In case of diarrhoea, the stools are not very firm and it is said that more than three motions a day is a symptom of diarrhoa. Likewise, in case of diarrhoea, the amount of stools a day has been set at a minimum of 200 g.
The definition of diarrhoea is "unnormally thin stools appearing more than 3 times a day".
Diarrhoea is not a disease in itself, but it can be a symptom of many different things, such as stress, unfamiliar food, the body being out of timing because of time zone differences plus more serious things like medicine side effects and -poisoning, and bacterial-, parasite-, fungal-, and viral infections which will often cause acute diarrhoea.
Most cases of diarrhoea, e.g. "tourist diarrhoea", are mild and pass off by themselves. Since acute diarrhoea is the body’s reaction to a harmful occurence in the intestine, it is often an advantage to have the intestine emptied as effectively as possible – and it will be in case of diarrhoea. Therefore, you should be careful about stopping the diarrhoea unless it is long-lasting because it can prolong the disease provoking agent’s stay in the intestine and actual prolong its harmful effect (e.g. in the case of toxin excretion).
Probably the most common form results from having eaten food in which the bacteria have had too good growth conditions. The symptoms present themselves within a few hours. Harmful bacteria excrete metabolic waste products called toxins. These are poisons which, contrary to the bacteria, are not destroyed by heating. They irritate the intestinal mucosa, make the bowels move faster, and cause the water content in the stools to rise. Additionally, stomach ache, nausea, and fever might occur.
Acute diarrhoea can also be a result of antibiotic treatment in which the intestine’s beneficial bacteria have been destroyed along with the harmful ones. Then, there will not be enough beneficial intestinal bacteria to hold the harmful ones in check and the production of irritating intestinal fungal toxins will increase.
So-called tourist stomach is caused by the exposure to microorganisms to which the body can get used to but has not yet formed antibodies against. It can also be caused by the foreign food at the particular destination, lots of ice-cold drinks (caused by bacteria in the water made to make icecubes), a "stomach cold", or sunburn. The diarrhoea usually passes off in a few days.
Stress and nervousness can also cause diarrhoea.
Infants often have diarrhoea. This is often caused by the mother having eaten something that – passed on to the baby through the breast milk – provokes his/her immune system.
Diarrhoea that has lasted for at least 14 days is considered to be chronic. It can be caused by a daily consumption of laxatives, or too much coffee or sugar. It can also be a sequela to another disease.
Such a disease could be: Alcoholism, some bacterial infections, cancer, colitis, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, food allergy, intestinal surgery, lactose intolerance, some parasite infections, disease in the thyroid gland, tuberculosis, or vitamin- and mineral imbalances.
A lack of vitamin B3 (nicotinic acid) can cause diarrhoea. Large doses counteract diarrhoea and supplements of vitamin B3 are used against chronic diarrhoea.
Both too small and too large amounts of certain vitamins and minerals can cause diarrhoea. Large amounts of magnesium can result in diarrhoea.
RecommendationsGeneral advice on disease prevention and a healthy lifestyle can be found in the library article "General Advice - for healthy as well as for ill ones" in the VitaHealth section under Focus Articles. You can also test your health by taking our "Health Check".
Even though cases of diarrhoea can be long-lasting, they often pass off in a matter of days. It is important to maintain an intake of liquid – at least 3 litres a day for an adult – and to make sure to get enough salt and sugar which is most easily done by drinking diversified, e.g. juice, soup, boiled water, coconut milk etc.
The more violent the diarrhoea, the more you have to drink. The salt- and liquid balance is endagered as both water and salts are lost through stools and sometimes vomit. Water mixed with salt and sugar is absorbed best since your ability to absorb salt and water is reduced whereas the absorption of sugar from the intestine is not affected. Moreover, it is important to take a rest since movement promotes the intestinal peristaltic movements and thereby the speed of passage in the intestine.
Trying to stop the diarrhoea should always be done carefully because it might prolong the time that the disease provoking agent stays in the intestine and thereby enhance its damaging effect (e.g. toxic agents). After all, in many cases diarrhoea is the body’s reaction to a harmful occurence in the intestinal system. In sustained diarrhoea, however, various constipating remedies can be necessary.
Since garlic can prevent diarrhoea it is a good idea to bring it along on all trips – short as well as long ones, and most practically in the form of capsules. Since Molkosan (concentrated lactofermented cheese whey) normalizes the intestinal flora it is also a good idea to bring along a little bottle of this remedie. Potato flour or kuzo (pulverized willow root) can have an acutely constipating effect.
Herbs containing berberine like Golden seal, Hydrastis canadensis, or Barberry bark or –root are effective in case of bacterial-, parasite-, and fungal infections, and they also effectively treat diarrhoea in diseases such as traveller’s diarrhoea, dysentery, giardiasis, paratyphoid fever, and cholera.
Several herbs and foods can have a constipating effect. Fruits are good because they contain potassium and pectin. Potassium is one of the salts that – together with sodium – is lost via the stools. Pectin binds toxins and makes the stools more hard. Dried bilberry and bilberry leaves are very effective against diarrhoea.
Carob powder is an effevtive remedie against diarrhoea and it has no side effects. It is also well-suited for children. In a time of need, a lukewarm coke that has fizzed off can be of benefit. The special drinks that athletes use are also good.
Avoid alcohol, coffee, and cold drinks, but make sure to drink plenty of clean water. If you want, you can add a little salt to it. Tea and boiled water is ok.
Avoid fatty food. Grated apples, carrots, toast, and oat meal is good. For preventing diarrhoea, garlic can be helpful. In relation to the diarrhoea that can follow from antibiotic treatment it is a good idea to take a daily supplement of lactic acid bacteria. They should be taken with the antibiotics and for a while after the treatment has stopped. The dosage should be quite high.
The liquid intake of small children can be checked by measuring the amount of urine. Infant diarrhoea in bottle-fed babies can be caused by a magnesium deficiency. Add ¼ tsp. of magnesium powder a day to the milk. Children who suffer from diarrhoea while being on a transitional diet often benefit from carrot juice. Larger children and adults should not drink whole milk in case of diarrhoea since the ability to digest the milk sugar is lost.
Zinc supplements have been able to reduce the length and severity of both acute and chronic diarrhoea in infants in third-world countries. The mechanism by which this occurs is unknown.
A daily supplement of vitamin B3 (niacin) can be tried out. Make sure to find the cause. It can be necessary to consult specialists.
- Agrimony has a constrictive effect. Drink 3 cups of tea a day.
- Alpine Lady's Mantle.
- Bilberry leaves, Vaccinium myrtillus, has a constipating effect. To be taken for no longer than 3 weeks at a time.
- Bistort root, Polygonium bistorta, has a strongly constrictive effect. Drink 3 cups a day for no more than 3 days.
- Buckwheat tea protects the intestinal mucosa.
- Carob powder. Dosage for children: 1.5 g. a day per kg. of body weight.
- Catechu, Acaia catechu, has a strongly constrictive effect. Drink 3 cups of tea a day for a maximum of 3 days.
- Coffee, Coffea arabica (ripe, roasted, pulverized beans), only in acute cases.
- Fleawort seeds, Psyllium, absorb the liquid in the intestine and make the stools more firm.
- Garlic counteracts harmful intestinal bacteria.
- Icelandic moss, Cetraria islandica, is a mild vermifuge and has a bitter effect on the intestinal canal.
- Oak has a constrictive effect.
- Sage has a constrictive effect.
- Schisandra chinensis counteracts diarrhoea and has a protects the liver.
- Tormentil, Potentilla tormentilla, has a constipating effect.
- Active carbon neutralizes gastric acid and absorbs toxins from bacteria.
- Apple (finely grated) is also beneficial.
- Coca cola.
- Cornflour roused in a glass of water has a constipating effect
- Kuzo (arrowhead) roused in a glass of water has a constipating effect.
- Lactic acid bacteria participates in re-establishing a normal intestinal flora.
- Molkosan normalizes the intestinal flora.
- Non-sweetened blueberry or blueberry juice also has a strongly constipating effect.
- Oat meal (1 tbsp.) to be chewed several times a day.
- Pectin binds fluid and toxins in the intestine.
- White clay (whithout sand) neutralizes acid and has a constipating effect.
WarningsAcute diarrhoea can result in liquid deficiency with reduced conciousness making it impossible to make the person drink. It is important to call a doctor. Small children are particularly sensitive towards liquid deficiency. Diarrhoea with blood or inflammation or diarrhoea interchanging with constipation can also require medical attention. Chronic diarrhoea should be attended to by a doctor before starting self-treatment. Coffee, Coffea arabica, should generally not be taken by people with a tendency to diarrhoea.
RemarksTraveller’s diarrhoea are mostly caused by Coli bacteria, cryptosporidia, Norwalk-, or Rotavira.
Fresh bilberry has a mildly laxative effect because of the fruit sugar content.
Also see "Bacterial infections in general", "Parasite infection", "Tiredness", "Tropical diseases", and "Viral infection".