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January 21, 2018  |  Login
 
Diarrhea
 
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

Acute diarrhea is a classic example of a poisoned, infected, or irritated digestive system. When the body is exposed to a toxic substance, its first priority is to expel that substance, and the digestive system has two basic strategies for performing the task. First, it secretes extra fluid to the intestines; second, it produces an unusual number of very strong intestinal contractions. As a result, loose watery stools of increased volume and frequency help propel the toxins out of your body.

Most often, the toxin that needs to be expelled is a bacteria or a virus, although parasites can definitely be the cause as well. These invaders can enter your body through contaminated food or water or through contact with an infected person. Diarrhea may also be your body's response to certain foods. An inability to digest milk and dairy products, called lactose intolerance, is a frequent cause of diarrhea, but many other foods can cause problems as well. You may also have diarrhea as a result of dietary overindulgence in general, even when the foods eaten do not usually give you trouble. In addition, anxiety and stress often play a role in all kinds of diarrhea.

While diarrhea is a useful and necessary response to poisoning-you certainly wouldn't want the toxins to remain in your body-it is often very uncomfortable and disruptive. However, for most cases of acute diarrhea (unless directed otherwise by your doctor), you should resist the temptation to take over-the-counter antidiarrhea medications, as they will only suppress the poisons and force your body to find some other way to get rid of them.

When it comes to most episodes of acute diarrhea, the best thing to do is allow your body to do its work. While no one enjoys the discomfort and the inconvenience, the symptoms usually run their course in a day or two. The main concern is that your intestines may be passing too much fluid, as well as vital nutrients like sodium and potassium, so you'll want to stay hydrated with plenty of fluids and electrolytes. Natural therapies can make you more comfortable and can reduce the intensity and the length of the illness.

Sometimes diarrhea can be a warning sign of a far more serious illness, such as bacterial enteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, Crohn's disease, celiac disease, hyperthyroidism, parasites, or even cancer. Call a doctor right away if your stools are bloody; if abdominal pain and cramping are not relieved by passing stools; or if the urge is so forceful that you fear incontinence. You should also seek medical help if the episode lasts longer than three days or if it recurs over a period longer than one week. Diarrhea in children under six always requires a doctor's attention.

 
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