Diarrhea is characterized by loose, watery, and–more likely–frequent bowel movements. Just like its opposite, constipation, diarrhea is a common problem.
Diarrhea can occur on its own or accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal pain, vomiting, and nausea.
Usually it is short-lived, but if it lasts longer than a few days, can be more than just an inconvenience. Diarrhea, if left unresolved, can lead to serious implications to your health because of the risk for dehydration.
So what causes diarrhea?
Loose, watery stools or an increase in the frequency of bowel movements may be attributed to inappropriate water secretion of the intestines or attenuated absorption of water in the intestines. This is actually an attempt of the body to flush away viruses, bacteria, and toxins from the digestive tract: it’s a mechanism to protect you.
Even so, there are times when it is recommended to seek medical attention if you have diarrhea:
- If it is accompanied by vomiting – this increases your chance for dehydration, so you need fluid replacement possibly via IV.
- You experience dehydration, which is characterized by excessive thirst, little to no urination, dark-colored urine, weakness, fatigue, and dry mouth and skin.
- Your diarrhea does not resolve itself – and may be caused by a serious health condition.
- You have severe abdominal or rectal pain.
- You have a fever above 39 C or 102 F.
- You have black tarry stools, which is indicative of bleeding in the stomach.
- You have bloody stool or stool with pus.
The usual causes of diarrhea are as follows:
- Food poisoning
- Food allergies
- Bacteria, viruses, parasites, and stomach flu
- Side effect of some over-the-counter drugs and antibiotics
- Alcohol abuse
- Anxiety/Emotional stress
- Some forms of inflammatory bowel disease
- Lactose intolerance
- Fructose and artificial sweeteners
Conventionally, diarrhea is treated with over-the-counter antidiarrheal or anti-motility drugs. But as mentioned above, diarrhea is your body’s attempt to clear out the digestive tract from harmful bacteria, virus, or toxins. So stopping this “purge” may interfere with the body trying to protect itself and allowing the toxins or harmful microorganisms to stay inside. For this reason, many doctors recommend that you take such medications only after the acute phase of diarrhea.
Chronic diarrhea is another story. Not only do you run the risk of sloughing off beneficial bacteria through repeated loose and frequent bowel movements, but its likely that there is something causing inflammation and diarrhea is the way your body is dealing with it, but it’s actually a symptom of the main cause. With chronic inflammation, some detective work is helpful. You can do food sensitivity testing or an elimination diet is to identify which foods trigger GI upset. I’m a fan of blood testing, but if you choose an elimination diet without testing you systematically avoid certain foods for a given time and see if the symptoms improve. When you include these foods back into your diet, you observe to see if symptoms return as well. This method helps you pinpoint which foods to avoid in relation to your diarrhea, but is often just part of the picture, especially if many foods are triggering diarrhea–this can indicate that deeper gut healing would be helpful for more permanent improvements.
Additionally,here are five home remedies that can help stop diarrhea:
Avoid trigger foods. Eat bland, safe foods.
The goal is to help your digestive system recover, so limiting foods that may be irritating can help your system’s inflammatory response calm down. Conventional dairy products, foods that have potential allergens (e.g., nuts and shellfish), processed fats and oils, added sugar and sweeteners, caffeine, and alcohol – are helpful to avoid if you have diarrhea. Also, you might want to eat smaller amounts spread throughout the day so as not to overload your digestive system while it is irritated.
Bland foods, like broth, eggs, apples, bananas, potatoes, may be easier on your tummy, and plant foods provide fiber to help add bulk to your stool. Fresh fruits and vegetables also replenish lost fluids and electrolytes.
Additionally, flaxseed oil in small amounts is a known antidiarrheal agent.
Raw honey and ginger added to herbal tea can also reduce GI irritation and soothe your tummy.
Dehydration can be lethal, so make sure to replenish lost electrolytes and fluids. Bone broth is a great solution. It contains minerals in a ready-to-absorb form, so they’re the best source for electrolytes. When you stay hydrated, you’ll be able to combat weakness, fatigue, and lightheadedness when you have diarrhea.
Herbal teas, as long as they are not caffeinated, are also great because they can help in soothing the stomach. Homemade fruit ice pops, coconut water (depends on your case), and fresh vegetable juice are other options.
Aim for 16 ounces of fluids every hour to prevent dehydration. Pay attention to how thirsty you are and what color your urine is. You want your urine to be light yellow. Drink more when you don’t urinate or your urine is little and dark yellow and your thirst is severe.
To recolonize the colon with good microbes, take probiotics either in supplement form or fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi. Other supplements like glutamine powder, which can help repair the GI tract, may also be helpful but it is good to discuss this with a health practitioner to determine if it is appropriate for you and in what amount. Glutamine is a compound that is also found in bone broth.
Peppermint essential oil.
The peppermint essential oil contains compounds that counteract spasms by blocking calcium channels within the smooth muscles of the intestines. Thus, peppermint essential oil can help stop abdominal cramping and pains. This oil also reduces bowel inflammation and loose stools.
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