What is diarrhea?
Diarrhea is defined as passing loose or watery stools three or more times a day. It is a common problem and it happens to most people a few times each year, including children and adults. Diarrhea may be present alone or be associated with other symptoms. They might experience symptoms such as abdominal pain or cramps, bloating and nausea. Other side effects are fever and effect of the urgency to have a bowel movement. In most cases, diarrhea does not usually cause much concern as it will usually be resolved after a day or two. However, diarrhea that lasts for a few days or even a week or so usually indicates that there is another problem, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), persistent infection diarrhea or even inflammatory bowel disease.
There are three types of diarrhea:
- acute watery diarrhea, usually lasts for several hours or days
- acute bloody diarrhea , also called dysentery
- persistent diarrhea , lasts for 14 days or longer
Causes of diarrhea
Diarrhea can happen for a wide variety of reasons. The most common causes of diarrhea include:
- Viruses. Rotavirus is a common cause of acute childhood diarrhea
- Bacteria and parasites. Accidental consumption of contaminated food or water with E. coli will cause diarrhea
- Travelers’ diarrhea. Travelling to places with poor hygienic condition will increase your risk of developing traveler’s diarrhea
- Medication. Some medication, such as antibiotics that disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the gut will lead to diarrhea
- Lactose intolerance. People who have difficulty digesting lactose have diarrhea after eating dairy products
- Other problems with the gut. Disease such as irritable bowel syndrome may cause Inflammation of the gut lining and cause diarrhea
Treatment of diarrhea
Although most cases of diarrhea will recover on its own, dehydration is the most severe threat pose by diarrhea. Dehydration can be life-threatening if untreated, and it is particularly dangerous in babies, children, older adults and those with weakened immune system. Replacing the fluids and salts lost after diarrhea episodes is important to prevent dehydration. People experiencing diarrhea will also lost their appetite for a short period of time, therefore it is important to replenish with nutrient rich food as well.
One particular interest is the effect of probiotics in the management of diarrhea. Many people start to consume probiotics whenever they had an episode of diarrhea. Some even incorporate probiotic supplements or probiotic foods such as yogurt in their everyday diet.
What exactly is probiotics and what is the role of probiotics in the management of diarrhea?
People often think that bacteria as harmful germs. On the contrary, many are actually helpful. Probiotics are live beneficial bacteria that naturally live in our body. They are important and have many health benefits when consumed. Probiotics may contain a variety of microorganisms, and the most common ones are bacteria that belong to groups called Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Diarrhea can throw the microorganisms in your gut off balance. Probiotics have shown that it can play a role in preventing and treating diarrhea. Different probiotic strains have different health effect. Generally, they help to maintain a healthy community of microorganism in our body, reestablish the gastrointestinal beneficial micro flora and play a role in our immune system. Because probiotics already exists in our body, probiotic food and supplements are generally considered safe.
Diarrhea in children
Children with diarrhea are at risk of dehydration, especially in young children or in those with weakened immune system. Several studies show how probiotics can help with diarrhea in children. These studies mainly focus on the use of probiotics in children to improve the treatment of diarrhea, mainly to shorten the duration or preventing its complication.
There are many probiotic strains used in those studies, Lactobacillus rhamnosus gg and Lactobacillus acidophilus to name a few. Randomized controlled trials have shown that using probiotics in the treatment of acute watery diarrhea primary caused by rotavirus help to shorten the duration of diarrhea and reduce the volume of watery stool output, in other words it made the diarrhea go away faster. These finding also suggest that probiotics may reduce the risk of spreading rotavirus infection, which is a common cause of acute childhood diarrhea. Another study also portray that the duration of childhood diarrhea was shorter in those given probiotics as compared to those given only oral rehydration salts.
Antibiotic associated diarrhea
During an infection, bad bacteria enter our body and increase in number. While antibiotics are commonly used to treat these infections, diarrhea is a common side effect from the use of antibiotics. It happens when antibiotics disturb the natural balance of bacteria in your gut, killing off the good and the bad bacteria. Antibiotic associated diarrhea usually begins after a week of antibiotic treatment.
Probiotics help to normalize a disrupted gut microorganism and restore the balance in our gut and are able to exert protective effect on preventing antibiotic associated diarrhea, as well as helping with the cramping and gas.
Traveler’s diarrhea is the most predictable travel-related illness, depending on the destination and season of travel. It happens when you visit a place where the climate or sanitary practices are different from yours at home. Traveling also exposes us to many types of microorganisms that are not typically introduced to our digestive system, which can also cause diarrhea. All these will knock our gastrointestinal microorganisms out of balance.
By using probiotics, studies showed that they are safe and effective for the prevention of traveler’s diarrhea, as estimated more than 80% of cases were prevented by probiotics. Furthermore, taking probiotics during travel also significantly reduce the risk of developing traveler’s diarrhea.
How to reduce the risk of diarrhea
The most important way to avoid diarrhea is to avoid coming into contact with infectious agents that can cause it. This means that good hand washing and hygiene are very important. We should also take a few precaution measures such as:
- Drink only bottled water, especially during travel
- Avoid eating food from unhygienic street vendors
- Ensure all food that you eat are fully cooked and piping hot
- Eat only fruits that can be peeled and vegetables that are fully cooked
- Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat or seafood, especially if you have a sensitive stomach
- Always wash your hands with soap and clean water
Probiotics are generally safe and offers an alternative in the prevention and treatment of different types of diarrhea. Ensure that you always keep your gut healthy.
- Lynne V. McFarland (2007). Meta-analysis of probiotics for the prevention of traveler's diarrhea. , 5(2), 97–105. doi:10.1016/j.tmaid.2005.10.003
- Guandalini, Stefano (2008). Probiotics for Children With Diarrhea. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 42(Supplement 2), S53–S57. doi:10.1097/mcg.0b013e3181674087