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Diarrhea is any attack of frequent, watery stools.
Diarrhea can be triggered by many different conditions. Acute diarrhea is often caused by an infection and may require medical management. The primary role of nutrition in acute diarrhea is to prevent depletion of fluid, sodium, potassium, and calories. Replenishment of all four has been achieved with “rehydration solutions” and with a variety of foods, from salted carrot soup to peeled scraped apple to rice gruel. However, diarrhea severe enough to necessitate the use of rehydration solutions requires direct medical supervision. Therefore, nutritional approaches to overcoming depletion of fluid, sodium, potassium, and calories are not discussed here, but rather should be discussed with a doctor. Diarrhea-induced low blood sugar, dehydration, or electrolyte imbalance can be serious or even life-threatening, particularly if prolonged in children.
A healthcare provider should be consulted if diarrhea continues for more than a few days, as it may indicate a more serious health condition. Diarrhea alternating with constipation may be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Normal bowel habits vary considerably from person to person depending on age, diet, cultural factors, and individual physiology. However, loose watery stools occurring three or more times in one day is generally considered abnormal. In some instances, diarrhea may be accompanied by cramping abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, loss of appetite, and bloody or foul-smelling stools.
Other integrative approaches that may be helpful: Acupuncture may be useful for the treatment of diarrhea, particularly in infants. A preliminary study of acupuncture treatment in 1,050 cases of infantile diarrhea found 95% were relieved with one to three treatments.1 Similar results have been reported in other preliminary trials2, 3 and case reports.4, 5 A controlled trial of acupuncture for the treatment of infantile diarrhea compared scalp acupuncture or traditional body acupuncture with drug therapy, primarily antibiotics. The cure rate for scalp and body acupuncture was significantly higher (90% and 89%) than that of drug treatment (46%).6
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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2017.