Simple Approaches to Get Mild Diarrhea Under Control
by Noelle Patno, PhD
This is part two of a two-part series; read the first part on possible causes of diarrhea.
For mild and occasional diarrhea, consider these approaches:
- Diet. Mild diarrhea is accompanied by an inherent fluid loss, so it’s important to stay hydrated. Maintaining adequate water intake helps to ensure the diet is balanced and supports gastrointestinal health. The BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast) has commonly been recommended to alleviate symptoms of diarrhea but is unnecessarily restrictive and does not provide adequate nourishment.1Loss of electrolytes is a major consequence of diarrhea, and replenishing these vital substances is critical to regain and maintain normal body functioning. Magnesium, calcium, sodium, and potassium are commonly depleted along with the fluid loss of diarrhea. Magnesium-rich foods like leafy greens (arugula, spinach, Swiss chard) and seeds (pumpkin, sesame, flaxseed, sunflower), tahini, summer squash, okra, salmon, beans, and cacao will help to replace the magnesium loss experienced with diarrhea, but if consumed in excess, they may actually promote excessive flow. Calcium-rich foods, such as dairy items, green leafy vegetables including kale, almonds, pistachios, blackstrap molasses, broccoli, figs, tofu, and sea vegetables or calcium-fortified foods can be increased in the diet relative to the magnesium-rich foods as one potential strategy.2Additionally, potassium-rich foods help with hydration, while sodium affects the extracellular water balance. Modulating the intake of potassium-rich foods (bananas, spinach, cantaloupe, carrots, beets, tomatoes, and others) versus sodium-rich foods (salt, processed foods, soups, sauces, soda, and pickled and cured foods) may improve gastrointestinal motility.2
- Bentonite clay, activated charcoal, bismuth (commonly known as Pepto-Bismol®), fiber, and bile acid-binding resins. These compounds often can help fluid loss and intestinal cramping by working to absorb toxins and excessive fat but are temporary aids providing symptomatic relief.3 Assessing the sources of the toxins (bacteria) and fat (diet) and addressing underlying causes is beneficial in the long term. For example, if an unbalanced diet is the cause, then the approach would be to balance the fat, fiber, and mineral intakes to promote more normal and regular bowel movements.
- Probiotics. Strong evidence exists to support the consumption of probiotics for gastrointestinal comfort and function.4 A recent meta-analysis determined that the efficacy of probiotics is strain-specific.5 While a universal consensus is lacking, healthcare practitioners can evaluate a whole patient’s unique situation to personalize their recommendations.
In conclusion, proper hydration, diet, and supplemental strategies may be an approach to consider for mild diarrhea cases. For severe or persistent diarrhea, contact your healthcare practitioner.
- King KC et al. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMWR Recomm Rep. 2003;52:1-16. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5216a1.htm. Accessed August 13, 2018.
- Koff A. Integrative Gastroenterology. Mullin G. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc; 2011.
- Bonis P et al. Rutgeerts P and Grover S. www.uptodate.com. Topic last updated June 5, 2017. Accessed July 23, 2018.
- Vitetta L et al. Inflammopharmacol. 2014;22(3):135-154.
- McFarland et al. Frontiers in Medicine. 2018;5.
About Noelle Patno, PhD:
Noelle Patno, PhD, is the Nutritional Scientist for Digestive Health at Metagenics. After pursuing chemical engineering at Stanford and engineering at Abbott, she sought an education in preventive nutrition from a basic science perspective by pursuing her PhD in Molecular Metabolism and Nutrition from the University of Chicago. Her current role involves researching and developing probiotics, prebiotics and other nutritional solutions and programs for promoting digestive health and overall health.