Unpleasant as it is, diarrhoea is your body’s way to flush out harmful toxins. This common ailment usually subsides on its own in a day or so, but it can be both uncomfortable and inconvenient. The goals of treatment are to prevent dehydration and restore bulk to the stool.

What is it?

An increase in the frequency of stools or the passage of loose, watery stools is called diarrhoea. It is not a disease in itself but a symptoms of a variety of disorders – most benign, some serious. Diarrhoea is a result of a disruption in the normal passage of food and waste through the large intestine. Ordinarily, water is absorbed through the intestinal walls as food passes through the large intestine and faecal matter leaves the body as a solid mass. If something speeds up or otherwise interferes with this process, the fluid will be expelled from the body with faecal matter.

What causes it?

Diarrhoea is the inflammation or irritation of the intestine. It is usually the result of a bacteria or viral infection caused by eating or drinking contaminated food or water. Most people travelling to less developed areas of the world are aware of the risk of the food or water contamination and take steps to avoid ‘traveller’s diarrhoea’. At home, however, they may not be so careful. And often the diarrhoea they chalk up to a 24-hour ‘bug’ is more likely a consequence of food poisoning.

There are several other causes of diarrhoea. Eating more fruits or vegetables than your digestive tract is used to can lead to diarrhoea; citrus fruits and beans are typically the culprits. When consumed in large amounts, the low-kilojoule sweetener sorbitol may trigger diarrhoea. Diarrhoea may also develop from taking therapeutic doses of vitamin C or magnesium. (If this side effect occurs, reduce the dose.) People who have lactose intolerance – an inability to digest the sugar in dairy products (lactose) – often suffer from flatulence, bloating and diarrhoea after eating these foods. Antibiotics can bring on diarrhoea because they destroy the intestines ‘friendly bacteria’. In some people, stress triggers diarrhoea. It can also be a symptom of various gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, Crohn’s disease, pancreatic disease or celiac disease (gluten intolerance).

What are the symptoms?

  • Frequent loose, watery stools.
  • Abdominal cramps.
  • Possible nausea, fever or thirst.

Are there any natural therapies?

To bring diarrhoea under control, try drinking tea made with agrimony, blackberry leaf or raspberry leaf. These teas contain tannins, chemicals that have a binding effect on the mucous membrances in the intestine and help the body to absorb fluids. They also replenish lost fluids, which is important in preventng the dehydration that may result from a prolonged bout of diarrhoea.

If none of the teas provide relief, consider psyllium. Though this soluble fibre is more familiar as a constipation treatment, it can amerliorate diarrhoea because it absorbs excess fluids in the intestine and adds bulk to the stool. Acidophilus works to restore adequate levels of healthy bacteria to the intestine, and is especially important if diarrhoea is related to antibiotic use. All these remedies can be substituted for over-the-counter (OTC) diarrhoeal aids (except acidophilus, which can be used with OTC preparations, though not taken at the same time of day).

If food poisoning is to blame, wait a few hours before trying to treat the problem, so that your body has enough time to get rid of the offending organism. Otherwise, start using the remedies immediately.

What else can I do?

  • Drink plenty of water and clear liquids to prevent dehydration.
  • Avoid milk, citrus fruits, alcohol and high-fibre foods for a day or two after having diarrhoea; eat bland foods, such as bananas and white rice.
  • When travelling to suspect areas, eat only cooked foods. Avoid ice cubes, and use bottled water, even for brushing your teeth.

Did you know?

Carob powder is an old but very effective remedy for diarrhoea. Take a tablespoon (a teaspoon for children) mixed into grated (browned) apple, three times a day.