Is the Stomach Flu an Actual Flu?
Acute gastroenteritis is commonly known as the “stomach flu,” but it’s not actually the flu at all. According to the CDC, the most common cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S. are viruses called norovirus1 and rotovirus. However bacterial and parasitic infections may also be to blame. Sometimes these are transmitted person-to-person, and sometimes they are spread through contaminated food or water (including swimming pools!).
Physicians may prescribe medications to help with nausea and rehydration, but in most cases antibiotic therapy is not indicated. Gastroenteritis is usually self-limited, meaning it gets better on its own. However, it can lead to long-term problems like postinfectious Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)2 and Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO).3 Regardless of the cause, tummy troubles are important to address and take seriously.
My natural approach offers comfort and speeds recovery.
12 simple tips to recover from the “stomach flu”:
- Bone broth – There’s a reason we make chicken soup. Bone broth is nutrient-dense, easy to digest, and helps heal the gut. With collagen, proline, glycine, glutamine, and minerals, bone broth really is the perfect remedy.
- Electrolytes – Coconut Water is a great source of natural electrolytes. I much prefer it to sports drinks like Gatorade that are full of food dyes and sugar (or even worse, artificial sweetener). My other favorite electrolyte mix is this powder from Seeking Health.
- Chamomile Tea – Chamomile has long been known for it’s soothing effects, and also has antimicrobial activity. Add a teaspoon of raw honey (remember, no honey for children under 1 year old).
- Fresh Ginger – Ginger is widely known for its digestive effects. Studies show it to be an effective option for relieving nausea and vomiting. Grate fresh ginger into warm water and add honey, or add grated ginger to plain sparkling water.
- Apple Sauce – Cooked apples are easier to digest and contain more pectin, which helps to reduce the symptoms of diarrhea and soothes the gastrointestinal tract.
- Bananas – Bananas are easy to digest and a good source of potassium. They also contain pectin. There’s something to the BRAT (Bananas-Rice-Applesauce-Toast) diet, just stay away from the toast.
- Fresh or Frozen Pineapple – Pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain which acts as a digestive aid, is anti-inflammatory, and may even help kill viruses.
- Peppermint Essential Oil – Peppermint is well known for it’s anti-nausea effects. Dilute it with a carrier oil and rub on the soles of the feet (be careful not to get it on the eyes or face). You can also diffuse it into a room or put it on a wet washcloth. My favorite brand of essential oils is doTERRA. (Please note that peppermint oil might not be the best choice for young children because it can potentially cause skin irritation and respiratory distress4 when inhaled.)
- Warm Epsom Salt Bath– Epsom salts are comforting, good for detox, and will provide some needed magnesium. We add a few drops of doTERRA lavender essential oil to our bath, too.
- Activated Charcoal – Charcoal can help to naturally remove toxins and bacteria. I like G.I. Detox from Bio-Botanical Research.
- Probiotics – double up on a high quality probiotic supplement for a few weeks to months. I recommend daily probiotics for just about everyone to help restore and maintain healthy gut flora. Probiotic or fermented drinks like Kevita’s Lemon Ginger and Kosmic Kombucha Ginger Mary Ann can also help. However, watch the sugar content and avoid these if you struggle with fungal or candida overgrowth.
- Serum-derived Bovine Immunoglobulins – that’s a mouthful! There’s good evidence5 to support the use of oral immunoglobulins to improve gut barrier function, reduce the severity of symptoms, and support nutritional status. My favorite products are SBI Protect and MegaMucosa. Keep these stocked in your medicine cabinet because you never know when you’ll need them!
Other “Stomach Flu” Tips
Stick to warm, cooked, easily digested foods like soups. Boiled potatoes or cooked basmati rice are a good option if you tolerate them. I recommend avoiding inflammatory foods like dairy, gluten and sugar.
More importantly, focus on hydration with electrolyte-rich fluids (electrolytes are depleted with vomiting and diarrhea). Hydrate with frequent, small sips – no gulping or chugging.
Keep in mind that high sugar foods can sometimes make the situation worse by creating osmotic diarrhea (and feeding Candida and yeast). That said, I would prefer natural sugars to artificial sweeteners.
Remember to wash your hands with soap and water! Alcohol based (triclosan-free) hand sanitizers are ok in a pinch, but are no substitute for soap and water and are not effective against certain infections like Clostridium Difficile.
Please note, this is not meant to be a substitute for seeking medical care. See your doctor or go to the Emergency Room if you have any concerns for dehydration. In children especially, it’s important to monitor urine output. See your doctor if there is blood or mucous in the stool, pain, lethargy, if symptoms persist more than a few days or if you have any other concerns.