Diarrhea Self Help

Diarrhea is a symptom, not a disease. If you have chronic diarrhea, it’s important to find the underlying cause. Chronic diarrhea can be the result of drugs, diverticular disease, foods or beverages that disagree with your system, infections (bacterial, fungal, viral, or parasitic), inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, malabsorption, lactose intolerance, laxative use and abuse, contaminated water supply, or cancer.

People with gallbladder problems often experience diarrhea after a fatty meal. With careful questioning and laboratory testing, your physician will be able to find the cause. Once you have a diagnosis, you can decide how to approach the problem. Diarrhea occurs when you have a bowel transit time that is too fast.

Feces don’t sit in the colon long enough for water to be absorbed back into your body so the stool comes out runny. (It’s truly amazing how much water is usually absorbed through the colon—two gallons every day.) If you have chronic diarrhea, you aren’t getting the maximum benefit from foods because you aren’t absorbing all the nutrients.

Loss of fluids and electrolyte minerals can make us disoriented and weak. In infants, small children, and the elderly, dehydration can be dangerous and can happen suddenly. It’s important to replace lost fluids to prevent dehydration. Drink eight to ten glasses of water, fruit and vegetable juices, or broths each day.

Infants can be given a fleet enema, which is easily purchased at drugstores. Follow the directions in the package. Most diarrhea is self-limiting. It is the body’s way of getting rid of something disagreeable—food, microbes, or toxins. So for acute diarrhea, just let it flow and keep drinking plenty of water and fluids.

If you have severe abdominal or rectal pain, fever of at least 102° Fahrenheit, blood in your stool, signs of dehydration— dry mouth, anxiety, restlessness, excessive thirst, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness or light-headedness—or your diarrhea lasts more than three days, call your doctor.

Be more cautious with small children, people who are already ill, and the elderly. You usually aren’t very hungry when you have acute diarrhea. Many foods “feed” the bugs and you instinctively stop eating. The diet recommended for people with diarrhea is called the BRAT diet, which stands for bananas, rice, apples, and toast.

These foods are bland and binding. You can make a pretty tasty rice pudding with apples, rice, eggs, and cinnamon. Soda crackers, chicken, and eggs can also be eaten. Many other substances can cause diarrhea, including an excess of vitamin C and magnesium.

For instance, antacids that contain magnesium salts can cause diarrhea. Sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol are sugars found in dietetic candies and sweets that cause diarrhea. Even in small amounts, they can cause diarrhea in people sensitive to them. Some people have the same reaction to fructose or lactose.

Healing Options

Healing options depend on the cause of the diarrhea.

  • Eliminate dairy products. Lactose intolerance is a common source of diarrhea. Avoid milk and dairy foods for two or three weeks to see if the diarrhea stops.
  • Supplement with acidophilus and bifidobacteria. These beneficial bacteria help normalize bowel function. They ferment fiber, which produces short-chained fatty acids to fuel the colonic tissue. You can also take probiotic supplements to help prevent traveler’s diarrhea. Take 2 to 6 capsules daily.
  • Wash your hands frequently. The simple act of washing your hands with soap can help reduce the incidence of ongoing diarrhea. In a study done with mothers of children with prolonged diarrhea, the mothers were simply asked to wash their own hands with soap and water before preparing food and eating and to wash their children’s hands before eating and as soon as possible after a bowel movement. There was an 89 percent reduction in diarrhea in the hand-washing mom’s group in comparison with the control group.
  • Take goldenseal. This herb is highly effective for treatment of acute diarrhea caused by microbial infection. Be sure to use goldenseal in recommended dosages as it may also cause diarrhea if used in excessive amounts.
  • Use Saccharomyces boulardii. This friendly yeast has been used successfully to prevent and treat diarrhea caused by antibiotics, traveler’s diarrhea, and diarrhea associated with AIDS. It boosts levels of secretory IgA, which is a protective part of the immune system. It is safe for all ages. Take 2 to 6 capsules daily.
  • Eat yogurt. This can help stop diarrhea. Yogurt contains active bacteria, L. thermophilus and L. bulgaricus, which help prevent and stop diarrhea. There have been several studies showing yogurt’s effectiveness.
  • Use olive oil. One study showed that oleic acid, the main fatty acid in olive oil, slowed down transit time in people with chronic diarrhea. Because it’s so nontoxic, it’s worth a try. Oleic acid is also found in olives, almonds, and avocados.
  • Use psyllium. Adding psyllium fiber as a daily supplement can help solidify stools. Begin with 1 to 2 teaspoons in at least 8 ounces of water.
  • Avoid sorbitol. Sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol are indigestible sugars found in sugar-free candy. They can easily cause diarrhea, gas, and bloating.
  • Take zinc. Much research has been done on zinc and diarrhea in children. It shortens the duration of acute diarrhea by boosting the body’s immune system. Children can take 20 milligrams daily and adults can take 50 milligrams daily for up to two weeks.