent source of pectin, making them a good remedy for the treatment of diarrhea.
Make a tea from dried blueberries by crushing the berries slightly and steeping for 10 minutes. To make a tea from fresh or frozen blackberries crush 3 cups berries, pour 1 liter of boiling water over the berries and let steep for 1 hour. Strain through a mesh sieve or cheesecloth so that no seeds or pulp are left. Drink 2-3 cups per day or either tea.
Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatorium) – Agrimony has a high level of tannins, but also helps to tone the digestive tract lining. It is used often used to soothe ailments of the gastrointestinal tract such as indigestion, colitis, and of course, diarrhea. Agrimony is particularly useful for relieving diarrhea in children and also in breastfed infants if the mother drinks agrimony tea.
Agrimony should be taken in small doses. Make a pot of tea with ½ teaspoon dried agrimony and sip throughout the day.
*** If you are on medication to lower blood pressure, be cautious when taking agrimony as it has hypotensive effects.
Carob powder (Ceratonia siliqua) – Aside from its astringent properties, carob has a high pectin content, which gives it the ability to absorb liquid from the intestines and bind up loose stools.
Take 1 teaspoon of carob powder in a glass of water or mix it with applesauce and honey to make it more palatable. Adults can take up to 3-4 teaspoons per day.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum or Cinnamomum verum) – Cinnamon is a mild astringent, but it also helps to relieve abdominal cramps or spasms and intestinal gas associated with some types of diarrhea. Cinnamon has antimicrobial properties as well, so it is useful even in cases of infectious diarrhea. Although some individuals report relief from diarrhea using the cinnamon commonly sold as a spice (Cinnamomum cassia), the best cinnamon is “true cinnamon” or “Ceylon cinnamon”.
To make tea, use 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder or break up a cinnamon stick and steep in boiled water for at least 10 minutes. You can also add cinnamon powder to applesauce, mashed banana or sprinkle it on toast. Take cinnamon a few times a day, and continue taking it for another day after symptoms have subsided.
Anti-spasmodic herbs calm the muscles along the digestive tract and reduce painful spasms. While they may not stop diarrhea on their own, they can help relieve associated discomfort.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)- Ginger is great for reducing the intestinal cramps associated with diarrhea. It will also help aid digestion and relieve intestinal gas, nausea, and vomiting. Ginger can also help soothe a nervous stomach, making it useful in diarrhea brought on by anxiety.
To make tea from fresh ginger root, grate a small piece of root and let it steep in boiling water for at least 10 minutes. If you do not have fresh root, ½ teaspoon of powdered dry ginger can be used. Drink as needed.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – In addition to its antispasmodic properties, chamomile helps to reduce intestinal inflammation.
Use 1 teaspoon of chamomile flowers to a cup of boiling water and steep for 10 minutes. Drink 3-4 cups per day.
*** Do not drink chamomile tea if you are allergic to ragweed; it is likely to cause a similar reaction because it is in the same family.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) – Because it reduces pain and soothes the intestine, peppermint is often used in disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, including IBS and spastic colon. It also reduces indigestion and intestinal gas.
Steep 1 teaspoon of dried peppermint in a cup of boiling water. Drink 2-3 cups per day.
*** Do not take peppermint if you have acid reflux. It is a potent muscle relaxant and can trigger heartburn in people who are susceptible.
Other Natural Remedies for Diarrhea
Activated charcoal relieves diarrhea by absorbing the toxins that are causing the problem. It works best for types of diarrhea that are caused by the ingestion of toxins or diarrhea that is the result of an infectious microbe.
Take 1000mg of activated charcoal every two hours while you are awake. Continue this treatment 24-48 hours after diarrhea has stopped. If you cannot find activated charcoal an alternative is to burn 1-2 pieces of white toast, scrape the burnt portions into a cup, mix with water and drink.
*** Since activated charcoal is a powerful absorbent you should not take it within two hours of other supplements or medications.
*** Do not use activated charcoal on a daily basis because it will absorb essential nutrients, and over time will lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Bentonite clay, much like activated charcoal, absorbs toxins and draws them out of the body. Bentonite clay will also be beneficial in cases of infectious diarrhea or diarrhea caused by the ingestion of toxins.
Take 2 tablespoons of bentonite clay mixed in a large glass of water 3 times a day. Continue taking the clay at the same dose for another day or so after symptoms have subsided.
*** As with other absorbent substances, do not take bentonite clay within 2 hours of important supplements or medications.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has anti-bacterial properties and is, therefore, useful in relieving diarrhea caused by bacteria. ACV is also a good source of pectin. Be sure to use living ACV, such as Braggs organic ACV, which contains the “mother.”
Take 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in a glass of water and drink. Do so twice a day until the diarrhea is completely gone. Alternatively, take 1000mg of ACV in capsule or tablet form twice per day.
Iodine kills microbes associated with infectious diarrhea. If you suspect your diarrhea is caused by a bacteria, virus, or parasite, then iodine may help.
Add 6 drops of Lugol’s 5% or 12 drops of Lugol’s 2% iodine solution to a small glass of water and drink. Take another dose two hours later. If diarrhea persists after two doses, continue at the rate of 4 doses per day for up to 3 days. For children, use half the dosage.
L-glutamine is an amino acid that restores and maintains normal functioning of the mucosal cells lining the intestines. It also improves the structure of the intestines making it especially useful in cases of diarrhea that involve damage to the intestinal walls, including damage from chemotherapy or radiation. Glutamine improves immune function and promotes a healthy gut barrier which reduces the likelihood of infection by microbes. Glutamine aids the absorption of water and sodium from the intestines back into the body; this reduces the loss of water and electrolytes and firms the stool.
Take ¼ teaspoon of glutamine powder in a glass of water, on an empty stomach. After two weeks increase the dosage to ½ a teaspoon as long as your colon has adjusted well to firmer stools. You can keep gradually increasing the dosage by ¼ teaspoon if your colon is adjusting well. The maximum dose of L-glutamine that is known to be safe is 14grams per day in divided doses.
*** Do not take L-glutamine if you have kidney or liver disease.
Zinc supplementation reduces the duration and severity of diarrhea. It improves the absorption of water and electrolytes, aids in the regeneration of the intestinal wall, and supports immune function and the resistance to infectious microbes.
The form of zinc used does not seem to matter in regards to its effectiveness in resolving diarrhea. Zinc sulphate, zinc acetate, and zinc gluconate are all acceptable forms.
Zinc has been proven to be very effective in reducing persistent diarrhea in children. The dose is 10mg per day for children under size months and 20mg for children over six months. It is advised to do treatment for 10-14 days.
Research on the effectiveness of zinc in treating diarrhea in adults is lacking. But, because zinc deficiency impairs immune function, increases the risk of gastrointestinal infections, and increases the susceptibility of adverse effects on the structure and function of the GI tract, it is certainly worth a try. Adults can safely take up to 40mg of zinc per day.
Supplementing with calcium can help relieve diarrhea because it reduces the amount of water in the intestines, contributing to a more formed stool. Calcium is not for all types of diarrhea; it works best in cases of diarrhea caused by the release of too much bile into the intestines (such as diarrhea that occurs after gallbladder removal or intestinal bypass). This is because calcium binds to bile acids which are secreted into the intestinal tract.
The best form of calcium to take for relieving diarrhea is calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate is a form of calcium that is poorly assimilated into the body. This poor absorption means that more calcium ends up in the bowels.
Take 500mg of calcium carbonate 2-3 times per day with meals. Calcium is safe in larger quantities, but it is better to start with a low dose, adding more only if it necessary.
*** Do not take calcium that is combined with magnesium, as magnesium can promote looser bowels.
*** Do not supplement with calcium if you are prone to hypercalcemia.
*** Calcium may interfere with some prescription medications.
Essential Ways to Support Your Body During Diarrhea
Hydrate and Replace Electrolytes
Dehydration is a risk when experiencing severe or prolonged diarrhea. Frequent loss of water and electrolytes will lead to depletion of these substances in the body, and can pose dangers for adults, and especially in children, seniors, and people with weak immune systems.
The most common risk of dehydration is the loss of electrolytes. Minerals such as sodium, potassium, and chloride are essential in the proper functioning of the body. Severe dehydration can cause kidney damage, shock, and even death.
To prevent dehydration, drink plenty of fluids at the first sign of diarrhea. Drink a minimum of two cups of fluids per hour, or 2-3 liters per day. Drink more if you are also running a fever. Drinking the fluids at room temperature will be the least irritating. Have small sips frequently rather than taking large gulps.
Plain water does not contain electrolytes, but it is gentle on the stomach and will help replace lost fluids. Be sure also to take in fluids that will replenish your electrolytes.
Try and avoid pre-made electrolyte replacement drinks because they often have undesirable additives. A better option is to make a homemade mix with simple ingredients: for 1 liter of water, add 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda + 1/2 teaspoon sea salt + ¼ teaspoon salt substitute or a bit of fresh squeezed lemon juice or a splash of orange juice. Drink the mixture throughout the day, and finish it before days end.
Other suitable fluids include homemade vegetable broth, fresh carrot juice, coconut water, and the herbal teas mentioned in this article.
Avoid: coffee, alcohol, milk, carbonated beverages, fruit juices, tomato juice and most other vegetable juices.
If you cannot take fluids by mouth or have trouble keeping them down, then see a doctor, depending on the severity of your diarrhea you may need to have your fluids replenished intravenously.
Take Probiotic Supplements
Probiotics are healthy strains of bacteria which encourage the recolonization of beneficial bacteria in your digestive tract. Taking probiotics such as acidophilus, lactobacillus, and bifidobacteria will help relieve diarrhea caused by an overgrowth of the bad bacteria, and help fight invaders in the intestines.
It is important to take probiotics anytime you have diarrhea, as diarrhea itself, regardless of the cause, will flush out the friendly bacteria that is essential for intestinal health. The good bacteria must be replenished to prevent future problems.
Take probiotics on an empty stomach at least 30 minutes before a meal. Taking them with a glass of cold water will help them get through the stomach faster.
Rest and Rejuvenate
Diarrhea takes a lot of the body’s energy. Don’t over exert yourself while you have diarrhea; it will prevent you from getting better. Most often diarrhea is just a symptom and an indicator that your body is trying to fight off another problem. To aid your immune system and allow your body to resolve the problem it is important to get adequate rest.
Relieving Diarrhea Associated Problems
To help ease abdominal cramping associated with diarrhea:
- Drink peppermint, ginger, or chamomile tea. For more information see the section on antispasmodic herbs.
- Apply a heating pad or hot water bottle to the abdomen.
- Dilute ginger essential oil with a natural carrier oil and massage into the abdomen.
Frequent evacuations can cause soreness, pain, burning, or itching in the rectal area. To soothe an irritated anus:
- Take a warm bath, or use a sitz bath (sitting in a shallow tub of warm water) several times a day for 10-15 minutes. After the bath, pat the area dry with a clean, soft towel. Rubbing will only irritate it more.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing and cotton underwear. Avoid synthetic materials, g-strings, or thong underwear as these will contribute to irritation.
- Don’t wipe with dry toilet paper – instead, use a baby wipe, personal hygiene wipe, or a cotton pad soaked with witch hazel. Make sure the wipes do not contain alcohol, as alcohol can further aggravate the delicate skin of the anus.
- If you have a bidet, use it to keep the area clean after evacuations, then gently pat dry.
- Apply aloe vera gel, witch hazel, or a natural oil such as coconut oil or olive oil. Alternatively, a natural hemorrhoid cream such as “Hemorex” will provide excellent relief.
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- University or Maryland Medical Center, Glutamine
- Chaitali Bajait and Vijay Thawani, Indian Journal of Pharmacology, Role of zinc in pediatric diarrhea
- Tadataka Yamada, Textbook of Gastroenterology
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), Diarrhea
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- University of Maryland Medical Center, Diarrhea