How to avoid a nasty bout of diarrhea

October 9, 2015

When you're sprinting for the bathroom, diarrhea seems more like an uncomfortable inconvenience than one of Mother Nature's ingeniously simple health-protection strategies. Designed to flush out invaders as quickly as possible, it can have serious consequences such as dehydration and loss of electrolytes. You can sidestep bouts of diarrhea by tackling the bugs, the drugs and the other causes that trigger it.

How to avoid a nasty bout of diarrhea

1. What causes it?

Bacteria, viruses, parasites, antibiotics, sugar-free foods, stress.

2. What are the symptoms?

Frequent, loose, fluid-filled stools, perhaps accompanied by abdominal pain, cramps and bloating.

3. What can I do?

Montezuma's revenge

Planning a trip to an out-of-the-way foreign locale? Your odds of developing traveller's diarrhea in a developing country are one in three. These infections are usually bacterial and can ruin your plans to explore museums, markets and other exotic wonders.

  • Eat what's peelable, packaged, purified or piping-hot. Stick with bottled water; skip ice cubes in all drinks; avoid salads and raw vegetables, fruit you can't peel, mayonnaise, pastry icing, unpasteurized dairy products and undercooked shellfish.

Wash hands often

It's the best defense against viral and bacterial infections that cause most diarrhea. Scrubbing up can cut risk by at least 30 percent. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Any soap will do; washing works by rubbing and rinsing off the viruses and bacteria on your skin.

What about antibacterial soaps? Save your money. Studies of these germ killers found that plain soap was just as effective at preventing diarrhea.

Use a hand sanitizer

Especially when you can't wash. It cuts the risk of diarrhea and vomiting by an impressive 59 percent. Participants in one study kept sanitizer gel in the bathroom and kitchen and near diaper-changing tables (if they had infants) and rubbed it on their hands after using the toilet, before preparing food and after changing diapers.

Practise food safety

Food poisoning causes millions of cases of mild to severe diarrhea every year. Don't let other foods touch raw meat; wash cutting boards and knives in hot, soapy water; wash your hands frequently during and after handling raw meat; don't eat or serve food that's been out of the refrigerator more than two hours; if food looks or smells bad, throw it out.

Cook meat to the proper internal temperature: T-bone steaks, 63°C (145°F); burgers, 71°C (160°F); hot dogs, 74°C (165°F); chicken breasts, 77°C (170°F).

Limit sugar-free treats

Many "sugar-free" and low-carb chewing gums, hard candies and even pancake syrups are sweetened with sorbitol and mannitol. Your body can't absorb most of the sugars in these sweeteners. But the unabsorbed sugars draw water into your intestines, encourage the growth of bacteria and lead to bloating, gas and severe diarrhea.

Eat "good bacteria"

Antibiotics can trigger diarrhea by also killing the beneficial bacteria in your intestinal tract. Getting more of these good guys by eating yogurt with live, active cultures or taking a probiotic supplement can help. Look for the bacteria strains Lactobacillus casei, L. bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, commonly found in commercial yogurt and probiotic supplements.

Don't touch reptiles

Love turtles, snakes or lizards? If you keep a reptile as a pet or can't resist touching one at a pet store, scrub up afterwards. Reptiles are responsible for six percent of salmonella infections — some so severe that they require hospitalization — and they are sometimes deadly.

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