Nobody likes getting sick, and when a stomach bug leaves you lying on the bathroom floor clutching the toilet, it leaves you feeling miserable and a bit helpless.
I recently took a flight and the man behind me was violently ill with a stomach bug and so you know who brought home a little something extra from their trip? Yep. Your girl here.
Since I went through this ordeal, I thought now would be a good time to talk natural ways to provide relief and help recovery from a stomach bug, incase anyone here reading is struck down with the same unfortunate situation themselves.
Within this blog post we’ll be covering causes of stomach bugs, natural symptom treatments and preventative measures.
Causes of a stomach bug
Stomach bugs (also known as stomach flu and gastroenteritis) is a condition where the intestines are inflamed, usually due to an infection. It can be caused by a variety of different viruses (and sometimes bacteria) that attack your gastrointestinal system.
Bacteria can be the cause of a stomach bug, possibly due to contaminated water or food that was poorly prepared or in an unhygienic environment.
Are stomach bugs contagious?
More often than not, it’s usually a virus that causes a stomach bug, and since viruses are easily transmitted from person to person, it’s without a doubt going to spread amongst those around you. You can actually also be a carrier of the virus, and although you may not get it, you can give it to someone else.
The virus itself can be spread to you once you come into contact with it, but you may not see any symptoms straight away. They can appear from one to three days after exposure.
Symptoms can range from mild to horrendous; and while it usually lasts only a day or two, they can for the unfortune few, last as long as 10 days. These symptoms may be include chills, fever, nausea and stomach discomfort to start with, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, muscle aches, stomach cramps, headaches and overall weakness.
If you have a stomach bug, know that you are actually contagious before you begin to develop symptoms, and even after you’ve recovered you can remain contagious for a week or more!
To decrease the risk of passing it onto others, try your best to avoid going to work or school with any symptoms.
If you have a fever, it’s best to wait until it’s gone for at least 24 hours before returning to school/work.
Treatment for a stomach bug
Since the troublemakers responsible for gastroenteritis are more often than not of a viral, not bacterial, nature, antibiotics are useless. Antibiotics are only of use when bacteria is involved.
The long and the short of it is, it’s awful, and there is no cure. Stomach bugs have to run their course until they’re over.
That being said, there are natural options and remedies to help provide relief from the horrible symptoms and help to recover you once the worst is over.
That’s where this blog comes in.
No. 1 – Drink lots of fluids to stay hydrated
Since you’ve lost a lot of fluids via vomiting, diarrhea and sweating, it’s essential that you replenish them.
If you’re having trouble keeping any liquids down, try taking small sips at regular intervals or chewing ice chips.
What to drink
Packed full of electrolytes and high in potassium, coconut water is a great option (and my favourite liquid) to consume during and after the turmoils of a stomach bug. The electrolytes help to replace those that were lost through vomiting and diarrhea.
These include fennel, caraway, chamomile, ginger and peppermint, all of which can be used to help calm your stomach, ease cramping and help to alleviate nausea.
Some people find carbonated beverages such as ginger ale and sparkling water useful to help settle an upset stomach and relieve nausea. Personally I have water kefir that I often add ginger to (thank goodness I flavoured it in advance with ginger!) and so I drank small sips of this.
Water, of course.
If you’re struggling to keep water down, or simply swallow anything, then try taking teeny tiny sips of water at regular intervals, or if it’s really hard, try sucking on ice chips.
When your stomach is up to the challenge of more, you can try any of the teas listed above or coconut water, which will add more water to your system.
Whether bone or veggie, broth can also be a good nutritious way of getting in some more liquid, though take it slow. Broth contains nutrients and minerals that aid healing, which is certainly something you’ll be in need of at this point.
Cinnamon and honey tea is actually a traditional remedy for gastroenteritis, and has been a home remedy for centuries. Both honey and cinnamon help to reduce inflammation, support healing and your immune system.
Try Pukka 3 cinnamon with a spoon of honey.
Turmeric is a highly powerful herb with a plethora of amazing health and healing properties, including being antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and loaded with nutrients, making it a wonderful tonic for gastroenteritis.
Personally I took it in a variety of ways. One was via Pukka Turmeric gold tea and the other was Pukka Turmeric gold latte. The latte I consumed day 3 after feeling slightly more alive and I used a very small amount of rice milk as the base.
By day 5 I made a matcha latte with a dash of turmeric powder and a rice milk base.
What not to drink
In all honesty, you’re highly unlikely to be in the mood for these during the woes of a stomach bug, but it should still be said, that alcohol, strong caffeinated drinks like coffee and black tea should be avoided.
Other drinks to avoid would be fruit juice, sugar-laden sodas and energy drinks.
All of these things can upset your stomach further, plus they’re a diuretic, and with you having lost so much fluid, it’s best to prevent losing any more.
No. 2 – Eat plain foods
Trying to keep food down can be difficult with a stomach bug, and I wouldn’t ever encourage you to force yourself to eat anything if the mere idea of food makes you gag or feel in anyway unwell.
When, however, you do eventually feel you could maybe get something down, it’s best to start with plain foods, and slowly.
You don’t want your stomach to have to work too hard to digest food, since it’s not going to be up to much of a challenge. However, you can try eating some simple carbohydrates like toast, crackers, cereal, potatoes, and eventually some fruits and vegetables.
Since fibre can be difficult on the digestive system, you may find it easier to nibble on some white toasted bread since it’s often easier for the stomach to digest. This may be the only time I advertise the consumption of white bread..!
Personally however, I only have rye bread in the house so I nibbled on some toasted rye very slowly and a little later on during the week I added a tiny slather of honey to another small piece.
White rice is easy for your body to process and provides energy from carbs. Brown rice is often considered to be too high in fibre during this time.
Boiled or mashed, these were my saviours. I had mashed potatoes for the first two days, and the third I managed some boiled, more solid looking food. These are easy to digest and help provide a little energy.
Bananas are nice and easy to digest, help to replace the potassium lost from vomiting and diarrhea, and are good binding foods. You know, the ones that help make things in your intestines become a little more… solid.
They’re also pretty useful for when you’re trying to decrease the number of times you need to run to the toilet.
Like bananas, apples are another good binding food, plus they contain pectin, which can help with diarrhea.
It’s nice and easy to digest and helps to provide a little energy boost, not to mention nutritional push.
Eat and drink probiotics
Live culture foods help populate your digestive tract with healthy bacteria which help your body crowd out the baddies causing your stomach bug woes and speed up your recovery and healing process.
During the early days when you’re still on liquids only, a little bit of water kefir or ginger kombucha could be considered. Once solid foods have started to make an appearance you might consider a probiotic rich milk kefir beverage (in small amounts) or a live yoghurt. Vegan options are also available, containing vegan live cultures (check Nourish fridges).
Fermented and lacto-fermented foods all contain bacteria that help to promote a healthy immune system and all going well, you’ll be feeling fitter in no time.
What not to eat
Extra fibre could cause loose bowels to become worse and may increase gas. Hold off and introduce it back over time.
In general dairy is pretty hard to digest for most, and can actually aggravate gas and diarrhea. It’s also an inflammatory so it’s best not to consume it if possible. The only exception is a couple of days later when you’re reintroducing foods that may help, such as live yoghurt or kefir.
No. 3 – Supportive additions
Stomach bugs can’t be cured by medications or antibiotics when a virus is the culprit, so the blunt honest truth is simply that there’s not much to do for a stomach bug except wait it out and use the remedies discussed above.
There are however a couple of supportive additions that I feel are worth mentioning.
Activated charcoal works by adsorbtion (no that’s not a typo: absorbtion is different than adsorbtion). Adsorption means that the charcoal binds to the toxins and carries them out of the body as opposed to absorbing them into itself.
Many people find activated charcoal to be an extremely effective aid in stopping a stomach bug quickly or at the very least, reducing the symptoms exponentially.
Activated charcoal is widely used in emergency rooms for treatment against poisoning, and is also frequently used as an over-the-counter treatment for gastrointestinal upsets.
Personally, I took 2 tablets 2-3x a day away from food, but please check the product recommendations for your own use.
One of my favourite choices for general immune support is the elderberry syrup. This makes elderberry an excellent plant ally to support your health on the road to recovery. It also makes for a great preventative should someone around you be sick, or for others around you when you’re sick, to help prevent them catching it.
Chaga is a wonderful medicinal mushroom with an amazing reputation.
Chaga is rich in beta glucans, which help balance the body’s immune system responses. It’s great to take as a preventative against such bugs, but also works as a great recovery tonic.
Chaga has been shown to protect the intestines, reducing digestive inflammation (which aside from helping out with your stomach bug related inflammation, it’s also great for those suffering from ulcers, gastritis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and colitis). It’s also antiparasitic and antiviral to help knock those virus germs right out the park.
For more info on Chaga, see my previous blog here on ‘What’s the Scoop on: Chaga Mushroom.’
No. 4 – Get plenty of rest
I don’t think I’ll need to battle anyone here when I say you must rest!
When you have a stomach bug, your body needs to rest in order to fight off the infection and repair, therefore sleep is vital, as is reducing your activity during the day. This means the only place you should be if you’re not in bed, is the sofa!
Preventing the stomach flu
Reduce close contact
Since we know that stomach bugs are contagious, it’s best to avoid close contact with those you know are infected, however that’s a pretty obvious one!
If you are sick and live with others, try to stay as isolated as possible to prevent spreading it. The same goes for if someone else is sick and you’re not. Try to restrict the poor sick soul to one bathroom, and have the rest of the household use another if possible.
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water
Washing hands is vital to prevent the stomach virus from being passed around.
One main reason that the stomach virus is spread so easily is because it can lay on surfaces for up to two weeks after a sick person has been in contact with it.
If someone has been actively sick on or around an area, these little troublemaking microbes can go in the air and settle down on a surface and wait patiently to find their next victim.
If you’re caring for a sick person, try to wash every surface they have come in contact with and wash your hands often. Hand sanitizer is not effective here.
For a more indepth read, I really liked this blog post by thrivalnutrition on dealing with sickness with kids.
Supplements that I recommend as a preventative measure
These are some of my favourites: elderberry syrup, activated charcoal (take away from other supplements and food), D3, vitamin C, oregano oil, b vitamins (especially if you’re stressed), chaga, turmeric and adaptogens.
One final note…
Vomiting and diarrhea are the body’s natural way of eliminating toxins and it is best to allow this process and not prevent it from happening. Caution must be taken so you do not become dehydrated. Staying hydrated throughout the course of the illness can be the biggest challenge but the most important.
Seek professional medical help if you experience:
Blood in vomit or stool
Vomiting for more than 48 hours
You’re unable to keep liquids down for 24 hours
You’ve been vomiting for more than two days.
You’re severely dehydrated.
You have a fever above 40C
Or if you are unsure about anything and need support.
If you have any questions or comments feel free to contact us via our Facebook page or email!
*Please note that while we are knowledgeable about our products and nutrition, this blog should never be a substitute for medical advice and attention.
Please remember that you should always obtain the all-clear from your doctor before starting any new supplement plan or diet if you’re on any medication.