Diarrhea is one of the most common intestinal conditions and one that causes the most discomfort and inconvenience to those who suffer it. Eating bad or contaminated food that is out of its cold chain is the most common cause of acute diarrhea. However, diarrheal episodes can also be a symptom of a base disease, such as celiac disease.
The three primary components to treating simple diarrhea are diet, hydration, and dietary products. What should your diet be like? Is fasting beneficial? What are the best supplements for diarrhea? We have answered all of these questions – and many more – in our new guide.
- 1 Weekly newsletter with the best personal finance tips
- 2 Key Facts
- 3 Our Selection: The Best Supplements to Combat Diarrhea
- 4 Everything You Should Know About Diarrhea & How to Deal With It
- 4.1 What is diarrhea exactly?
- 4.2 What types of diarrhea are there?
- 4.3 What are the leading causes of diarrhea?
- 4.4 What is traveler's diarrhea?
- 4.5 What is functional diarrhea?
- 4.6 What are the best dietary supplements for diarrhea?
- 4.7 What are the best dietary tips to fight diarrhea?
- 4.8 What are the best foods against diarrhea?
- 4.9 Is fasting a good strategy to treat diarrhea?
- 5 Buyer's Guide
- 6 Summary
- By definition, diarrhea is the passage of stools of decreased consistency (liquid or semi-liquid), generally accompanied by an increase in the frequency of bowel movements (at least three times a day). It can be acute or chronic, with many potential causes.
- When you have diarrhea, y adjust your diet and increase your fluid intake to replace losses. Some dietary supplements can help you complement the treatment of certain types of diarrhea or help prevent dehydration.
- There are various vital factors that you should evaluate before purchasing supplements to combat diarrhea. These include the strain and amount of CFUs in the probiotics or the type of prebiotics in the product. You may also want to check the quality certifications or the presence of allergens.
Our Selection: The Best Supplements to Combat Diarrhea
Probiotics, prebiotics, and oral rehydration salts are the most widely used products to treat this condition. However, they are not always necessary in all cases and should never substitute a proper diet. In the following section, we have selected the best supplements to help you deal with diarrhea:
Everything You Should Know About Diarrhea & How to Deal With It
The way you treat diarrhea will depend mainly on its cause. However, a healthy diet and hydration are indispensable to handle this condition properly. Supplements, such as probiotics or oral rehydration salts, can also help you deal with diarrhea, as we will discuss in the section below.
What is diarrhea exactly?
What types of diarrhea are there?
- Acute: lasting between two days to two weeks.
- Persistent: lasting between two to four weeks.
- Chronic: lasting over four weeks.
What are the leading causes of diarrhea?
Causes of acute diarrhea
- Infectious agents: viruses (rotavirus, adenovirus, calicivirus), bacteria (Salmonella, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium difficile, Shigella), parasites (Entamoeba histolytica, Cryptosporidium)
- Medication: antibiotics, NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), chemotherapy drugs
- Fecal bolus
- Food allergies
Causes of chronic diarrhea
- Carbohydrate or fat malabsorption syndromes
- Inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease)
- Laxative abuse
- Irritable bowel syndrome (irritable colon)
- Colon cancer
- Celiac disease
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis)
- Invasive bacterial and parasitic infections
What is traveler's diarrhea?
In developing countries, the contamination of water and food with harmful pathogens is relatively common. Travelers from developed countries are most affected by traveler's diarrhea. Fortunately, this disease tends to resolve favorably in around a week in healthy and immunocompetent people (4).
What is functional diarrhea?
To be diagnosed, the symptoms must be present for at least two months, although there may be a brief interruption in diarrhea. Bowel movements generally do not occur during sleep. Treatment for functional diarrhea is based on diet, which should be poor in simple sugars. Cold liquids should also be avoided as they stimulate defecation (6).
What are the best dietary supplements for diarrhea?
- Probiotics: These beneficial bacteria and yeasts for the gut restore the balance of its microbiota (good and harmful microorganisms that inhabit it). You can ingest them in the form of capsules and chewable tablets. Probiotics are recommended in cases of diarrhea caused by rotavirus, antibiotics, and irritable colon, as well as traveler's diarrhea (8, 9).
- Prebiotics: Generally of the carbohydrate family, these indigestible compounds serve as substrate or food for beneficial bacteria in the colon. The most commonly used prebiotics are inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which are available as powders or capsules (10).
- Synbiotics: These products are blends of probiotics and prebiotics – Lactobacillus plantarum 299 and oat fiber, for instance. The effects of both components are enhanced (10).
- Oral rehydration salts: Marketed in powder form, they must be dissolved in water before consumption. They provide electrolytes that are lost in fecal material during diarrhea, promote hydration, and contain a small amount of simple sugars (glucose or dextrose). The electrolytes are sodium, chlorine, and potassium (9).
What are the best dietary tips to fight diarrhea?
- Increase your liquid intake by drinking little by little to avoid discomfort or stimulating bowel movement. You can drink water, light tea infusion, and homemade vegetable and fruit broths.
- Reduce your consumption of gas-producing foods: legumes, fish, cruciferous vegetables (kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower), melon, grapes, nuts.
- Avoid fruits and vegetables during the first 24-48 hours. Afterward, you should only consume those with soluble fiber (skinless apple, banana, carrot, pumpkin, beet, skinless apricot), preferably cooked, grated, or mashed.
- You can drink milk if you are not lactose intolerant. Otherwise, avoid milk or opt for lactose-free versions. Yogurts, kefir, and fermented milks are very helpful because they contain probiotics. Fresh cheese and lean ricotta are also allowed.
- Consume rolled pasta (noodles or spaghetti), husked rice, baked dried white bread, and low-fat biscuits.
- Favor white meat over red meat. Boiling, steaming, grilling, and baking are the most recommended cooking methods.
- Include gelatins, little matured cheeses, and tea. These products are astringent and help to reduce stools.
- Avoid cold liquids because they have a laxative effect.
- Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly.
- Exclude sweets, spices, whole grains, fried foods, cold cuts, and sausages.
What are the best foods against diarrhea?
|Food group||Selected foods|
|Dairy products|| Milk: preferably skimmed. In some cases, you may have to opt for lactose-free milk.
Yogurt: skimmed. Its probiotics are very beneficial.
Cheeses: low maturation to prevent irritation such as ricotta or mozzarella, as well as skimmed cheeses for spreading.
|Meats||preferably poultry (chicken, turkey), cooked, shredded, or in small pieces. The breast is particularly lean. You can introduce fish and red meat later.|
|Eggs||Well-cooked and preferably bound with milk or some starch.|
|Fruits|| Strained fruit broths.
Skinless apple, banana, pear, peach, and apricot. Your body will tolerate them better if they are grated, crushed, or mashed.
|Vegetables|| Strained vegetable broths, with a little salt.
Carrot, pumpkin, green zucchini pulp, beetroot. Start by eating them cooked and mashed.
|Tuber||Potatoes, peeled and mashed.|
|Cereals||rice, noodles, spaghetti, baked white bread, corn starch, wheat starch, low-fat crackers.|
|Fats||Sunflower or olive oil, used raw and not for cooking.|
|Sugars||small amounts of sugar, jams, and jellies are allowed.|
|Condiments||Aromatic condiments are allowed – bay leaf, oregano, saffron. You can also use lemon juice, salt, and apple vinegar.|
|Legumes||They are not recommended because of their high fiber content. In fact, even legume flours may bloat the intestine.|
Is fasting a good strategy to treat diarrhea?
As we mentioned earlier, various key factors should be taken into account if you want to make the most of the dietary supplements you purchase. In the following section, we will give you some tips to identify the different products that can best help you combat diarrhea:
Strain & CFUs in Probiotics
Probiotics are useful to restore the balance between good and harmful microorganisms that make up your intestinal microbiota. However, a probiotic supplement must provide between 100 and 1 billion CFUs (Colony-Forming Units) to be effective (8, 10).
As for the strain, the choice of probiotics will ultimately depend on the cause of the diarrhea that needs to be treated or prevented (13, 14):
- Rotavirus diarrhea: Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus reuteri, Lactobacillus rhamnosus.
- Traveler's diarrhea: Bifidobacterium lactis, Saccharomyces boulardii, Bifidobacterium bifidum, lactobacillus acidophilus.
- Irritable bowel syndrome: Bifidobacterium longum, Bifidobacterium breve, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus casei Shirota.
- Post-radiotherapy abdominal diarrhea: Lactobacillus GG, lactobacillus casei, and Lactobacillus acidophilus.
- Diarrhea caused by antibiotics: Lactobacillus acidophilus.
The beneficial bacteria can ferment these indigestible compounds in the colon. Since they serve as a substrate for them, they stimulate the growth of these microorganisms. While inulin and fructooligosaccharides are the most commonly used prebiotics in supplements, there are other varieties available (9, 10):
- Galactooligosaccharides (GOS)
- Resistant starch
Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS)
Oral rehydration salts (ORS) are an affordable and effective alternative to prevent dehydration caused by diarrhea. However, an adult who has acute diarrhea and tolerates liquids (water, broth, tea) won't need to use ORS. Children and older adults will most benefit from these products (9).
Make sure you compare the formulation of the ORS you want to purchase with the standard composition recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Note that the nutritional information in commercial salts is generally given per serving and not per liter. The WHO recommends (9):
- Glucose: 13 to 20 grams per liter;
- Sodium: 2 grams (or 2,000 milligrams) per liter;
- Potassium: 0.78 gram (or 780 milligrams) per liter;
- Chlorine: 2.8 grams (or 2,800 milligrams) per liter.
Presence of Allergens
Oat fiber is a widely used probiotic. Unfortunately, this cereal is often processed in facilities where wheat is also handled; this is why it can be contaminated with gluten. People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance should look for the seal that guarantees that the product is suitable for consumption.
People with lactose intolerance, cow's milk protein allergy, or any other food hypersensitivity, should also read the list of ingredients to rule out the presence of any harmful allergen. In addition, the diet recommended for specific types of chronic diarrheas may exclude gluten or lactose for a limited period.
Diarrhea is a disease that can be caused by various drugs, microorganisms, or psychological stress, but can also be a symptom of an underlying pathology such as chronic pancreatitis or celiac disease. Acute diarrhea lasts a maximum of 14 days, and its treatment is based on proper diet and hydration.
In some cases, dietary supplements can help treat or prevent diarrhea. This is particularly true when the condition is caused by rotavirus and antibiotics, or if it is the infamous traveler's diarrhea. Highly recommended for children and older adults, oral rehydration salts are associated with a lower incidence of hospitalizations and lower mortality.
Did you find our guide helpful and informative? Feel free to leave us a comment in the section below, and don't forget to share this article on your social media!
(Featured Image Source: Miranova: 132139654/ 123rf.com)
Sagaró E. Diarrea persistente [Internet]. 2007.
Acuña R. Diarrea aguda [Internet]. Revista Médica Clínica Las Condes.2015.
Pineda L, Otero W, Arbeláez V. Diarrea crónica. Diagnóstico y evaluación clínica [Internet]. 2004.
Pineda L, Otero W, Arbeláez V. Diarrea crónica. Diagnóstico y evaluación clínica [Internet]. 2004.
Asenjo Mota A, Lledó Navarro J, López Serrano P, Barrena Puertas R. Síndrome diarreico en el adulto. Tratamiento de la diarrea [Internet]. 2008.
Fragoso Arbelo T. Diarrea funcional como causa de diarrea crónica [Internet]. 2010.
Fernández Bañares F. ¿Existe la diarrea funcional? ¿Qué pruebas hay que realizar para llegar a otros diagnósticos? [Internet]. 2009.
Guandalini S. Probiotics for Prevention and Treatment of Diarrhea [Internet]. 2011.
Baldomero López V, Llames L. Diarrea aguda y crónica. Estreñimiento. Síndrome de intestino irritable. Enfermedad diverticular. En: Rodota E, Castro M. Nutrición clínica y Dietoterapia. Editorial Panamericana. 2012.
Olveira G, González Molero I. An update on probiotics, prebiotics and symbiotics in clinical nutrition [Internet]. 2016.
Longo E, Navarro E. La técnica dietoterápica en las enfermedades intestinales. En: Técnica dietoterápica. Editorial El Ateneo. 2004.
Schiller L. Nutrition management of chronic diarrhea and malabsorption [Internet]. 2006.
Aguilera Carrera J. Probióticos [Internet]. 2011.
Sanz Y, Collado M, Dalmau J. Probióticos: criterios de Probióticos: criterios de calidad y orientaciones calidad y orientaciones para el consumo [Internet]. 2003.