7 Home Remedies for Diarrhea
How to stop diarrhea
Americans have a bout of acute diarrhea–three or more loose, watery bowel movements a day–about once a year, usually related to food poisoning or another passing infection. Others have chronic diarrhea, often related to a long-standing health condition like Crohn’s disease. If you have diarrhea that lasts for a long time or is accompanied by a fever, severe pain, or bleeding, you should seek medical care. But for less severe, passing diarrhea, there are plenty of things you can do at home that will see you through the unpleasant episode.
RELATED: 10 Things That Can Cause Diarrhea
Drink plenty of fluids
Having diarrhea can quickly dehydrate you, so taking in extra fluids may be the single most important thing you can do. And luckily, it’s pretty simple.
“For average diarrhea, plain water is OK,” says Lawrence Schiller, MD, past president of the American College of Gastroenterology.
If the diarrhea is severe, however, you may need to replenish not just water but salt, too, with oral rehydration solutions like Rehydralyte and Ceralyte (or Pedialyte or Infalyte for children).
“They’re not the same as sports drinks like Gatorade, which are made to replace loss of salt from sweat,” says Dr. Schiller.
Sports drinks–or even crackers and soup–may be enough if your diarrhea is mild.
Always be aware of the signs of dehydration, which, in adults, can include feeling very thirsty, not urinating often, dark-colored urine, dizziness, fatigue, and confusion. Infants and small children may cry without tears or have a dry mouth, sunken eyes or cheeks, and no wet diapers for three hours.
Eat a BRAT diet
Eating some food–and digesting its nutrients–can help you absorb water better and help you stay hydrated, says Sean Drake, MD, a general internist at Henry Ford Health System in Sterling Heights, Michigan. The problem is that many cases of diarrhea are accompanied by nausea and vomiting, which can make eating the last thing you want to do.
Many people find the so-called BRAT diet–bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast–doable at times like this. Bananas are loaded with potassium, which diarrhea can deplete. None of these foods sits for long in the stomach, either. In general, it’s a good idea to avoid most dairy products, as it can be hard to absorb lactose when you’re dealing with diarrhea. The one exception is yogurt, which may actually help because it contains live “good” bacteria.
Stay away from greasy, fatty, and spicy foods, as well as alcohol. Try eating several smaller meals a day instead of three big ones until you feel better, since this will be easier on your digestive system.
Your workouts, especially strenuous ones, could dehydrate you even more.
“This is not the time to start training for a marathon,” says Dr. Drake. “Your body needs some rest. You can do daily activities, but don’t expend a lot of extra calories.”
And–let’s face it–you may not want to be too far from a bathroom.
There is such a thing as “runner’s diarrhea,” diarrhea that happens during or after a run, but this usually only happens to people running long distances. No one is sure what causes runner’s diarrhea exactly, though it may have to do with blood being diverted from the intestines or even with internal organs being shaken up by the pounding of your legs. It’s a good idea to avoid high-fiber, gas-producing foods like beans and fruit before a run and to drink plenty of fluids during your run if you’re prone to runner’s diarrhea.
Some people swear by chamomile tea as a simple remedy for diarrhea, but the evidence is spotty. One study did find that a combination of chamomile flower extract, myrrh (a tree resin), and coffee charcoal helped with acute diarrhea.
Lemongrass tea, on the other hand, may indeed have a benefit for stomach ailments, says Dr. Schiller, who is also program director of the gastroenterology fellowship at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “It can calm your gut. It doesn’t necessarily affect diarrhea, but it can help with cramps.”
People have turned to ginger for thousands of years as a remedy for all kinds of stomach problems, but it’s probably more effective in treating nausea than diarrhea. It’s commonly used in food, tea, and supplement form to alleviate motion sickness, pregnancy-related queasiness, and nausea after surgery or chemotherapy.
“Ginger is good medicine if you have an upset stomach,” says Dr. Schiller, but it probably won’t help diarrhea much, he adds.
Some people find that ginger can actually cause diarrhea and other digestive issues like gas or heartburn. Ask your doctor about using ginger if you are on blood thinners. Pregnant women should always consult with a health care provider before taking any new medications or supplements.
RELATED: 20 Reasons Why Your Stomach Hurts
Probiotics are live bacteria widely available in over-the-counter supplements to help with a variety of ailments, including diarrhea.
In theory, it’s a great idea: You’re adding good bacteria back to your gut to restore a healthy, balanced environment in your digestive system. Studies have indicated that probiotics can help reduce a bout of diarrhea by about a day.
In reality, though, it’s impossible to know which supplements out there are actually going to help. And participants in different studies used not just probiotic supplements but also yogurt, milk, special infant formula, and other forms of the good gut bugs.
In general, when it comes to digestive issues, “Lactobacillus is your friend,” Dr. Drake says. But you may not need a supplement to reap the benefit of this strain. “It’s in a lot of yogurt,” he adds. “Rather than taking a pill, I suggest taking some yogurt.”
Other foods that contain probiotics include some juices and soy drinks, sauerkraut, miso, and some pickles.
Some people claim they’ve found diarrhea relief by taking digestive enzymes or glutamine powder, though there’s little evidence to support this.
To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter
Try over-the-counter medications
Your nearby supermarket or pharmacy shelves are stocked with over-the-counter medications that are effective in alleviating diarrhea.
“For most people without a fever or blood in their stool, something like loperamide works pretty well,” says Dr. Schiller. Loperamide, which slows down intestinal movement, is sold under the brand name Imodium, among others.
One word of caution from Dr. Drake: Loperamide can sometimes make things worse, especially in severe cases of diarrhea. However, if your diarrhea is severe or long-lasting, you should be seeing a doctor anyway.
Other non-prescription medications may also help, notably those that contain bismuth subsalicylate, such as Pepto-Bismol. If you’re in pain, acetaminophen (Tylenol) may help, but you should avoid anti-inflammatory medications like aspirin and ibuprofen, as they can be hard on your stomach, says Dr. Drake.
There’s one other thing that’s not a supplement or a drug that will help more than anything, even though it may be difficult to stomach, so to speak. “Time is your best friend for acute diarrhea,” says Dr. Drake. “Let it run its course.” (And drink plenty of fluids.)
However, that doesn’t apply to chronic diarrhea (which by definition lasts longer than two to four weeks) or diarrhea with blood in it or that’s accompanied by a fever or severe tummy pain. In those cases, don’t wait; see a doctor.