With another holiday weekend upon us, how can you be prepared in advance to heal stomach virus problems which may arise?
There can be many causes for holiday and travel gut health compromise and distress, from new unfamiliar foods; food safety issues such as food sitting out in the hot sun; swimming and ingesting unfamiliar waters of a lake, or a highly contagious viral infection.
If you have ever been through a bout of food poisoning or a stomach “bug” and you’ve wondered why it takes awhile before you can eat a normal diet, it’s important to know the facts of what you’ve just been through and how to heal any future bouts. While the worst symptoms, vomiting and/or diarrhea may thankfully be over, your stomach may still feel gurgly and upset.
As you recover from your illness, it is important to consider whether your food poisoning was caused by either a virus, a parasite, or an imbalance of your gut bacteria. One potential culprit could be the notorious Norovirus, which is a highly contagious and easily contracted from an infected person, food, water, or a contaminated surface. This is often the cause of a cruise ship stomach bug epidemic that we hear about from time to time. If you have a sensitive stomach, your condition may lead to a condition known as “Post-Infectious Irritable Bowel Syndrome.”
A viral “food poisoning” most often has a rapid, violent onset, reaching a peak of vomiting and diarrhea and resolves within 24 to 48 hours. Viral food poisoning can leave you feeling nauseous and unable to tolerate your normal diet.
A parasite should be suspected if the food poisoning happened during or after travel, especially to foreign countries. However, you don’t have to go far to acquire a parasite. The most common parasite in the U.S. is giardia and can be contracted by inadvertently ingesting water when swimming in a lake, river or stream, or drinking water from an untreated non-municipal supply, such as a country well.
A bacterial food poisoning may set in within 6 to 12 hours after exposure to contaminated food. If it sets in earlier, such as after eating potato salad or rice that has been sitting warm for several hours, it is more likely an exposure to a bacterial toxin. This type of infection leads to violent vomiting that resolves quickly.
Diarrhea, abdominal pain and also possibly vomiting and nausea usually characterize bacterial food poisonings. Bacterial food poisoning usually lasts 3 to 4 days and may require antibiotics.
If left untreated, bacterial and parasitic infections may persist for weeks. As discussed in my book, Happy Gut, stool studies notoriously miss parasitic infections and may even miss a bacterial infection. If your symptoms persist, you should consult with your doctor for testing and treatment. And, of course, test out my 28-day gut reboot program in Happy Gut.
Regardless of the cause, food poisoning leads to a leaky gut and reduces your ability to digest and absorb nutrients. I recommend taking a supplement that helps heal the intestinal mucosal barrier. A complete list of my recommendations is in the resources section of Happy Gut.
- Saccharomyces boulardii (5 million cfu’s – measurement of viable bacteria) contains friendly yeast that binds toxins and helps line and protect the intestines and restore the normal functioning of the cells, thus reducing diarrhea and improving digestion. It is available OTC as Florastor®. Take 2 to 3 capsules up to three times a day, tapering off as symptoms improve.
Next you need to repopulate your gut with friendly bacteria using Probiotics. These little bacterial helpers are just as necessary for a healthy intestinal tract as your own cells. Choose a high count, lactose-free probiotic with at least 50 billion cfu’s per capsule when recovering from a stomach bug. Take 1 capsule twice a day before meals. Specific brand recommendations are found in Happy Gut.
While recovering, eat a dairy-free, gluten-free diet. As your symptoms improve, you may want to incorporate a small amount of cultured foods. A basic Congee Rice Soup with immune-boosting shiitake, maitake or Reishi mushrooms and anti-inflammatory ingredients like ginger will also help settle your unruly stomach and improve digestion.
Herbal teas that can soothe the stomach and reduce nausea include chamomile, ginger and fennel tea. I also recommend Stomach Ease and Ginger teas by Yogi Tea. Sip the tea plain or add a little honey and a sprig of mint.
We hope these suggestions help you to prepare better for stomach upsets. Here’s to a healthy, happy holiday or vacation!