Whether you drank some sketchy water on vacation, battle irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or caught a nasty stomach bug, you’ve likely felt the urgent call of gastrointestinal distress before. Although typically not life-threatening for adults in the developed world, loose, watery stool can be unpleasant and inconvenient. Diarrhea will generally clear up within a few days, but there are plenty of natural remedies to combat the situation and even prevent it in the first place. Besides the tried-and-true rest-and-rehydrate method, two supplements—probiotics and glutamine—can bolster the immune system and offer some much-needed relief. If you’ve got the runs, you might want to run out and grab these supplements.
Probiotics for diarrhea: the microbiome and the immune system.
Popping a probiotic in times of gastrointestinal distress can reduce the severity and duration of diarrheal symptoms. Probiotic supplements contain healthy bacteria to support the microbiome, a collection of trillions of bacteria that live in our gut. The microbiome is intricately connected with digestive health and the immune system. In fact 70 to 80 percent of the immune system lives in the gut alongside the microbiota. Scientists believe that the immune system and the bacteria that live in the gut "co-evolved" to communicate and support one another. "Good" bacteria helps stimulate and "prime" the immune system to keep it in tiptop fighting shape against "bad" bacteria that can make us sick. In addition, some "good" bacteria produce toxins to fight off "bad" bacteria themselves. So a healthy gut equals a healthy and strong immune system.
Taking antibiotics, stress, diet, infections, and many other factors can change the makeup of the microbiome and create an imbalance between good and bad bacteria, weakening the immune system. In addition, diarrhea can flush good bacteria out with it, making it even harder to fight off whatever may be causing your digestive discomfort.
Probiotic supplements deliver an array of "good" bacteria to help restore balance in the gut and support the immune system. One study even found that probiotics were able to reduce the duration of diarrhea symptoms by one or two days. And when you're tethered to the toilet, one or two days is a huge win. Probiotic-rich foods may be tough to stomach right now, especially dairy-based ones like yogurt, so you may want to stick to a supplement to reap the bacterial benefits.
In addition to helping you recover from a bout of diarrhea, probiotics may be able to prevent one in the first place. One of the most common causes of diarrhea is travel-related exposure to pathogens. Millions of people each year contract diarrhea from unclean water and food or the general stress of travel. By maintaining a healthy gut, you can ensure your immune system is well-supported to fight back while you enjoy vacation. Research has found that pre-emptively taking a probiotic could prevent up to 85 percent of "traveler’s diarrhea" cases.
Glutamine for diarrhea: gut health and hydration.
The thin cell wall barrier between the intestines and the bloodstream is extremely important for overall health. It keeps any pathogens and toxins that we consume or come in contact with from entering the bloodstream while absorbing all the good-for-you nutrients. Glutamine, an amino acid, provides a crucial energy source for these cells to keep them strong and digesting properly. Having adequate glutamine levels in the body is essential for maintaining gut integrity and health.
Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid, which means the body usually produces sufficient amounts, but in times of illness or extreme stress glutamine levels may become depleted. This can weaken the intestinal walls and affect the body's ability to properly and efficiently absorb nutrients during digestion. In addition, having low levels of glutamine may exacerbate or even cause diarrhea. The increased speed of, er, transit through the intestines can make it even more difficult to replenish glutamine and other important nutrients.
Supplementing with glutamine when you have diarrhea can help repair the intestinal walls and improve nutrient absorption. This is especially important for fighting dehydration, a common but potentially dangerous side effect of diarrhea. In fact, glutamine supplementation has been shown to significantly increase water and electrolyte uptake, lessening the severity of diarrhea and staving off dehydration.
On top of tummy-soothing tactics like peppermint oil massages and lying low, try these supplements next time you are hit with some gastrointestinal distress. The combination of microbiota-supporting probiotics and absorption-promoting glutamine can work together to slow the flow (sorry).
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