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There are a few reasons why someone can get diarrhea, and none of them are pleasant. And for young children and infants especially, diarrhea can be dangerous. Here’s what causes it and some home remedies to effectively treat diarrhoea.
What is Diarrhea?
It’s healthy to have a bowel movement or two every day, but we don’t want to run to the toilet constantly. diarrhoea happens when there are loose, watery stools. This can last for a few hours to a few days. According to Health and Human Services, chronic diarrhea is when there are loose stools at least three times a day and for at least four weeks.
While constipation is the inability to go number 2, diarrhea is the exact opposite.
Symptoms of Diarrhea
These symptoms often accompany diarrhea:
- Abdominal pain
- Upset stomach
- Loose, watery stools
- Frequent trips to the bathroom
Why Do I Have Diarrhea?
As crazy as it may sound, acute diarrhea can actually be helpful sometimes. It’s a symptom of a larger problem. When we’re fighting off a virus or bacteria from illness or food poisoning, diarrhea is how the body gets rid of the toxins. So it can be helpful to let it run its course for a short time and purge the offending microbes.
It’s important we support the digestive system during the process and stay hydrated. If diarrhea lasts for days, becomes chronic, or is a symptom of chronic illness, then there’s more we need to do.
What Causes Diarrhea?
Usually, your body is trying to get rid of something, like an offending microbe. But there are several different reasons why someone can get diarrhea. It helps to know what’s causing the problem so someone can choose the right course of action for their situation.
This is the most common illness for travelers. John’s Hopkins defines it as diarrhoea that happens within 10 days of visiting a place with poor public hygiene. Developing countries, like Africa and parts of Asia, are more likely to carry a risk.
Raw and undercooked foods, especially animal foods, can have microorganisms that cause digestive problems. Any food that’s handled improperly can be contaminated though. This is why I’m very careful to choose healthy, grass-fed and pasture-raised animal products.
Also known as viral gastroenteritis, most of us have had the unpleasant experience of a stomach bug. Common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, aches, and fever.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
This set of symptoms occurs when the gut lining is chronically inflamed. It includes Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis. Both of these can cause diarrhea.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
About 10-20% of Americans have IBS. Sometimes it causes constipation, but it can also cause diarrhea. This is a more common cause of chronic diarrhea and damage to the GI tract.
Sometimes they’re necessary, but antibiotics can cause unwanted side effects. Long term or frequent antibiotic use can cause diarrhoea and other digestive health issues. They can also lead to highly contagious and dangerous C. diff infections. C. diff bacteria can also cause diarrhea.
Children under the age of 5 can get rotavirus, which causes diarrhea. Thankfully, over the past several decades’ severe cases of diarrhea from all causes in children have gone way down. This is likely due to advances in anti-diarrheal medications for little ones.
A sensitivity to dairy products or other food intolerances can cause diarrhea. Sometimes healing the gut lining can remedy the symptoms.
This group of sugars, called FODMAPS for short isn’t digested well by some people. They include fructose, lactose (from dairy), and artificial sweeteners. These can all cause digestive tract issues. I don’t recommend artificial sweeteners anyway.
Issues like Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Kawasaki disease all include diarrhea among their symptoms list. The NIH estimates over 23 million Americans have an autoimmune disease, and 80% of those are women.
Diarrhea in Infants and Children
Young children can get diarrhea for many of the same reasons that adults do. A 6-month-old isn’t as likely to have Crohn’s or other autoimmune diseases. But their digestive systems are still immature. Diarrhea in babies will often resolve on its own, but sometimes it can lead to more serious issues.
Here are some reasons why your little one may have diarrhea:
- Changes in formula or feeding frequency
- In nursing babies, if mom has diet changes
- Viral or bacterial infection
- Antibiotic use or mom had antibiotics and is breastfeeding
- Rotavirus or rotavirus vaccination (given starting at 2 months). According to the CDC, both of these can cause diarrhea.
What to Watch for
Look out for signs of dehydration or worsening infection. Children under age 3 can quickly become dehydrated. Here are some symptoms to watch out for:
- Eyes are dry and there are little or no tears
- Less wet diapers
- Dry mouth
- Fussy or lethargic
- Sunken looking eyes
Home Remedies for Diarrhea in Babies and Kids
I’ve already overviewed why young children and babies can get diarrhea. But let’s talk about what to do about it. Often it will resolve on its own within a day or so. The best course of action is to give them plenty of fluids.
Hydration and Electrolytes
Some healthcare providers recommend Pedialyte. They do have a dye-free version, but it’s still full of stuff I’d rather not give my kids. Here’s how to make your own oral rehydration solution for kids. Prevention is the best option so it’s important to give them electrolytes before they get dehydrated.
Breastfeeding mamas, keep on nursing. Breastmilk has important antibodies that can help with diarrhea and infections. You can also add an electrolyte drink in between nursing sessions.
Here are other ways to help your little one through diarrhea:
- Medications – Do NOT give anti-diarrheal medications meant for adults. These aren’t meant for babies and can have unwanted side effects. Talk to your child’s healthcare provider if you feel like they need something else.
- Frequent Changes – Change their diaper often to avoid getting a rash from the runny stool.
- Gentle Foods – If your baby already started solids, easy foods to digest include bananas, applesauce, and crackers. Avoid fruit juices, cow milk, and fried foods. A little broth is nourishing and helps soothe the digestive lining.
Conventional Diarrhea Remedies
There’s no shortage of over-the-counter digestive aids out there. Over-the-counter medications like Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) and Imodium (loperamide) are used to stop diarrhea. They can also cause a dark tongue, ringing in the ears, and fatal heart problems.
Some opt for painkillers to dull the cramping that comes with diarrhea. Certain ones, like Ibuprofen, cause stomach damage and can worsen the issue long-term. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to tackle diarrhea naturally.
Foods to Avoid or Eat With Diarrhea
Foods for diarrhea are similar in adults. Avoid spicy foods, caffeinated beverages, high-fiber foods, and other foods that are harder to digest. Bland foods are best.
The BRAT diet is often recommended. This includes Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast. I’m not a fan of toast, but I would add some nourishing broth to that list.
Home Remedies For Diarrhea in Adults
It depends on what’s causing diarrhea, but there are plenty of home remedies for diarrhea. If someone has chronic diarrhea from IBS or Crohn’s disease, then the approach is a little different.
It’s important to keep hydrated and replenish electrolytes during fluid loss. Sports drinks are a popular option, but it’s easy to make your own, healthier version. Here’s my homemade electrolyte drink recipe (no dyes necessary!)
These packets from LMNT replace sodium, potassium, and magnesium. They’re great for traveling with or when you don’t feel up to making a homemade drink.
2. Probiotics for Gut Health
After a round of antibiotics (and during), it’s important to focus on probiotics. This can help stop diarrhea and other side effects before they start. They’re also helpful during and after illness to restore good bacteria.
Our family focuses on fermented foods for gut health. I’ll also use probiotic supplements as needed. Sometimes dairy products can aggravate autoimmune issues. There are plenty of non-dairy options too. S. Boulardii probiotic strains can help with chronic GI issues.
Here’s what I use and recommend:
3. Charcoal and ACV for Food Poisoning
Charcoal is commonly used in hospitals to absorb ingested toxins. It can also help with food poisoning if taken early on. I’ll open a capsule and drink some in a little water if I have food poisoning symptoms.
Drinking some diluted ACV can also help kill the pathogens that cause vomiting and diarrhea. You can read more about my (unfortunate) experience with food poisoning and what I did about it here.
Chamomile herbal tea or essential oil helps to calm the digestive tract. It’s long been used in traditional medicine and is a safe option for even young children.
In one double-blind study, researchers looked at children 6 months to 6 years with diarrhea. They found that a chamomile and apple pectin drink significantly lessened diarrhea. It worked better than the electrolyte sugar drink, with little to no side effects.
A 2014 animal study also explored chamomile’s effect on diarrhea. Researchers concluded chamomile extract was a potent antidiarrheal and antioxidant.
How To Use Chamomile for Diarrhea
- Sip on chamomile tea and/or rub diluted chamomile essential oil onto the lower intestines.
- For nursing babies, breastfeeding moms can take chamomile. If the child is old enough, they can have a bit of strongly brewed chamomile tea.
- Babies 3 months and up can have an abdominal massage with diluted chamomile essential oil. To dilute, use about 1 drop of essential oil per 1 Tablespoon of carrier oil.
5. Ginger Home Remedies for Diarrhea
I always keep some ginger in the house. This popular herb has long been used for digestive complaints. A 2020 animal study found it can also help with diarrhea caused by antibiotics. The researchers found ginger restored gut microbe diversity. It helped with diarrhea and helped heal leaky gut.
Another 2020 animal study looked at ginger for IBS with diarrhea. The rats who had ginger had less diarrhea and intestinal inflammation. It worked as well as Rifaximin, which is used to treat traveler’s diarrhoea.
6. Moxibustion and Acupressure
According to the Cleveland Clinic, moxibustion is the ancient practice of burning herbs over acupuncture points. As crazy as this may sound, there’s evidence to back it up! In 2021 researchers tried ginger moxibustion for rats.
Both the regular moxibustion and the ginger version improved their diarrhoea symptoms. This option isn’t really a home remedy, but it goes to show how ginger can help.
You can also press on certain acupressure points to relieve digestive symptoms. Here’s how:
- Place your flat hand directly below your belly button. The area under your ring finger is an acupressure point for diarrhea and gas. Gently massage the area for soothing relief.
- You can also massage the pressure point on the connective skin between the big and second toe.
7. Sumac Tea
Sumac is an astringent herb so it can help tone and tighten loose tissues. That’s exactly what we have when there’s diarrhea. It’s high in vitamin C, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial. It can also help fight pathogens that cause food poisoning.
You can drink some fresh sumac tea or take it as a tincture. It’s commonly used as a spice in certain countries. Here’s more about sumac and how to use it.
8. Herbal Digestion Tincture
I like keeping this blend of herbs on hand for when nausea and digestive issues hit. This is great for early pregnancy nausea, bloating, gas, and diarrhea. It has a blend of peppermint, ginger, and fennel to soothe digestive upsets. We use this one a lot in our family! Here’s how to make my herbal digestion tincture.
The Bottom Line on Home Remedies For Diarrhea
Diarrhea can be an unfortunate part of life, but there are plenty of home remedies for it. If you have worsening symptoms or that doesn’t stop after a few days, then reach out to your doctor. This is especially important for young children and babies.
What’s been your experience with addressing diarrhea? Any remedies you’d add to the list? Let me know below!