There are few things more unpleasant than the stomach flu. That crippling nausea, the stomach and intestinal cramps, and those frantic dashes to the bathroom are sheer misery.
Sometimes this type of illness is caused by a virus and at other times it isn’t a virus at all, but food poisoning. According to Lizzie Bennett of Medically Speaking,
“A non-food stomach flu is usually caused by a virus, often a norovirus, rotavirus or more rarely campylobacter. It will usually occur after contact with someone who as been unwell but most often is brought home by school children. People will generally feel ‘ under the weather’ and then the gastric upset starts. it often is accompanied by vomiting .With food poisoning there is an acute onset, it occurs quite quickly after eating/drinking contaminated food and will often affect people who have eaten the same dish or who have eaten in the same place. Only lab testing will ascertain definitively what the cause is as the symptoms are so very similar.”
The symptoms can be relieved identically. Often, you’ll never know which was the cause. If the symptoms are especially severe or continue for more than 48 hours, the standard advice is to seek medical attention.
A stomach virus is incredibly contagious. If a family member is suffering from the symptoms of a stomach virus, practice the following precautions to attempt to contain it:
- Isolate the family member as much as possible
- Wash cutlery and dishes used by the sick family member in water containing a couple of drops of bleach. Wash again with your regular, non-toxic dish soap.
- Wipe items handled by the sick person with antibacterial wipes (I keep Clorox wipes on hand for this purpose.) Things like the telephone, the television remote, door handles, faucets and the toilet flush should be wiped before someone else touches them.
- Household members should wash their hands frequently, particularly before eating and after using the bathroom (yes, I know this should be standard, but I’m repeating it anyway)
Vomiting and diarrhea can be the body’s natural defense against invaders. It can be the digestive system’s way of ridding itself of toxins and viruses. However, excessive vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration, sometimes severe. It’s very important to keep the sufferer hydrated with ice chips and clear fluids. You can find some recipes for homemade oral rehydration solutions HERE. These recipes are a good basis for creating a solution using items that you have in your pantry.
Once the person is able to eat, try offering gentle, easily digested foods. The “BRAT” diet consists of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. Other options are saltine crackers, pretzels, mashed potatoes, pasta and clear soups.
If after 12 hours, if the patient is still unable to keep down liquids, medical attention should be sought. The time shortens for younger patients. If an infant isn’t urinating at least every two hours his little body is trying to hold onto liquids because he is dehydrated – you should seek immediate medical assistance in this case.
Treating the Symptoms
There are all sorts of options for treating gastro-intestinal upset, both traditional and chemical. In our home, chemical treatments are always a last resort.
We very rarely use chemical medications, but I do keep these on hand for extremely sparing use.
The most common type of anti-diarrheal is the compound Loperamide Hydrochloride (found in Immodium or Kaopectate). It works by slowing the propulsion of intestinal contents by the intestinal muscles.
The most common side effects of loperamide are: stomach pain, bloating, nausea, vomiting, constipation, dry mouth, sleepiness, fatigue and dehydration. According to the National Library of Medicine, loperamide hydrochloride can actually paralyze the intestines in a condition called paralytic ileus. This means that the intestines no longer participate in digestion and do not push the stool along for excretion.
Many natural practitioners feel that diarrhea should not be stopped – that the body is naturally ridding itself of viruses or toxins. As well, overuse of anti-diarrheals can result in a constipation so severe that medical intervention becomes necessary.
Anti-nauseants are also called anti-emetics. The most popular brands contain dimenhydrinate(found in Dramamine and Gravol).
According to the Alberta Health Services website, the medication (sold under the brand name Gravol in Canada) can have a number of side effects. There has also been a noted problem with abuse of medications containing dimenhydriante, so those medications have been relegated to “behind the counter”.
At recommended doses, Gravol can cause drowsiness, dizziness and blurred vision. It can impair your concentration and motor coordination. For these reasons, you should use Gravol with caution if driving or doing other things that require you to be fully alert. It can be especially dangerous to combine it with alcohol and other depressant drugs. Dry mouth, excitation and nervousness
(especially in children) are other side effects. At lower doses, you can experience feelings of well-being and euphoria. At higher doses you can hallucinate. Taking Gravol with alcohol, codeine and other depressant drugs intensifies these effects. Large doses can cause sluggishness, paranoia, agitation, memory loss, increased blood pressure and heart rate, and difficulty swallowing and speaking.
Treating the symptoms doesn’t necessarily require a trip to the pharmacy. Just like treatments for the seasonal flu, many good remedies can be found, already in your kitchen. Before using these or any other herbal supplements, perform due diligence in confirming potential interactions with any other drugs or supplements that person may be taking. Some of these plants can be easily grown in a variety of climates, providing a constantly replenishing supply.
Ginger is a natural anti-inflammatory with a long history in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of nausea, motion sickness and morning sickness.
Ginger can be found in the form of tea, the root itself or in tablets. Keep in mind, though, if you are vomiting already, ginger, especially in the form of tea, can make the experience far more unpleasant because of worsened esophageal reflux.
When purchasing ginger tablets, read the ingredients carefully. Gravol makes a “Natural Source” ginger chewable pill containing certified organic ginger. I was really excited because you can find that in even the tiniest pharmacy. However, upon closer inspection, the ingredients listed “aspartame” . Ummm. NO, I won’t add a proven neurotoxin to my organic herbal remedy, thanks.
Several companies offer a ginger tablet remedy. However, if you go over to the vitamin section, quite frequently you can find Ginger Root. Buying it from the vitamin section, without the glossy anti-nausea advertising, can save you a hefty amount. I checked at my local pharmacy today and 90 Ginger Root capsules (500 mg) were the same price as the bottle of 20 “All-Natural Ginger” anti-nausea tablets. Both were $8.99. As well, the one in the supplement section had no additional ingredients aside from the gelatin capsule that encased the powder.
Chamomile has anti-spasmodic properties. This makes a cup of chamomile tea a soothing treatment for a stomach upset that includes abdominal cramping, bloating, and gas. It has a mild pleasant taste with a hint of “apple” flavor.
There are all different kinds of mint tea available. The most common are peppermint, spearmint and wintergreen. They all contain menthol, a volatile oil. Menthol is the component that gives mint that “cooling” sensation. Mint tea is anti-spasmodic, so will aid in relieving gas, cramping and bloating. Additionally, menthol has muscle relaxant properties that can help reduce vomiting.
Candy containing real peppermint oil can easily be carried in your purse for a mildly soothing effect.
Some people that suffer from acid reflux find that mint worsens the condition.
Yogurt can’t be tolerated in all episodes of stomach and intestinal upsets. However, yogurt with active cultures can help to rebalance the “good flora” in your stomach and intestinal tract, making it especially valuable for treating diarrhea. Regular consumption of yogurt can actually prevent stomach viruses in the first place by making your digestive tract inhospitable to viruses.
Black tea is rich in tannins, which have been a longtime home treatment for diarrhea. You can sweeten your tea but leave out the milk until you’re feeling better.
Goldenseal capsules or extract can also be used in the treatment of diarrhea. Goldenseal kills certain bacteria, like e coli, which can cause diarrhea.
There isn’t really any way to “cure” a stomach virus – the illness must simply run its course. The best things you can do are rest, keep hydrated and treat the symptoms to keep them at a tolerable level.
Do you have any treatments for upset stomachs that you’ve found effective? Please share them in the comments below.