People often ask which foods to add into the diet to stop diarrhea when this has already started. In most cases however, certain foods have to be avoided to stop diarrhea.
Anyway, let’s see in which types of diarrhea, adding certain foods into a diet can help.
1. Toddler’s Diarrhea
Toddlers, fed with excessive amount of fruit juices and lack of dairy products at the same time may develop chronic diarrhea. Limiting fruit juices and adding milk and other dairy products into a diet usually helps.
2. Diarrhea After Antibiotics
Antibiotics taken by mouth can kill normal intestinal bacteria and allow harmful bacteria like Clostridium difficile to overgrow and cause diarrhea. Probiotic yogurts containing Saccharomyces boulardii yeasts can prevent or reduce diarrhea triggered by antibiotics. If probiotics don’t help, treatment with (another) antibiotic is needed to kill C. difficile bacteria.
3. Diarrhea in Chronic Alcoholism
Chronic alcoholics often have alcohol as the only “food”, so they may develop diarrhea from lack of vitamins, which are usually not present in alcohol. Stopping drinking alcohol and introducing regular diet with enough vitamin B1, B6, B12 and folate may stop diarrhea. Vitamin and mineral supplements may also need to be replaced.
4. Diarrhea in Malnutrition
Malnutrition is deficiency of nutrients (commonly proteins, vitamins or minerals) needed for normal body functioning.
Marasmus (Greek marasmos = decay) is a type of malnutrition seen in young children that don’t get enough calories with their food, so they fail to grow, are extremely skinny and apathetic. Marasmus is common in babies who were not breast-fed sufficiently. Diarrhea is due to accompanied gastrointestinal infection and lack of vitamins A, B, folate and zinc.
Kwashiorkor is a protein deficiency from exclusive diet such as yam, cassava or sweet potato rich in starch but low in proteins. It mainly affects children in poor, rural parts of Africa, Caribbean and Pacific islands (9). Symptoms are a swollen belly, limbs with weak muscles but normal under-skin fat, depigmentation and ‘flaky paint’ lesions of the skin. Diarrhea is due to loss of microscopic finger-like projections from intestinal lining what greatly reduces absorption surface of the small intestine.
Symptoms of Malnutrition
- Impaired growth in children
- Weight loss
- Edema (due to protein deficiency)
- Pale skin, weakness, tingling/numbness and tongue inflammation (due to iron, folate or vit B12 malabsorption, potassium deficiency and dehydration)
- Skin scaling, night blindness (due to vit A malabsorption)
- Bleeding, bruising (due to vit C and K deficiency)
- Osteoporosis (from vit D and calcium malabsorption), peripheral nerve disease, numbness (from vit B deficiency).
Diagnosis of malnutrition is made from physical signs and levels of nutrients in the blood.
Therapy and Diet
- Dehydration has to be treated first. WHO-ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution provided by World Health Organisation) may be prepared as a solution to drink, or, in severe cases, infusion of fluids into a vein (in hospital) is given.
- Hypoglycemia is treated by infusion of glucose solution into a vein.
- Antibiotics may be needed to treat eventual bowel infections.
- Minerals (potassium, zinc, selenium, etc.) and vitamins, depending on their blood levels, have to be replaced.
- Feeding by mouth should start as early as possible. Food portions should be small and frequent (round the clock). Malnutrition responds especially well on milk products (9).
- Therapy and diet in malnutrition – for doctors
Drinking During Diarrhea
A person with diarrhea should increase fluid intake to replace fluid lost with loose bowel movements. Clean tap water or bottled water, tea or fruit juices, like orange or white (but not black) grape juice may be appropriate. Fruit juices high in fructose (apple, pear, peach, plum, cherry, mango juice), milk, carbonated soda, alcohol, coffee and energy drinks should be avoided since they may aggravate diarrhea or dehydration.
For children, rehydration solutions like Pedialyte, Rehydralyte, etc. are recommended to replace lost water and electrolytes. Adults may try sport drinks, like Gatorade instead of oral rehydration solutions. Read more about prevention and treatment of dehydration in diarrhea.
How much to drink? Drink several cups of fluid daily, but not more than 250 ml at once (to allow fluid to be absorbed). Drink amount of fluid that will make you urinate at least twice daily, and amount of morning urine will be at least 200 ml (in adult). In children, frequency of urination, appropriate for their age should be maintained.
About BRAT Diet
BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) was once recommended to reduce acute diarrhea because of its low fiber content. However, nowadays most doctors think there is no reason to limit diet during acute diarrhea (like in food poisoning or stomach flu) to BRAT foods and affected person can continue with regular diet.