Although diarrhea is often temporary and gas is a healthy essential, it’s important to educate yourself on the natural progressions, causes, and remedies for both. Here, we will break down everything you need to know about diarrhea, gas, and bloating and give you a few tools for managing each of them in your own life.
The Digestive System
The digestive system is a long, intricate process that involves many interesting components. To understand how and why digestive issues occur, it’s valuable to know the basic process.
When you eat food, the broken down remnants are stored in the stomach after being chewed and swallowed. When the small intestine is ready, it slowly pulls food from the stomach through its long, thin tube where it extracts about 90 percent of all of the nutrients the food has to offer.
The remaining matter is then passed through the liver, which is aided by the gallbladder, to be broken down further. Everything culminates in the large intestine, where water is excreted and absorbed to break down the waste for the last time before it leaves the body.
It is in the large intestine that the problem causing diarrhea occurs. When the large intestine experiences increased fluid secretion mixed with reduced absorptions, matter is quickly rushed through the bowels, and that’s when you have to run to the bathroom.
There are a number of things that can cause diarrhea, here are a few to consider.
There are two categories of diarrhea and the causes vary in each.
Acute diarrhea is probably what you’re most familiar with. This is diarrhea that passes in a few days, or even a few hours. It can be brought on by a number of causes, and often avoided if one uses caution while traveling and with food.
Stress – Everyone’s body reacts differently to stress, but the body is often thrown off by stress, either because of the situation or because we stop taking good care of ourselves when we’re stressed. Excess fluid or slowed absorption in the lower intestine can be the result of stress.
Travel – Travel in and of itself is stressful, but there’s a bigger culprit involved in travel that can result in diarrhea: water. When traveling outside of the United States, be wary of water sources and tainted produce.
Bacteria or Virus – This is often caused by improperly prepared or expired foods, or bad hand washing. Raw meats and expired dairy are largely the culprits here, so make sure you eat at clean establishments, your meat is thoroughly cooked, and you wash your hands regularly.
The second category of diarrhea is chronic diarrhea. This happens when runny bowel movements last more than a few days and could be a sign of larger health concerns.
Medication – Some medications, especially antibiotics that inadvertently kill good bacteria in the gut, can lead to chronic diarrhea. Hopefully, however, a simple change in medicine will eliminate this problem.
Food Intolerance – Lactose intolerance is the big one here, but any type of food allergy can result in diarrhea because the body can’t digest it properly. Although there are some medications to reduce symptoms, it’s best to avoid these foods all together if you’re intolerant.
Underlying Condition – Constant diarrhea can indicate a more severe condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, and diabetes. If you experience chronic diarrhea, it’s best to go to your health-care professional and see what’s causing it.
How to Cope
Luckily, there are numerous ways you can cope with acute and chronic diarrhea. Here are a few of the most effective options.
Rehydrate – Because fluids are improperly flooding the intestines and then rapidly leaving, your body quickly becomes dehydrated. Water is important, but you also need electrolytes, which are composed of sodium, potassium, and chloride. Try mixing water, salt, and some orange or lemon juice together for an electrolyte-replenishing beverage or reach for chicken broth, which is great for rehydrating the body because of its high sodium content.
Bland Foods – To help regulate your digestive system, it’s best to eat bland foods. “Clear foods” like Jell-O, and complex carbohydrates, like rice and bread, should be your go-to when you aren’t feeling well, and for a day or two after the incident while your body regulates again.
Trigger Foods – On top of eating the right stuff, you’ve got to avoid the wrong stuff that will make your situation worse. Take it easy on the intestines by avoiding hard-to-break-down foods like processed sugar and coffee and stay away from high-fiber or gas-inducing foods like leafy green vegetables, beans, spicy foods, and dairy products.
Wash Hands – Whatever the cause of your diarrhea, it’s a good idea to wash your hands more than normal. If it does happen to be the result of a bacteria or virus, you don’t want to spread it to others. And always remember to wash your hands before and after handling food.
Probiotics – If antibiotics are to blame for your condition because they flushed the good bacteria out of your gut along with the bad, probiotics may help reintroduce healthy live bacteria into your system. Probiotics help regulate your gut’s microbiome, so they’re good to take regularly regardless of diarrhea. You can find them in natural food sources like yogurt and kefir, or take a dietary supplement.
Yeast – Saccharomyces boulardii is a yeast that works to restore your gut function. Although it isn’t quite the same as the natural bacteria in your body, it works similarly and can be very useful in relieving antibiotic-related or traveller’s diarrhea. It helps to make sure your gut is absorbing nutrients properly.
Alternative Medicine – Although the scientific proof isn’t substantial, some people turn to acupuncture or homeopathic medicines to help relieve acute diarrhea. These options are usually used when other solutions haven’t worked. Remember not to try any of these remedies without the supervision of a professional.
Gas and Bloating
Simply put, flatulence, belching, and bloating are natural processes that occur when gas is trapped in the body and needs to escape. Although these are healthy occurrences for the most part, they can also be painful and excessive at times.
Here is what you need to know about the causes and coping methods for gas and bloating.
Gas buildup that results in belching or flatulence can be caused by a number of factors. Typically, flatulence is caused by the fermentation of undigested food, or when your digestive system doesn’t completely break down certain food components, such as gluten or sugar in dairy and fruit.
Belching, or burping, is how your body gets rid of excess air in the stomach. The surplus can be caused by swallowing air from eating or drinking too quickly, talking while eating, or drinking carbonated beverages, among other things.
Bloating is what happens when gas does not pass through the body through flatulence or belching and becomes built up in the stomach and intestines. It is sometimes painful, but can often be reduced by passing gas or having a bowel movement.
How to Cope
If you find yourself feeling bloated or gassy, but aren’t able to release the pressure, try these tips and tricks to relieve some of the discomfort.
Artificial Sweeteners – Sorbitol and related sugar alcohols used in many sugar-free foods have been known to irritate gasses in the stomach and intestines. It’s often the first ingredient in sugar-free gum, so be careful with what you chew if gas or bloating is a recurring issue.
Eat Slowly – It sounds silly, but since excess air in the digestive system is often the culprit of excessive gas, taking the time to eat slowly and chew with your mouth closed can actually make a difference. Give it a try and see if you notice any improvement.
Reduce Air Intake – Don’t worry, you can keep breathing normally. However, activities that force us to inhale more air, like smoking, chewing gum, and drinking through a straw can sometimes be accomplices to gas and bloating. Quit those activities if you feel that it’s becoming a problem.
Stress – Connections between the brain and gut are being drawn thicker and clearer every year as science discovers more about the human body. It appears that stress can affect the nerves in the GI tract, resulting in gas and bloating when people get nervous. Try some deep breathing techniques to calm your nerves and keep gas from building up when you get stressed.
Avoid Gaseous Foods – This one is a no-brainer. If excessive flatulence or belching is an issue for you, try changing your diet. Take a break from gas-inducing foods such as beans, leafy green vegetables, high-sugar foods, and milk.
Ginger – While there are many herbs and plants that have proven themselves as helpful gas-relievers, few can hold a candle to ginger root’s power. Ginger is particularly great at calming upset stomachs and speeding up digestion, so hopefully you can pass gasses through your system quickly and avoid, or at least relieve, some pressure.
Probiotics – Just as with diarrhea, probiotics can aid in gas and bloating relief by providing your gut with the good bacteria it needs to function properly. Probiotic supplements like Bacillus coagulans may provide relief from occasional digestive issues, while also supporting the immune system and healthy detoxification.
Drink Tea – Tea is an effective way to imbibe relieving remedies while also soothing the stomach. Ginger tea is always a good option, but peppermint and chamomile teas have also been shown to be effective in supporting the digestive system.
Get Active – Sometimes all those pesky gasses need is a little motivation to move. If you’re feeling discomfort, try to go for a walk, stretch, or even dance. Anything to get your body moving can help relieve some of that pressure in your gut.
Activated Charcoal – Although there isn’t much science out there explaining why activated charcoal has long been used to relieve digestive gasses. The assumption is that because the compound is porous from being oxidized with hot steam, it can trap extraneous chemicals and gasses released by bacteria in the gut. Because this is only a theory, make sure you talk with your doctor about the proper amount of activated charcoal to take before attempting this solution.
Dealing with diarrhea, gas, and bloating can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, and really interrupt one’s life. Luckily, these common problems have myriad solutions, the trick is finding which coping method works best for your body.