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Dealing with Diarrhea

The disconcerting discomfort of diarrhea indicates that an underlying problem has severely hampered the function of your digestive system. It signals that your colon is eliminating waste before the intestinal tract has had time to absorb enough water to make your stool solid. If you have diarrhea, it’s important to get it under control quickly. Aside from the annoyance of frequent, messy bowel movements, persistent diarrhea robs your body of vital fluid, which can cause dehydration, and depletes your supply of electrolytes (minerals necessary for proper heart function).

Every year, Americans make almost two and a half million doctor visits because of diarrhea. If you are one of these unfortunate individuals, the intestinal irritation and increased muscular activity of your bowel may be due to one of a wide variety of causes. Frequently, diarrhea happens as the result of food poisoning that occurs when you ingest food contaminated with harmful pathogens, the most common of which include:

  • E. coli: bacteria that can grow on raw meat, undercooked meat or foods that have come into contact with raw meat
  • C. botulinum: bacteria that may be found in improperly canned tuna or other canned foods; causes a disease known as botulism
  • Salmonella: bacteria most frequently encountered in raw chicken, eggs, meat, seafood and dairy products
  • Staphylococcus: bacteria that grows on food left at room temperature too long; can be transferred to food from an infected food handler
  • Campylobacter jejuni: the primary cause of bacterial diarrhea in the United States; can be found in poultry and meat - carried by insects

Antibiotic Difficulties

Although antibiotics are typically described to treat bacterial infection, such drugs often contribute to diarrhea symptoms. Up to 20 percent of people who are prescribed antibiotics stop taking them because of diarrhea. The problem is that while antibiotics are meant to kill off infectious bacteria, they can also destroy the beneficial bacteria that live in the gut and work hard to crowd out disease-causing microorganisms.

When these “good” bacteria die off, “bad” bacteria—including Clostridium difficile, or C. diff—can multiply and release toxins that cause cramps and severe diarrhea. Scientists have discovered that a wide range of drugs may leave the body vulnerable to an overgrowth of C. diff. For example, researchers estimate that pharmaceuticals used to suppress stomach acid (proton pump inhibitors) can triple your chances of developing C. diff-related diarrhea. Other common causes of diarrhea include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Food allergies (the most common are to eggs, wheat and dairy)
  • Parasites from food or water, including Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia lamblia, and Cryptosporidium
  • Viruses such as cytomegalovirus, rotavirus, viral hepatitis, Norwalk virus and herpes simplex virus
  • Stress
  • Intestinal infections
  • Overuse of caffeinated foods (such as coffee, soft drinks and chocolate)
  • Overuse of certain sweeteners such as high-fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol

Losing Water

In addition to the urgent need to go to the bathroom, diarrhea may be accompanied by other symptoms such as bloating, nausea, cramping. Bloody stools or black, tarry stools, and fever, however, are signs that you need immediate medical attention. If you feel increasingly thirsty when suffering diarrhea you may be getting dehydrated from a loss of water. Other signs of dehydration include dry mouth and tongue, less frequent urination, anxiety, listlessness or very dry skin. If you have these problems, seek medical help at once. Furthermore, if your diarrhea persists for more than a day or two, see your doctor, especially if you have extreme pain.

Stopping the Diarrhea

What you do about diarrhea depends on what brought it on. If you have a food allergy, avoiding the allergenic food should end your distress. If you are gluten-intolerant, you need to avoid wheat and other grains. If you are lactose-intolerant, you need to take an enzyme supplement containing lactase (which helps the body absorb milk sugar), or stay away from dairy foods. When your diarrhea is linked to antibiotics, taking probiotic supplements to replenish your supply of beneficial bacteria can help. Just be sure not to tak  your probiotics at the same time as the antibiotic, or the drug will kill the bacteria in your supplement.

Supplements that contain activated charcoal can be used to absorb toxins from the intestines until the diarrhea subsides. Supplements with kaolin and pectin can attract and latch onto the pathogens within the body that are causing problems and help eliminate them. In addition, pectin—a type of soluble fiber often derived from apples—offers other significant anti-diarrheal benefits. Research shows that pectin may provide nutrients to beneficial microorganisms in the colon that firm up stools by forming what are called “short-chain fatty acids”. This type of fiber also stimulates epithelial growth, helping to repair the colon’s membranes and ease diarrhea symptoms.

While diarrhea is often a sign that your body is eliminating toxins, this condition is uncomfortable and can lead to inflammation of your intestinal walls, as well as more serious digestive issues if the problem persists. That is why most medical experts recommend tending to it as soon as possible—to help the digestive tract heal itself and avoid serious damage.

The material on this page is for consumer informational and educational purposes only, under section 5 of DSHEA.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this website is intended as, or should be construed as, medical advice. Consumers should consult with their own health care practitioners for individual, medical recommendations. The information in this website concerns dietary supplements, over-the-counter products that are not drugs. Our dietary supplement products are not intended for use as a means to cure, treat, prevent, diagnose, or mitigate any disease or other medical or abnormal condition.