Best treatment for diarrhea isn't what you think
Bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast (BRAT diet) may be the go-to treatment for an upset stomach. But experts say it isn’t the best way to treat diarrhea.
Why BRAT is bad. Doctors once thought high-fiber foods would aggravate GI problems like diarrhea. BRAT contains little fiber, and it’s so bland it’s unlikely to offend an unhappy stomach. Plus, the foods in it act as binding agents, helping to stop diarrhea by causing constipation. And here’s where the problems with BRAT begin.
- Experts point out that if your diarrhea is caused by a viral or bacterial infection, as most cases are, you should let the diarrhea run its course. This is how your body clears out the toxins making you ill.
- BRAT foods don’t provide many nutrients, and you need good nutritional support to recover from any illness causing your diarrhea.
- There’s no scientific evidence that a BRAT diet helps you recover from diarrhea faster. In fact, there’s no evidence backing the diet for any illness.
Gatorade won’t work, either. Sports drinks, apple juice, chicken broth, and colas are other no-no’s. They all draw more water out of your cells and into your bowels, which can worsen your diarrhea and dehydrate you more. And none provides enough nutrients to nourish you through a bout of diarrhea. After all, sports drinks were designed to replace the water and electrolytes you lose from sweating, not the wide range of nutrients you lose during an illness.
The best way to survive a case of diarrhea. Here’s what experts say you should eat and drink instead.
- Sip on a product like Pedialyte, CeraLyte, Enfalyte, or Rehydralyte until you can handle solid food — maximum of 48 hours. These are specially formulated to replace the nutrients your body loses during vomiting and diarrhea.
- If you don’t have one of those products on hand, make your own version. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a quart of water.
- Switch to eating solid food as soon as you’re able to keep it down. Getting back on solid food will shorten the illness, boost your nutrients, and help protect your intestines from long-lasting damage. Start with complex carbohydrates (such as whole-wheat bread), lean meat, yogurt, fruits, and vegetables.
- Consider taking a probiotic supplement if your diarrhea is the result of taking antibiotics or traveling in a developing country. To learn which probiotics can treat diarrhea, read Heal 3 common GI complaints with probiotics in this chapter.
Diarrhea usually goes away on its own in less than a week, but see your doctor if you have a fever, bloody diarrhea, 10 or more loose bowel movements a day, severe dehydration, a weak immune system, or recently spent time in the hospital. These could all signal a more serious illness.
- FC&A Staff Writer