Diarrhea isn't usually particularly painful but it sure is unpleasant. No-one would choose to have it for a second longer than they had to, that's for sure! But, so-called cures can be a little crunchy granola on the one side, and smack a little too much of grandma's Lysol-induced peculiarities on the other. What we'd really like is a list of natural (OK, natural-ish) and effective cures that don't cost a fortune and don't require you to have a black belt in aromatherapy, a limitless budget or the ability to cross town when, you know, the front door is actually questionable. If they're not poisonous and actually work, even a little, that would also be nice.
Fortunately, there is just such a list right here.
First: What Is Diarrhea?
That's the first thing to understand. So any particular case of it can be casued by multiple things at once or by one thing that's different to the next case. Causes include:
Bacterial infection from food that hasn't been refrigerated correctly, has been poorly cooked, left to stand too long or in rare cases was originally contaminated. Fecal-oral contamination from poor hand or bathroom hygiene is a repulsive but surprisingly common cause too.
Viral infection from norovirus or other close friends of the human race. These love poor hand hygiene too, and the easiest way to catch them is to touch a doorknob someone with the illness has touched, though their vomit, feces and spittle can transmit it too. If someone gets it and you'd rather not, disinfect everything - as in, everything: clothes, bedsheets, doorknobs, toilets, bowls, cups, everything - and wash your hands like a surgeon for three or four days after they get better.
It's worth pointing out that it's near-impossible to tell whether you have viral or bacterial diarrhea a lot of the time, and also pointless: you'll be better in a couple of days whichever it is.
Traveler's diarrhea is a reaction to unfamiliar foodstuffs. Contrary to myth is has nothing to do with spiciness and often little to do with the individual vendor, cook or server you dealt with. Waterborne contaminants from below-Western-standards mains supply and contaminated raw ingredients are ususally the real culprits.
Chronic diarrhea is, as the name suggests, diarrhea that doesn't go away, or goes away only to return intermittently. Thisd can be casued by meidcations; some antibiotics kill a wide range of bacteria, including some of theose that keep our guts healthy. In their place, bacteria and fungi take control and ruin our digestions. Other causes incluyde Irritable Bowel Syndrome, celiac disease, various dietary intolerances including lactose intolerance, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Major diarrhea is a symptom of potentially lethal diseases like cholera. You're unlikely ever to catch it in the West and it requires hospital treatment.
OK, so we're caught up on what we're treating: mostly, there's nothing we can do about the bacterium or virus that casued the infection, not directly anyway. So we're looking at dealing with the symptoms. What are our options?
1: Infect Yourself
This sounds either like homeopathy, or a misspelling of a classic Charles Wright tune. But it actually makes sense, meets with scientific approval, works and isn't that hard, so let's have at it. First, the details: We're all infected, all the time. In terms of the number of cells in your body, you're more bacteria than human! Your gut is a particularly rich ecosystem and when it's disturbed, bad things happen. Think of antibiotics like a weedkiller: they kill weeds, the bugs that are making you sick; but they also kill crops. That lets new species of weeds take control in your gut, leading to diarrhea. The solution can be to take something that reinfects you with a virulent but benign bacterial or even yeast infection: probiotics. Live beer and yoghurt work well for this, as do keffir and probiotic supplements. It's good to dodge high-sugar variants, though: sugar is fermented in the gut if there's too much of it around and that can worsen your symptoms!
2: Salt And Sugar
Not for nothing is chicken soup referred to as "Jewish penicillin" (within the Jewish community, this non-Jewish author would like to add). Chicken soup contains a mother's love, of course, but it also offers protein and water, salt and sugar. And when you're barely eating, your digestive tract is empty and you're losing water quickly, you can get into trouble faster than you think. So why eat salt? Because without salt, you can drink as much water as you like and your cells can't absorb it: they need both sodium salt (table salt) and potassium salts to power the pump that moves water through cell membranes. Without this they'll die of dehydration, floating in a sea of water they can't reach. To save your cells from this cruel fate, and take on some energy to sustain yourself, chicken soup is a good choice but so are over the counter rehydration mixes. In theory you could mix your own but getting it wrong results in a mixture that could add vomiting to your list of symptoms (not a joke: voice of experience).
Chamomile has antispasmodic properties that can help the intestine spasm less. It won't make your diarrhea fgo away entirely, but it can help it feel less uncomfortable and be less severe. It's also calming and a good way to remember to take on some fluids: remembering to drink water is somehow harder than drinking definite beverages like tea. Chamomile tea is a good bet because it's easy to get hold of, moderately strong and usually has other things in it to make it taste nicer (chamomile alone doesn't have a great taste).
The Best Natural Diarrhea Remedies
4: Black Tea
The tannins in black tea can help reduce the effects of an infection by their astingent effects: basically they make the environment in your gut alittle harsher, helping to keep down the new, illness-casuing bugs until the ecosystem of your intestines can stabilise itself. It's also a good way to drink some extra fluidsand get some Vitamin C into your system if you drink it with lemon!
5: Root Vegetables
Root vegetables won't trigger celiac, gluten or FODMAP intolerances (or lactose, of course) and they're mid-to-high-0fiber. They'll make you feel better because they'll push up your blood sugar and you'll find they're less likely to trigger nausea or more diarrhea than grains are. Carrots, potatoes, swedes, and turnips are all good choices.
6: Be A BRAT
BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. A bizarre and oddly restrictive diet most of the time, it's ideal for the diarrhea sufferer because there's little that's hard to digest; it's mostly carbs that will be digested high in the digestive tract and the potassium in the bananas will help with dehydration. Swap the toast for salty crackers for an extra DIY rehydration boost.
2013's most tiresomely ubiquitous "superfood," blueberries have two active parts: the berries and the roots. The berries are a traditional Scandinavian folk remedy that's also standard doctor's advice in the area, and they're rich in anthocyanins and tannins. Meanwhile, blueberry root, which never really made it as a "superfood", is a highly effective natural diarrhea remedy which probably works by astringency in the same way as black tea.
8: Orange Peel Tea
Any mix of orange peel is fine, but teas are usually the easiest way to get the astringent, antibacterial oils into your system without just eating the stuff, which most people find unappetizing. The oils in orange peel are responsible for its penetrating fresh scent, but they're highly antiseptic and unlike antibiotics they're not organism specific: they'll work on virusses and fungi too. It's a good idea to use organic oranges for this. I know I said you wouldn't need a massive budget, and I'm sure you don't feel like heading to the farmer's market when you're suffering from diarrhea, but non-organic fruits can be contaminated with insecticides, herbicides, dyes, waxes and other things that probably won't make you feel better.
9: Fenugreek Seeds
Fenugreek is widely available as a spice. But its seeds contain a high amount of mucilage, a form of insoluble fiber which swells in the colon. Eating fenugreek seeds can help accelerate the rate at which you get better from diarrhea.
Ginger is used to treat food poisoning. Again, it's astringent, but it's also antispasmodic and loaded wirth anti-inflammatories. The result is something that reduces your distress and discomfort while having some effect on the actual problem. It's best taken as a ginger tea, which you can drink as often as you like while you're sick.
While diarrhea isn't normally dangerous for adults in the West, here are a few warning signs that it's time to see your doctor:
- A fever of 102°F or higher
- Blood or pus in your stool
- Tarry, black stool
- Severe pain in the abdomen or rectum
- Very severe diarrhea
- Signs of dehydration
- Diarrhea that lasts more than a few days
Obviously you should be extra-careful with children and the elderly, who are more vulnerable to diarrhea than healthy adults.
And while we're on the subject, here are some diarrhea myths you can safely ignore:
Clear fluids: makes diarrhea last longer.You're better off with starchy fluids or soups.
Milk curdles in your stomach: what normally happens when you mix it with an acid? Milk is designed to curdle in stomachs. Just avoid drinking too much of it while you have diarrhea, because its high sugar content can contribute to symptoms (and of course, that's worse if you're lactose-intolerant).
Wean yourself back onto solid foods: in fact, you should do your best to keep eating: high-fiber, little and often is the way to go to have less discomfort, less risk of symptoms worsening, less dehydration and a shorter illness.