Stomach flu” is a familiar illness in many families, and symptoms may occur either in winter or summer. As with colds, these illnesses are usually self-limiting minor ailments—though one may be violently ill for a day or two, and run down for days afterward.
A “flu” that primarily affects the gastrointestinal tract, causing diarrhea and vomiting, is sometimes food poisoning. The best preventative is to use great care in the handling—and purchasing—of food.
Sometimes the culprit may restaurant food—especially if you left the carry-out dinner in the fridge a bit too long, giving any bacteria that may have been present in the prepared food time to multiply.
The reason food-service places use Miracle Whip instead of real mayonnaise on prepared sandwiches, potato salads, macaroni salads, and coleslaw, is because real mayonnaise is a medium in which harmful bacteria flourish. Always take special care to keep homemade mayonnaise dishes refrigerated.
As with most self-limiting illnesses, the “stomach flu” normally requires only home nursing care.
KEEP YOUR PATIENT HYDRATED
This is the single most important thing you can do!
The greatest danger from this type of illness is dehydration. (Obviously, lots of fluids are being lost.) The top priority is to keep the patient hydrated. Dehydration alone can make a person feel ill, so keeping the patient hydrated will help them feel better, too.
The main thing is to give lots of liquids: plain water, diluted fruit juices, and herbal teas.
Beverages containing the electrolytes needed for hydration, which are sodium, chloride, potassium and magnesium, are also helpful. Liquidsof any kind should be sipped, if the patient is vomiting, to help keep them down.
Coconut water is an excellent source of electrolytes. It contains 650 mg of potassium (15x more than a banana), 25mg of magnesium, and 35 mg of sodium. The best recipe I’ve found for a beverage to use to help hydration of someone who is ill is to mix one cup coconut water with one tablespoon of chia seeds.
Chia seeds are excellent for hydration because they can hold nine times their weight in water and were used historically by Native Americans to provide energy and endurance and maintain hydration. They are also loaded with omega 3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber.
Chia seeds are also widely recommended for even the severest cases of diarrhea, as well as constipation and other digestive problems.
If you expect to be caring for sick children, it might be wise to get the kids familiar with chia seed in beverages before they get sick, or you could meet with some resistance.
Coconut milk (as opposed to coconut water) “smoothies” that include chia seeds, cocoa powder, and honey could be offered as a healthful treat, so that offering a chia seed beverage when they are ill doesn’t weird them out. (Good proportions for this smoothie are: 2 cups coconut milk, 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons chia seeds, and two or three tablespoons honey. Or throw in a banana to sweeten. This is, of course, mixed in a blender.)
This combination of coconut water and chia seeds would definitely be a better approach than giving sugary sports drinks, which may contain artificial colors and other questionable ingredients, such as bromated vegetable oil, which has been banned in Europe and Japan due to sometimes serious health consequences.
Spearmint, Peppermint, Clove Oil
Mint tea—spearmint or peppermint (as well as other kinds of mint)—is among the oldest of household remedies, and is given not only to settle the stomach and stop vomiting, but also to relieve fever and dizziness.
These are excellent to give to children, and mint may be combined with elderflower and/or lemon balm, which is considered almost a specific for children’s fevers.
Humbart Santillo, in Natural Healing with Herbs, suggests giving a few drops of clove oil in warm water to stop nausea and vomiting, and adds that, “It is especially good for people with cold extremities.”
Chamomile and Catnip are soothing to both the nerves and the digestion, and mildly sedative. The combination is good to give for almost all children’s complaints, and adults will benefit from this combination too.
While elecampane is usually given for coughs and pulmonary affections, Santillo tells us that it is also used to counteract stomach poisons, and other sources suggest its use specifically against food poisoning. One of its constituents (Helenin) is a powerful bactericide.
Elecampane has a very pleasant aromatic flavor and it can be prepared as a decoction, given in doses of one or two cups per day, or as a syrup, given in doses of a couple of tablespoons every so often. The most common suggestion for preparing the syrup is by simmering the chopped fresh roots in honey.
Activated charcoal works well to remove toxins from the body, both internally and externally. For vomiting/diarrea, take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon activated charcoal mixed with a soft food (like applesauce), or mixed into water, juice, or diluted apple cider vinegar (which you'll have to keep stirring to keep the activated charcoal suspended).
Apple Cider Vinegar
Dilute apple cider vinegar with water and drink. A mixture of about half apple cider vinegar and half water is about right. Drink down 1/4-1/2 cup and continue sipping.
Raspberry leaf acts as an astringent tonic to the mucus membranes. Make the tea by steeping one ounce of the dried leaves in a pint of boiling water for 15 minutes. Strain and drink two cups a day. The fruit is also tonic and astringent to the bowels and is useful to eat during diarrhea. Raspberry juice is an excellent fruit juice to take during diarrhea and can be used instead of water to make some of the herbs below more palatable.
Give slippery elm, as either a hot or cold beverage. To make “elm water,” the cold beverage, add a teaspoon of slippery elm powder to a cup or two of water and let it sit for a minute or two before stirring. You can make the hot version the same way, using hot water (or an herbal tea), or by making a paste of one teaspoon slippery elm powder mixed with a little cold water to make a paste, which is then mixed into the hot water or beverage. The reason you do it this way is because slippery elm is a little hard to mix with water.
Slippery elm soothes and heals the digestive tract and also collects toxins in its mucilage to help expel them. It is used both internally and externally for soothing and healing irritations and inflammations and drawing out poisons.
Give shepherd’s purse as a tea, which can be mixed with juice to mask the somewhat unpleasant “cabbagy” flavor. According to Santillo, “I have seen it stop diarrhea when nothing else would.”
The usual recipe for making infusions applies: Steep one ounce of the dried herb in one pint of hot water, but steep a bit longer than usual. Santillo suggests steeping for 30 minutes and taking about a cup once or twice a day.
Grieve’s recipe for the tea suggests making it much stronger: “The medicinal infusion should be made with an ounce of the plant to 12 oz. of water, reduced by boiling to ½ pint, strained and taken cold.”
My thinking would be to use Grieve’s stronger version if there is bleeding from the bowels, or if diarrhea is very severe.
Shepherd’s purse is also given to stop bleeding from the bowels—or any other internal bleeding. In fact, shepherd’s purse is given after childbirth, by midwives, to stop bleeding and as a precaution against excessive bleeding.
Sometimes you will see blood in the stools related to diarrhea—which you will be sure to notice if the child is still in diapers. I noticed this once when my daughter was recovering from the flu, and called the doctor. He said that a small amount of blood “is not a cause for concern.” Just keep an eye on it, and give shepherd’s purse, if you have some, and perhaps raspberry leaf and/or slippery elm tea to heal the innards.
I do think seeing blood in a child’s stools means it’s time to call the doctor, however.
Grieve says, “Mullein is said to be of much value in diarrhea, from its combination of demulcent with astringent properties, by this combination strengthening the bowels at the same time. In diarrhea the ordinary infusion is generally given, but when any bleeding of the bowels is present, the decoction prepared with milk is recommended.”
The tea is made by steeping one ounce of the dried herb in a pint of boiling water for ten minutes. To make the milk decoction, boil one ounce of the dried leaves in milk for ten minutes. Strain.
Mullein—the medicinal kind—grows along the side of the road in most of the US, and you can easily collect some of the large leaves in summer.
Clays of various kinds have a long history of medicinal use, both internally and externally. In fact, various kinds of clays have been used for medicinal purposes since the remotest antiquity.
There are several kinds of clay, some suitable for internal medicinal use, and some that should be used only externally—as for wound-healing poultices or cosmetic clay masks. When you buy medicinal clay from your herbalist, be sure to discuss which kind is best for which purposes.
Medicinal clays are worth including in your first-aid stash, as they can be used for digestive problems, skin problems, wounds, and cosmetically as a facial mask.
Kaolin clay has a long history of use in anti-diarrhea medications. Kaolin was formerly included as an ingredient in Kaopectate, Rolaids, and Maalox, but its use in these medicines has been discontinued.
Bentonite clay has been used internally since antiquity to treat constipation, diarrhea, and indigestion, and has been found to counteract afflatoxins. It is used in chelation therapy in cases of heavy metal poisoning. Calcium bentonite may be used internally or externally. Sodium bentonite may be used externally for poultices, and is used for many dermatologic preparations, such as Clearasil.
Bentonite clay is used after radiation therapy to combat the harmful effects of radiation exposure, and is used both for protection from radiation exposure and for first aid for people who have been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation.
Wikipedia cites a study showing that bentonite clay, “exhibits bactericidal activity against E. coli, ESBL [Extended-Spectrum Beta-Lactamases] E. coli, S. enterica serovar Typhimurium, P. aeruginosa, and M. marinum, and significantly reduces growth of S. aureus, PRSA, MRSA, and nonpathogenic M. smegmatis approximately 1,000-fold compared to cultures grown without added mineral products,” and adds that, “Another study of more than 20 different clay samples from around the world, including the bentonite-type clays, achieved promising results against MRSA superbug infections and disease.”
The Canadian Journal of Microbiology has stated that bentonite clay, taken internally, can reportedly absorb pathogenic viruses, as well as herbicides and pesticides.
How to Use Clay for Diarrhea
Bentonite clay is the kind most commonly used today, internally.
One good way to give bentonite for diarrhea is to mix a teaspoon of bentonite clay with about a cup of applesauce, which not only makes it more palatable, but the pectin from the applesauce also acts as a binding agent. For a child, I would go with about 1/3 cup applesauce mixed with a teaspoon of bentonite, and give three or four times a day, or less as it seems to be needed.
Santillo suggests giving one teaspoon of yellow or white clay in water three or four times a day. Bentonite can, of course, be mixed with juice instead.
Rice of any kind is excellent for diarrhea, and is especially suggested for infants and children, though natural-healing purists would specify wild rice. Most sources suggest that this be given as a gruel:
Cook ½ cup of rice or wild rice in six cups of water for 1 ½ hours, boiling slowly. Mix this with equal parts raspberry or blackberry juice and have the patient take it a little at a time.
Sometimes diarrhea can persist for quite some time after you get well--or stools will remain loose long after the flu bug has been defeated.
This is probably because intestinal flora has been largely killed off by invading bacteria--and this problem can occur even if no antibiotics were taken for the flu.
The best treatment for this problem is to take probiotics to restore the intestinal flora. Probiotics are a concentrated form of the "good bacteria" found in yogurt. Eating yogurt may also solve this problem, but probiotics should solve it much more quickly. Probiotic capsules or tablets are available in health food stores in the refrigerated section and should be stored in the refrigerator after opening.
I think it's probably always a good idea to give probiotics during and after any bout of stomach flu.
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