• Stools (Loose)
Diarrhea, or loose bowel movements, can occur for many reasons. Food poisoning and infections are the most common causes of acute (short-lived) diarrhea. Chronic diarrhea may be caused by ongoing illnesses of the digestive tract, such as
Conventional treatment for diarrhea involves addressing the cause, if possible, and, in some cases, treating symptoms with medications that slow down the action of the digestive tract.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Supplements called probiotics have shown considerable promise for safely preventing or treating various kinds of diarrhea. The following section summarizes much of the evidence regarding this treatment. For more information, see the full Probiotics
Certain bacteria and fungi play a helpful role in the body. For this reason, they are known collectively as probiotics (literally, "pro life"). Some of the most common include the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii and the following bacteria:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- L. bulgaricus
- L. reuteri (often studied in the proprietary form Lactobacillus GG )
- L. plantarum
- L. casei
- B. bifidus
- Saccharomyces salivarius
- Streptococcus thermophilus
The digestive tract is like a rain forest ecosystem, with billions of bacteria and yeasts instead of trees and frogs. Some of these internal inhabitants are more helpful to your body than others. Probiotics not only help digestive tract function, they also reduce the presence of less healthful organisms by competing with them for the limited available space. For this reason, use of probiotics can help prevent infectious diarrhea.
Antibiotics being taken to treat an infection can disturb the balance of the "inner ecosystem" by killing friendly bacteria. When this occurs, harmful bacteria and yeasts can move in and flourish, which can lead to diarrhea. Probiotic therapy may help prevent this problem. Probiotics also appear to be helpful for preventing or treating forms of diarrhea with different causes.
According to some but not all studies, it appears that regular use of various probiotics can help prevent traveler's diarrhea, an illness caused by eating contaminated food, usually in developing countries.
For example, one
An even larger double-blind, placebo-controlled study found benefits from using the yeast product
Substances called prebiotics are thought to enhance the growth of probiotics. On this basis, a prebiotic called
Children frequently develop diarrhea caused by infectious viruses. Probiotics may help prevent or treat this condition and may also be useful for viral diarrhea in adults.
A review of the literature published in 2001 found 13 double-blind, placebo-controlled trials on the use of probiotics for acute infectious diarrhea in infants and children. Ten of these trials involved treatment, and three involved prevention.
One double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of 269 children (ages 1 month to 3 years) with acute diarrhea found that those treated with
recovered more quickly than those given placebo.
In addition, a large (211-participant), double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that adults with infectious diarrhea can also benefit from probiotic treatment.
The results of most (but not all) double-blind and
It is sometimes said that it is useless to begin probiotic treatment until after the antibiotics are finished. But, evidence appears to indicate that it is better to begin treatment with probiotics along with the initial use of antibiotics, then continue probiotic treatment for a week or two afterwards.
Note : Diarrhea that occurs in the context of antibiotics may be dangerous. Be sure to talk to your doctor.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
A double-blind trial of 116 people with ulcerative colitis compared a special probiotic treatment using
to a relatively low dose of the standard drug mesalazine.
Other Forms of Diarrhea
Preliminary evidence suggests that probiotics may be helpful for reducing diarrhea and other gastrointestinal side effects caused by cancer treatment (radiation or chemotherapy).
One study found that
can increase the effectiveness of standard treatment for amoebic infections.
Premature infants weighing less than 2,500 grams (5.5 pounds) are at risk for a life-threatening intestinal condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). In a study that pooled the results of 9 randomized, placebo-controlled trials involving 1,425 infants, probiotic supplementation significantly reduced the occurrence of NEC and death associated with it.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Spastic Colon)
People suffering from
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
A large (255-participant), double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that use of a product containing apple pectin combined with chamomile
A small double-blind study found that an extract of
) reduced the severity and duration of rotavirus infection in children.
A preliminary, double-blind study found that an extract of the Amazonian herb
sangre de drago
might be helpful for diarrhea associated with
Wheat germ might enhance the effects of standard treatments for giardiasis.
Allergy to milk and other foods may trigger diarrhea.
Weak (and in some cases inconsistent) evidence partially supports the use of the following as treatments for various forms of diarrhea:
Other herbs that are suggested for diarrhea but have no meaningful supporting evidence include agrimony,
Wood creosote is the principal ingredient in Seirogan. Seirogan is a widely used traditional herbal treatment for diarrhea. It has undergone a certain amount of safety testing and appears to be relatively safe, at least for short-term use. Efficacy, however, is unclear.
This topic is also discussed in the
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Last reviewed April 2009 by EBSCO CAM Medical Review Board
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