You Should Know

June 2017 Issue

Diarrhea Diet Defense

Avoiding certain foods may help stop diarrhea.

Diarrhea is not a topic of choice at the dinner table. Nonetheless, it is a common condition that affects many people. An estimated 179 million acute cases occur each year, and five percent of the U.S. population suffers from chronic diarrhea. Diet may help control this condition.

Defining Diarrhea. Whether acute or chronic, the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases defines diarrhea as “loose, watery stools three or more times a day.” Acute diarrhea can last a day or up to a week, while chronic diarrhea continues for four weeks or more.

Common Culprits. Common causes of acute diarrhea include infections that are viral (such as viral gastroenteritis), parasitic (including Giardia lambia), or bacterial (like Salmonella), as well as medication side effects (i.e., antibiotics, magnesium-containing antacids). Over the counter medications containing bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) or loperamide (Imodium) are usually effective in treating acute diarrhea.

Causes of chronic diarrhea are numerous. This condition can also be initiated by similar viruses, parasites and bacteria, but the infection may persist and alter the gut’s ability to digest proteins and carbohydrates, thus prolonging diarrhea. Abdominal surgeries, digestive diseases (i.e., Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome), food intolerances and allergies, compromised immunity, and prolonged use of some medications are among the many perpetrators of chronic diarrhea. Identifying the cause determines the treatment needed.

Diet Therapy. Avoiding dehydration and loss of electrolytes is critical in diarrhea. Adequate intake of water is important to hydrate, but fluids with electrolytes, such as sports drinks, diluted fruit juice, and broths, should also be consumed. Oral rehydration solutions like Pedialyte, containing glucose and electrolytes, may be indicated in some cases.

Restrictive diets or fasting are not recommended nor supported by scientific research. Following a balanced diet can help recovery. Raw and undercooked meat or fish and unpasteurized products need to be avoided. Some foods and beverages can worsen symptoms and are discouraged, including:

- Alcohol
- Caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, colas)
- Dairy products, such as milk and ice cream if lactose intolerant
- Fatty, fried and greasy foods
- Fructose-containing products (agave syrup, sugar-sweetened drinks, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit drinks, honey)
- Some fruits, namely peaches, pears and apples
- Spicy foods
- Products containing sugar alcohols (sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol) like sugarless gum and candy, and some energy bars

The above foods and beverages can be added back into the diet after a full recovery.

Can Probiotics Help?

Probiotic supplements may or may not be therapeutic, thus it is best to confer with your primary healthcare provider before taking them.

Pasteurized yogurt, kefir and other whole fermented foods and beverages containing live cultures could help recovery, while also providing a beneficial array of essential nutrients.