Remedies for diarrhoea
Heather Little-White, Contributor
"Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink ..." is a common saying which is so applicable today as we face severe water restrictions. Out of desperation, many persons have resorted to drinking water from untreated sources which is one of the causes of diarrhoea.
Diarrhoea is debilitating and it can strike anyone at any time, causing discomfort for a few days which could even run into weeks and months. Children and adults alike may experience bouts of acute diarrhoea during their lifetime.
What is diarrhoea?
Diarrhoea is loose, watery stool. A person with diarrhoea typically passes stool more than three times a day. People with diarrhoea may pass more than a quart of stool a day. Acute diarrhoea is a common problem that usually lasts one or two days and goes away on its own without special treatment. Prolonged diarrhoea persisting for more than two days may be a sign of a more serious problem, and poses the risk of dehydration.
Acute diarrhoea usually lasts for a few days and may be caused by a virus or bacteria.
Chronic diarrhoea lasts for weeks and may be caused by much more than bacteria or viruses, resulting in conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease or ulcerative colitis. Chronic diarrhoea may be a feature of a chronic disease.
Gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the digestive tract, is the most common cause of diarrhoea. Gastroenteritis may result from an infection by:
Bacteria such as salmonella, shigella and E. coli, which are spread by ingesting contaminated food or water;
Viruses like the rotavirus, viral hepatitis and cytemogaloviris.
Parasites like cryptosporidium, which can be contracted by ingesting contaminated water or food.
Gastroenteritis due to infection can happen at any time and it is relatively easy to contract gastroenteritis if you come into close contact with someone who has it. This is why you may be more at risk in households or at events with large numbers of people. When water is scarce, hand-washing is difficult. It is even more critical when hands cannot be washed after using the toilet.
Other risk factors for gastroenteritis include eating undercooked meats or unrefrigerated food, travelling to unfamiliar locations in Jamaica or other countries, and drinking from or swimming in bodies of contaminated fresh water.
Other causes of diarrhoea include:
Sensitivity to certain foods such as dairy products (lactose intolerance) and artificial sweeteners.
Intestinal disorders like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, and IBD.
Gall bladder or stomach surgery.
Disorders of the pancreas or thyroid.
Cancer-fighting radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis.
Side effects of medications.
Hereditary disorders like cystic fibrosis and enzyme deficiencies.
Visit the doctor
Your doctor can test your blood and stool to determine the cause of diarrhoea and begin proper treatment. Contact your doctor if:
Diarrhoea is persistent;
Your stool is black or bloody;
You have a fever.
Food and drink
What food should you eat if you are suffering from diarrhoea? It is best to avoid heavy meals which are greasy, fatty and sugary until you stop having the 'runs'.
Stay away from solid foods. During the acute phase, have a liquid diet. It is highly recommended that you drink plenty of fluids but stay away from alcohol and caffeinated drinks, which can be dehydrating.
Avoid dairy foods: Milk and other dairy products cannot be tolerated by the intestinal walls because of a temporary deficit in lactase, the enzyme responsible for digesting milk sugar (lactose). With exception is yogurt, which contains live or active cultures or, more specifically, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bacterium bifidum. These active cultures are probiotics (friendly bacteria) and appear to help to establish a healthier balance of bacteria in the digestive tract.
Eat pectin-rich fruits and vegetables during chronic phase. It is necessary to solidify stool. Helpful foods include apples, papaya, grapefruit, carrots, potatoes and beet. Bananas are also rich in pectin, a soluble fibre that helps to absorb liquid in the intestines and thus move stool along smoothly.
How dehydration occurs
Diarrhoea is characterised by frequent, loose and watery stools and, as such, your body loses plenty fluid and is likely to be dehydrated. Diarrhoea carries serious consequences, many of which can be life-threatening. Staying hydrated is critical when coping with diarrhoea, as your body can lose large amounts of water through the digestive tract. If your diarrhoea is persistent, you may notice signs of dehydration like dry mouth or skin, changes in the colour or the amount of urine, and fatigue.
When you have diarrhoea, your body loses fluids that contain electrolytes, which are substances which conduct electricity and help energise the cells. Electrolytes are salts and minerals which include chloride, calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium. When electrolytes are lost through diarrhoea, there is improper balance, which impairs muscle coordination in your heart and proper functioning of the nerves and brain, causing you start to feel weak and light-headed.
To prevent the dangerous outcomes of dehydration, it is best replenish the body with lots of fluids such as light juices, soups, broth and energy drinks.
Adults and children should monitor dehydration symptoms, as they may eventually require hospitalisation, during which fluids would have to be replenished intravenously.
Less frequency of urination or not being able to at all
A dark colour to your urine
Dry mouth and tongue
Lack of tears when crying
Has not passed urine for three or more hours
Sunken eyes, cheeks, or stomach
Skin does not flatten when pinched or released
Listlessness or irritability
Increase fluid intake. Drink plenty clear fluids to replace those you have lost. Clear broths and soups with sodium, coconut water and fruit and vegetable juices are ideal for replacing lost minerals such as potassium. Reduce the temptation to drink sodas and other sugary drinks which may worsen dehydration. Be careful not to drink too much water, as this will lead to hyponatraemia, a condition with low sodium in the body fluids.
Aim for at least one eight-ounce glass of fluid per hour. The amount of fluid intake depends on the severity of the diarrhoea. A chronic condition will require more fluids. It is advised to sip the fluids slowly to reduce the frequency of visits to the bathroom and it also helps counter nausea and vomiting. Fluids are better at room temperature rather than having them cold.
Use over-the-counter rehydration drinks. Sports drinks are good for replacing electrolytes, but drink in moderation as the high levels of sugar in these beverages may worsen diarrhoea and dehydration. Over-the-counter rehydration beverages are available for children with diarrhoea. A clinic or hospital will give oral rehydration salts.
Drink ginger-based beverages. Ginger has a soothing effect on the intestine and is good for fluid replacement.
Avoid certain foods that worsen diarrhoea. These include fried, greasy foods, spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine.
When diarrhoea ceases
Once diarrhoea has subsided, you should reintroduce food into your diet. These should be semi-solid, low in fibre, and easy to digest. Examples of these are white rice, bananas, or plain toast.
White Toast and Crackers
When your intestines are acting normally, it is important to eat wholegrain products. When you are experiencing acute diarrhoea, it is better to turn to processed wheat foods. The removal of the outer husk of the grains in these foods results in easier digestion. As an extra benefit, the salt (sodium) in crackers will be beneficial in terms of restoring the electrolyte balance.
White Rice and Mashed Potatoes
The low-fibre content of these starches makes them easy to digest, but have them free of butter or other fat.
Bananas for potassium
Bananas are bland, easy to digest and are a good choice to settle an upset digestive system. The high level of potassium in bananas helps to replace electrolytes that may be lost by severe bouts of diarrhoea. Bananas also contain a good amount of inulin, a soluble fibre that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal system.
Because of its blandness, steamed white chicken meat (with little or no fat) is an easily digested source of protein, thus providing a fairly safe way to get nutrients into your body.
Heather Little-White, PhD, is a nutrition and lifestyle consultant in Kingston. Send comments to email@example.com.
Apart from drinking plenty of fluids, it is important to know how to use herbal remedies to boost energy levels.
Amaranth: Amaranth seeds and leaves are an effective astringent. The astringency of the herb is useful in reducing blood loss and treating diarrhoea. Add two teaspoons of seeds to three cups of water and boil it for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon of leaves or just let it steep for 30 minutes. Drink two cups daily.
Apples: (American) are useful in combating this affliction.
Carrots: Cooked carrots may also prove effective, most commonly in infants.
Cinnamon and cayenne pepper: The combination of cinnamon and cayenne pepper is very effective in tightening the bowels. Add 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoonful of cayenne pepper to two cups of boiling water. Let the mixture boil for about 20 minutes. Cool it and drink 1/4 cup every half-hour.
Garlic: very effective in soothing, cleansing and reducing inflation. Finely chop some garlic and mix with orange juice and honey and take this mixture two or three times per day. Cooking lavishly with garlic is helpful. Garlic is also very rich in potassium, which replaces that lost during diarrhoea. It is also important for proper contraction of muscles, including the intestines. Potassium is also important in the body's electrolyte system and is lost during bouts of diarrhoea.
Ginger: Apply ginger juice around the navel. Powdered ginger can be combined with powdered cumin, powdered cinnamon and honey to make a thick paste. Take one tablespoon three times a day.
Lemon: Grind a lemon along with seeds and rind to a paste. Add a little salt and consume.
Turmeric: An age-old cure to treat diarrhoea but it should not be taken in large doses.
Other herbal remedies include allspice, chamomile, caraway, feverfew, lavender, nutmeg, peppermint tea.