When the digestive system isn't balanced, two very common issues can occur -- diarrhea and constipation.
Diarrhea is defined by the occurrence of loose, watery stools, or bowel movements, three or more times in a day, often accompanied by uncomfortable or painful cramping. Acute diarrhea can make it difficult for the sufferer to leave the house, feeling the need to stay near the bathroom.
The most serious complication from diarrhea is dehydration, due to the loss of electrolytes such as sodium and potassium along with water passing through the digestive system. Acute diarrhea can be caused by consumption of contaminated foods and beverages, bacterial or viral infections, parasites, medications and stress, among other things.
The opposite of diarrhea, constipation occurs when a person is unable to have a bowel movement, or when they are hard, dry and somewhat painful and occur fewer than three times per week. Constipation causes a person to feel sluggish, bloated and uncomfortable.
Constipation can be caused by simply not consuming enough liquids or eating enough fiber. A sudden decrease in physical activity, as during bed rest, narcotic medications for pain, over-use of laxatives, spinal cord injury and physical colon disturbances are some of the common causes of constipation.
Diet and Nutrition
While diarrhea and constipation can have numerous causes, simple changes in diet can play a very big part in treating either or both conditions. Someone experiencing frequent diarrhea should avoid regular consumption of foods high in fat content, dairy products and fruit juices. For a temporary bout of diarrhea, the BRAT diet, consisting of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast is an effective way of relieving symptoms fairly quickly. And while it seems almost counter intuitive, drinking lots of water isn't only essential to replace lost fluids, but will also help wash out the offending microbes or food items and will actually help stop the diarrhea.
Persons suffering from constipation, on the other hand, should start by consuming more fiber. Between 20 and 35 g a day is a healthy dose of fiber that will keep the bowel functioning smoothly. To avoid having constipation turn to diarrhea, start with soluble fiber such as is found in fruits and vegetables, and then slowly add in the insoluble fiber such as cereals and whole grains. Prunes are a natural laxative containing both types of fiber and are also high in antioxidants.
Some common herbal remedies useful for treatment of diarrhea include dandelion, goldenseal, fenugreek and skullcap, which may be consumed in capsules or in a tea. Chamomile or peppermint tea is helpful for treating the cramping and discomfort that often accompanies diarrhea.
Charcoal tablets, grapefruit seed extract and bentonite clay are useful dietary supplements for correcting diarrhea, while supplemental fiber such as psyllium, in power or capsule form, along with magnesium, acidophilus and GB-3 are popular dietary supplements for those with chronic constipation.
In summary, temporary bouts of diarrhea and constipation may occur even with the healthiest of diets, and a number of herbal and dietary remedies are available to treat these occurrences. Frequent occurrences of diarrhea or constipation, however, may be caused by a diet lacking in natural soluble fiber. Soluble fiber absorbs water and slows the passage of food through the digestive system, allowing the body more time to absorb nutrients and creating regular, soft, passable bowel movements.
Pay attention to your diet and be proactive to find great solutions to help you feel and live better!
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