One of the most common and unpleasant digestive maladies, diarrhea is something everyone experiences at least occasionally. Often the result of a virus, bacteria, parasite, food allergy, or even artificial sweeteners, most cases of diarrhea only last a day or two. If it lasts for weeks, it may be a sign of a more serious condition like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. See a doctor for persistent diarrhea or if you notice blood in the stool. Luckily, most cases of diarrhea are short-lived and go away on their own. However, there are some things you can do to shorten your suffering and prevent the dehydration that can accompany the condition.
When you are recovering from a bout with diarrhea, it’s best to adopt a bland diet. Rehydrate by drinking water and non-stimulating sports drinks to replace fluids, salts, and electrolytes lost during your illness. Gradually add soft, low-fiber foods like applesauce, bananas, rice, and yogurt. Avoid spicy or fatty foods, as well as dairy products for a few days after the diarrhea has stopped. Slowly add fiber-rich foods back into your diet to help normalize bowel function.
If diarrhea is severe or caused by a particularly virulent pathogen, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic or anti-diarrheal medication. But, since most cases of diarrhea clear up on their own, self-treatment may be sufficient. To help avoid diarrhea in the future, wash your hands after preparing food, handling uncooked meat, using the toilet, changing diapers, sneezing, coughing, and blowing your nose. To avoid food contamination, either serve food immediately or refrigerate it. Leaving food out at room temperature can encourage growth of bacteria. It’s also important to sanitize kitchen surfaces like counters and cutting boards to prevent the spread of pathogens from one food to another.
Activated charcoal: is simply charcoal that has been heated in the presence of a gas. This causes the charcoal to become porous and enables it to trap toxins. While popping capsules filled with charcoal may seem a bit odd, studies show that activated charcoal is an effective tool for diarrhea. In one randomized, double-blind study of 100 adults with diarrhea, those who took activated charcoal experienced a reduction in stool frequency. The supplemental charcoal also helped shorten the duration of the diarrhea. Typical dosage: 250 mg up to three times a day until diarrhea passes.
Probiotics: are beneficial bacteria that can have a preventive as well as a curative effect on diarrhea, according to a review that appeared in the Journal of Nutrition. In one trial, 100 patients were given either 17.2 billion or 1.8 billion CFUs of a Bifidobacterium strain of probiotics, or a placebo. Those taking both the high and low dose of probiotics experienced a significant reduction in gastrointestinal problems, including diarrhea. Other studies have found that another type of probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, is also effective for preventing diarrhea. Typical dosage: At least 1 billion CFUs of a probiotic that is guaranteed live and viable at the time of consumption.
Soluble fiber: can also help relieve mild to moderate diarrhea and normalize bowel function. Found in foods like oatmeal and in psyllium supplements, soluble fiber soaks up water in the digestive tract, which makes stool firmer and slower to pass. Typical dosage: 7 to 18 grams daily, taken in two to three divided doses.