12 Tips for Surviving the Stomach Flu from a Doctor Mom

Acute gastroenteritis is commonly known as the “stomach flu,” but it’s not actually the flu at all. The most common cause of gastroenteritis in the U.S. is norovirus.

My 4 year old daughter is generally very healthy, but as I was reminded last week, I can’t keep her immune to the slew of preschool germs. She came home with acute gastroenteritis, and had a terrible night with vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes it pays to be a doctor mom.

I’ve cared for my family in this situation, and have counseled hundreds of patients on the same thing. I’ve also nursed myself back to health plenty of times after bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. It’s no fun getting glutened!

Sometimes we prescribe medications to help with the nausea, but there is no magic bullet for viral gastroenteritis. My natural approach offers comfort and speeds recovery. Here are 12 simple tips to recover from the “stomach flu”:

  1. 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.
  2. Coconut Water – This 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.
  3. Chamomile Tea – chamomile has long been known for it’s soothing effects, and also has antimicrobial activity.
  4. 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.
  5. Raw Honey – have a teaspoon in warm tea. Remember, no honey for children under 1 year old.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Fresh or Frozen Pineapple – pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain which acts as a digestive aid, is anti-inflammatory, and may even help kill viruses.
  9. 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. Vibrant Blue Oils are my favorite.
  10. Activated Charcoal – Charcoal can help to naturally remove toxins and bacteria. My recommendations are Upgraded Coconut Charcoal from Bulletproof, or G.I. Detox from Bio-Botanical Research.
  11. 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 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.
  12. Warm Epsom Salt Bath– comforting, good for detox, and will provide some magnesium. We put some lavender essential oil in the tub, too.

I recommend avoiding inflammatory foods like dairy and gluten. Boiled potatoes or cooked basmati rice would be a better option if you tolerate them. Stick to warm, cooked, easily digested foods like soup.

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. 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.

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I'm Dr. Christine Maren, a board-certified functional medicine physician and mother of three. I advocate for real food, healthy living, and clean beauty. I think physicians should be role models when it comes to nutrition and healthy living. This is where I share that passion. Thanks for joining me!

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