Picked up a Tummy Bug?
Gastrointestinal (GI) infections are diseases of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) caused by the invasion and multiplication of microorganisms in the alimentary canal. The infection may be confined to the digestive tract causing local symptoms or it may invade intestinal tissues and spread to other parts of the body.
Gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the mucous membranes of the stomach and intestines, frequently accompanies GI infections.
A wide range of microbial pathogens (bacteria, viruses, and parasites) are capable of infecting the GIT. They are acquired mainly by the faecal-oral route, from contaminated food, fluids or person to person contact.
The GIT is a hostile environment for most microorganisms. It’s highly effective defence mechanisms include gastric acidity, bile salts, digestive enzymes, the normal flora of the intestine, intestinal motility and the immune defences of the lymphoid tissue of the GIT. For an infection to occur, the pathogens must be ingested in sufficient numbers or possess properties that enable them to survive these defences.
Most GI infections manifest as an acute diarrhoeal disease (with or without blood and mucous in the stool). Other signs and symptoms may be abdominal cramping, fever, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, weight loss and dehydration.
In the developed world GI infections are usually mild and self-limiting except in the elderly, the very young and immunocompromised patients. In the developing world the electrolytes and fluid loss associated with the condition is a major cause of mortality, particularly in young children.
Prevention is the best approach in dealing with gastrointestinal infections.
Practice food safety when cooking:
- Use hot, soapy water to wash hands, utensils and preparation surfaces before handling food.
- Keep raw foods separate from cooked foods.
- Take special care when handling meat, fish, shellfish, and poultry. Foods of animal origin are most prone to contamination.
- Keep food properly refrigerated.
- Thoroughly cook foods to a safe internal temperature.
- Never leave food for longer than 2 hours at temperatures between 7°C and 60°C.
- Defrost food in the refrigerator or use the microwave.
- Do not let leftovers cool on the counter, refrigerate immediately.
- Avoid eating high-risk foods, e.g. raw eggs, undercooked beef or poultry.
- Discard food that smells bad or is discoloured. When in doubt, toss it out!
Most acute forms of diarrhoea are self-limiting and can be managed with simple dietary measures, such as:
- No solid foods during the acute phase of diarrhoea, instead focus on rehydration. Water and electrolytes need to be replaced by drinking electrolyte-replacement solutions, herbal teas and/or clear broths. In cases of severe fluid loss, especially in young infants, intravenous hydration may be necessary.
- Avoid dairy products until the symptoms disappear.
- Avoid fatty foods, foods high in simple sugars, caffeine, alcohol, and spicy foods.
- Avoid food allergens
- Avoid apple juice. While stewed apples can help ease diarrhoea, apple juice can have the opposite effect.
- Carob powder is high in dietary fibre and helps halt diarrhoea.
- Pectin, a soluble fibre, counteracts diarrhoea.
- Charcoal is effective in cases of diarrhoea caused by food poisoning. It absorbs toxins and carries unwanted materials out of the digestive system.
- Probiotics – Lactobacillus acidophilus and Saccharomyces boulardii for bacterial diarrhoea. For the treatment of viral diarrhoea the following strains may be helpful: Lactobacillus casei, L. reuteri, L. rhamnosus, Bifidobacterium lactis, B. brevi
- Garlic enhances immunity and kills bacteria and parasites.
- Oregano Oil is a powerful antibacterial agent.
- Slippery elm powder is soothing to the gastrointestinal tract and reduces inflammation. It also absorbs excess water in the bowel.
- Essential fatty acids to reduce inflammation and help repair the mucosa.
- Zinc – aids in repair of damaged tissues of the digestive tract and enhances immune response.
- Electrolyte solutions including calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphorus and chloride.
The Herbal Dispensary also has a range of herbs available that may be helpful for gastrointestinal infections, such as immune enhancing herbs, antimicrobial herbs, antibacterial herbs, anthelmintic herbs, antiprotozoal herbs, herbs to control fever, astringent herbs and anti-inflammatory and demulcent herbs.
For more information, talk to your health practitioner at The Herbal Dispensary.
Maria is one of our highly talented resident Naturopaths and Medical Herbalists. She has over 13 years experience in complementary medicine and co-founder of Advanced Naturopathics, a Naturopathic clinic in Christchurch. She uses a variety of non-invasive modalities including nutrition, herbal medicine, homotoxicology and Bicom bioresonance therapy.