Gastroenteritis, also known as stomach flu or gastric flu, is a condition in which the stomach and the small intestine become inflamed mainly due to a viral or bacterial infection. At times, parasites and food borne illness (through shell fish grown in contaminated water, improperly cooked or raw shell fish, or poisonous mushrooms) can cause gastroenteritis.
In the US nearly 100 million people are affected by stomach flu, of which around 2% may require hospitalization. Whereas in developing countries, this is one of the leading causes of death due to dehydration.
The primary causes of gastroenteritis are the rotavirus, norovirus, parvo virus, and adenovirus and bacteria known as Escherichia coli ( E. coli) and Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium difficile, etc. There are many other infectious agents that can cause it.
Gastroenteritis can be a highly contagious disease. Symptoms typically appear within 12 to 48 hours after exposure to the infectious agent and last for 2 to 10 days, depending on the type of infection.
Common symptoms of gastroenteritis include upset stomach, nausea, mild to moderate diarrhea, stomach cramps and vomiting. It can also be accompanied by fever, headache, chills, body aches, dry skin, and dry mouth.
Severe gastroenteritis can be accompanied by blood in vomit and stools, persistent vomiting for more than 48 hours, high grade fever for more than 101 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius), swollen abdomen, increasing intensity of abdominal pain, severe dehydration characterized by weakness, faint feeling, reduced output of urine, dry skin, etc. In such cases, kindly consult a doctor on emergency basis.
Anyone can suffer from gastroenteritis, but children are more prone to it due to their weak immune systems. The elderly and children are more prone to the effects of gastroenteritis and require more care.
When suffering from gastroenteritis, it is essential to replenish the body with fluids and electrolytes as the diarrhea and vomiting can create an imbalance of electrolytes (salt and minerals) in the body, which causes dehydration.
Dehydration affects the body’s normal functioning and can even delay the healing process. So, drink plenty of water and clear nutritious fluids like broths, soups, and rice water. Eat easy to digest foods such as toast, bananas, etc. Also, get as much rest as possible.
Along with rehydration and rest, you can try some simple and easy home remedies to help treat the problem and reduce the symptoms. It is usually a self-limiting condition that does not require medication.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for gastroenteritis.
Salt contains sodium, which is an electrolyte that can be added to water to prevent dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea. Plus, salt will help fight infection and maintain the pH level of the digestive tract.
The procedure of giving electrolytes to people with gastroenteritis over the years has drastically reduced the deaths due to dehydration by fifty percent (1).
To get the most benefit from salt for gastroenteritis, use a high quality salt such as Himalayan salt or sea salt. These salts are not processed like the usual white table salt.
Therefore, they still contain various minerals that normally are found in natural salt. It is also essential not to increase the dose of the salt as this can adversely affect your health.
- Add 1 teaspoon of salt to 1 liter or 4 cups of filtered water.
- Add 2 tablespoons of sugar and mix well.
- Drink this solution at short intervals throughout the day.
You can also try commercially available electrolyte preparations to balance out electrolytes and prevent dehydration.
Ginger is another very effective remedy for treating gastroenteritis due to its antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties (2).
It can prevent and treat stomach infection, and also reduce the frequency of symptoms like watery stools, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps. According to Ayurvedic system of medicine, ginger reduces the frequency of diarrhea, pain, and also fever (3).
- Add 1 teaspoon of freshly chopped ginger root to 1½ cup of boiling water. Cover and allow it to steep for 10 minutes. Strain, add honey and sip this tea slowly. You can also add a little lemon juice. Drink this soothing tea 2 or 3 times a day until you feel better.
- You can also make ginger ale with fresh ginger and drink it several times a day. To prepare the drink, boil ¼ cup of chopped ginger in 1 cup of water. Next, boil ¼ cup of sugar in 1 cup of water, then let it simmer for another couple of minutes. Finally, mix together both the prepared solutions and also ¼ cup of club soda and juice from ½ lemon. Drink up to 3 glasses of this homemade ginger ale a day.
- Another option is to chew a small piece of fresh ginger root or take ginger capsules to treat gastroenteritis.
Note: People with high blood pressure should avoid ginger remedies.
Asafetida, also called hing, is a very powerful, pungent smelling brownish dried resin from the Ferula plant that is commonly used as a spice in Indian, South Asian, and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Being rich in antioxidants and having both antibacterial and antiviral properties, asafetida combats viruses and bacteria and thus helps alleviate the symptoms of gastroenteritis quickly and effectively.
The active ingredient of asafetida is ferulic acid. In addition to ferulic acid, it contains vitamins and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, iron, carotene, riboflavin, and niacin.
It is traditionally used as an effective medicine against colic pain and abdominal bloating (4). Asafetida reduces the spasms that are associated with gastroenteritis (5). Plus, this spice can improve digestion and strengthen the digestive tract.
Asafetida prevents the build up of intestinal gases by enhancing the levels of detoxifying enzymes in the body. In a study published in 2009, asafetida was also noted to inhibit E. coli bacterium, which is a causative factor for gastroenteritis (6).
- Add ½ teaspoon of asafetida powder to a glass of warm water and stir it well.
- Drink it twice daily for a few days until your condition improves.
To prevent gastroenteritis and other digestive problems, add a little bit of asafetida to curries and food on a regular basis.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar also helps in relieving many symptoms of gastroenteritis. It promotes the proper pH level of the stomach and removes harmful toxins from the body.
Plus, being high in pectin, it soothes an irritated stomach and reduces stomach ache, nausea, vomiting and gas. It also helps alleviate digestive spasms and enables the proper formation of stools. Thus it can be used as an effective remedy for diarrhea and gastric irritation.
- Add 1 teaspoon of organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to a glass of warm water. Drink it 30 minutes before eating your meals. Do this daily until you feel better.
- Alternatively, you can add 1 teaspoon of organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to a glass of grape juice and drink it twice daily for a few days.
Note: Do not drink concentrated apple cider vinegar as it can cause esophageal injuries. Always use it diluted as instructed above and then rinse your mouth with water to avoid erosion of tooth enamel. It can interact with some medications, so consult your doctor before taking this remedy.
To get rid of the ‘bad bacteria’ in the digestive tract and replace them with ‘good bacteria’ that can improve digestion, start taking probiotics. Probiotics can bring your digestive system back on track very quickly and give you relief from symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
A review on different clinical trial studies conducted to assess the clinical benefits of giving probiotics to children with gastroenteritis revealed that there is considerable benefit in giving probiotics especially Lactobacillus GG to children with gastroenteritis (9).
Probiotic supplements have been helpful to prevent or treat antibiotic-related conditions especially gastrointestinal disorders (10).
- Eat foods such as probiotic yogurt and kefir. However, avoid artificially sweetened yogurt and kefir.
- You can also take probiotic supplements after consulting with your doctor.
6. Baking Soda
Being a natural antacid, baking soda can neutralize the acid in your stomach, which in turn will help reduce sour stomach and heartburn symptoms of gastroenteritis. Baking soda is also known to reduce vomiting and diarrhea.
- Mix ½ teaspoon of baking soda, ½ teaspoon of salt and 4 tablespoons of sugar in 1 quart of water.
- Drink it 2 or 3 times a day.
Note: People who have high blood pressure should avoid taking baking soda, which contains sodium. Also, avoid using it in excess.
Basil, which has antispasmodic properties and prevents gastric spasms, is also a good remedy for gastroenteritis.
Basil essential oil is rich in linalool, chavicol and varying amounts of greaniol, eugenol and methyl-eugenol (11).
It can improve your digestion and prevent many symptoms of gastroenteritis. Several studies suggest that basil essential oil possesses antimicrobial properties even against drug resistant bacterial strains including Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas, and Enterococcus genera (12).
- Mix equal amounts of basil juice and ginger juice and have it 2 or 3 times a day to ease stomach pain.
- You can also boil 10 to 15 basil leaves in a cup of water. Drink it with a pinch of rock salt twice daily for a few days.
- Alternatively, simply drink basil tea with honey a few times a day.
Peppermint has traditionally been very popular for digestive ailments. Peppermint is known for its antimicrobial and antispasmodic properties that help in relieving gas, bloating, upset stomach, nausea, stomach and intestinal cramps.
There is a lot of supporting data that peppermint restores the digestive system in case of Inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) (13).
Peppermint oil is rich in monoterpenes. The chief active ingredient is menthol. This plays a very vital role in normalization of digestion.
According to researchers from Adelaide University, peppermint triggers the anti-pain channel in the intestine, thereby calming the pain in the gastrointestinal tract (14).
- Add 1 teaspoon of fresh or dried peppermint leaves to 1 cup of boiling water.
- Cover and allow it to steep for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Strain and add some honey for taste.
- Drink this herbal tea 3 times daily between meals for a few days.
You can even chew sugar-free peppermint gum to calm the stomach.
Chamomile is an effective remedy for gastroenteritis. This herb is popularly used in folk medicine for skin diseases like eczema, ulcers, wounds and issues like stress and many gastrointestinal disorders like diarrhea and vomiting.
The active components of chamomile are phenols like apigenein, luteolin, terpenoids like chamzulene and tannin, etc. (15).
Chamomile tea has been popular for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antimicrobial and carminative properties—all of these play a key role in smooth functioning of your digestive system. It can relieve symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal cramping, bloating, nausea and gas.
A study published in 2017 demonstrated that chamomile oil exerted a protective effect in animal models of gastroenteritis infected with E. coli (16).
- Add 2 teaspoons of dried or 1 tablespoon of fresh chamomile flowers to a cup of hot water.
- Cover and let it steep for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Strain, then add a little honey for taste.
- Drink this tea a few times a day for 2 to 3 days.
You can even add a few chamomile leaves to ice tea and drink it frequently.
Bananas, both ripe and raw, also help in the treatment of gastroenteritis. The high content of amylase-resistant starch in bananas helps to reduce the symptoms.
Bananas will also replenish potassium and magnesium, two important electrolytes required for smooth functioning of the digestive system. It is also rich in vitamin B6. Plus, banana is a bland food that is easy to digest and helps in the recovery process.
Green bananas have especially been found to be very useful in treating gastroenteritis.
According to a study conducted in Bangladesh in 2009, green bananas were found to improve the recovery of children, who were suffering from bloody dysentery caused by Shigella infection, The study also suggested green bananas as a part of a diet plan to combat gastroenteritis (17). The antidiarrheal effect of green banana is brought about by the improved permeability of the small intestine.
- Add a few slices of banana to a cup of yogurt and eat it 2 or 3 times a day.
- You can also eat a few ripe bananas or try raw banana soup.
Follow these remedies until your digestive system is back on track.
- Rinse all vegetables and fruits thoroughly before eating.
- Avoid raw or uncooked foods.
- Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water every day.
- Avoid milk and milk-based products for a few days.
- Follow the “BRAT” diet for a week, which includes bananas, rice (white), applesauce and toast (dry).
- Rest and sleep as much as possible for a quick recovery.
- Avoid drinks that have a lot of acid like orange juice.
- Also avoid caffeinated and carbonated beverages.
- Eat only home-cooked and light meals for a few weeks after the illness.
- Avoid alcohol and nicotine when on a diet for gastroenteritis.
- Apply a warm compress or hot water bag on the stomach to reduce pain and cramping.
- You can also try acupressure, acupuncture or aromatherapy to treat symptoms of gastroenteritis.
- Drink coconut water to replenish dehydration.
If you do not feel better within a week, consult a doctor.
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