What Causes Stomach Flu?
The “stomach flu” isn’t your typical “flu”. It is caused by a viruses, but not the influenza virus. The viruses that cause Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) damage the cells in the lining of the small intestine. As a result, fluids leak from the cells into the intestine and produce watery diarrhea. The “stomach flu” is viral, so taking antibiotics will not help. Four types of viruses cause most Stomach Flu.
Rotavirus is the leading cause among children 3 to 15 months old and the most common cause of diarrhea in children under the age of 5 years. Symptoms of rotavirus infection appear 1 to 2 days after exposure. Rotavirus typically causes vomiting and watery diarrhea for 3 to 8 days, along with fever and abdominal pain. Rotavirus can also infect adults who are in close contact with infected children, but the symptoms in adults are milder. In the United States, rotavirus infections are most common from November to April.
Adenovirus occurs mainly in children under the age of 2 years. Of the 49 types of adenoviruses, one strain affects the gastrointestinal tract causing vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms typically appear 1 week after exposure. Adenovirus infections occur year round.
Caliciviruses cause infection in people of all ages. This family of viruses is divided into 4 types, the noroviruses being the most common and most responsible for infecting people. The noroviruses are usually responsible for epidemics of Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) and occur more frequently from October to April. Infected people experience vomiting and diarrhea, fatigue, headache, and sometimes muscle aches. The symptoms appear within 1 to 3 days of exposure.
Astrovirus also infects primarily infants, young children, and the elderly. This virus is most active during the winter months. Vomiting and diarrhea appear within 1 to 3 days of exposure.
Stomach Flu Symptoms
The main symptoms of Stomach Flu (Viral Gastroenteritis) are watery diarrhea and vomiting. Other symptoms are headache, fever, chills, and abdominal pain. Symptoms usually appear within 4 to 48 hours after exposure to the virus and last for 1 to 2 days, though symptoms can last as long as 10 days.
How Long is the Stomach Flu Contagious?
People who no longer have symptoms may still be contagious, since the virus can be found in their stool for up to 2 weeks after they recover from their illness. Also, people can become infected without having symptoms and they can still spread the infection.
Stomach Flu Treatment at Home
Remember, if your symptoms persist for more than 48 hours or are causing undue pain or other major problems, consult your doctor, as it may be a sign of a more serious illness.
The BRAT Diet
The BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) is typically recommended for stomach flu treatment; while the BRAT diet is chosen to be non-irritating, evidence suggests that it may not help you heal, and may even slow the process of healing. It’s basically a diet of high-fiber (read: constipating) foods intended to slow or stop diarrhea. The purpose of diarrhea – when caused by a virus or bacteria – is to help rid the body of that virus or bacteria. This is why the diet can drag out the illness. It simply gives those microorganisms more time in the digestive tract to hang out and multiply. In an article from Emergency Medicine News, they state:
“Over the past 10 years … a consensus has developed that this dietary restriction is a suboptimal choice because it is low in protein, fat, and energy content. This limited intake is not considered helpful to the body’s healing or immune response to infection.
…many studies have shown that unrestricted diets do not worsen the course or symptoms of mild diarrhea. For moderate to severe diarrhea, avoid fatty foods and foods high in simple sugars … Appropriate foods include lean meats, yogurts, fruits, and vegetables, as well as complex carbohydrates like rice, wheat, potatoes, bread, and cereals.”
It is important to remember to have a balanced view of things though, sometimes controlling the symptoms enough for your body to absorb nutrients is worth the extra time it might take to fully heal.
Stay Properly Hydrated
It is important to stay hydrated as your body is losing a lot of fluids. Stay with soothing drinks like mint, ginger, or chamomile tea; or restorative ones like coconut water which is high in electrolytes. Skip anything with lots of sugar, caffeine or artificial anything (sports drinks, coffee, sodas, undiluted fruit juice, etc). Small sips at regular intervals are easier on the abdomen than large quantities at once.
Live culture foods help populate your digestive tract with healthy bacteria and other friendly beasties. This can help your body crowd out the troublemakers and speed your recovery. Yogurt, milk kefir, water kefir, kombucha, and lacto-fermented foods all contain bacteria that promotes a healthy immune system. You can, of course, purchase these items from the store or buy the little capsules, but it’s really easy to make you own at home. Again, use small servings, especially with the kombucha, which can have a detox effect.
Try Some Chia
Chia seeds are hydrophilic, which means they absorb water (up to 12 times their weight in water). You can use this property to your advantage by thoroughly hydrating the seeds before consuming them, and then using the seeds to carry water into you body. The gel-like coating that forms around the hydrated seeds soothes your digestive tract and slowly releases the water into your body as they pass through your system.
Activated charcoal has excellent adsorption properties. It adsorbs, meaning it binds to material in the gastrointestinal tract like poisons, toxins, bacteria and viruses, and flushes them out. This makes activated charcoal an excellent natural remedy that everyone should have on hand. It’s effective against food poisoning, gas, upset stomach and you guessed it – the stomach flu. Because it bind to toxins, viruses and bacteria in the stomach and intestines and flushes them out, activated charcoal can drastically improve recovery time and even prevent the stomach flu. It’s routinely used in hospitals as well.
Garlic isn’t nicknamed “Russian Penicilin” for nothing. The allicin in garlic makes it a very potent immune booster as well as virus and bacteria killer. In fact, studies have demonstrated that allicin is antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and antiparasitic.
Honey is also a powerful antibacterial. Honey contains hydrogen peroxide and a variety of other beneficial enzymes. The one catch is: it has to be truly raw honey.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is great for the digestive tract, it is rich in enzymes, helps kill off harmful bacteria, improves stomach acid and can even improve blood glucose levels. Like the honey, it’s necessary to use a truly raw form of ACV.
Garlic, Raw honey, and ACV shot
To make the shot, chop up one medium sized garlic clove into tiny pieces. Add the garlic, one teaspoon of raw honey, one teaspoon of ACV and a bit of water to a shot glass. Mix together until the honey is dissolved. Then chug it back and chase with water.
This is often better towards the end of the stomach flu, when muscles are aching and the risk of relaxing muscles while having diarrhea (TMI: poop soup) has passed.
When used internally, bentonite clay is similar to activated charcoal in the sense that it adsorbs to toxins, binding to them and flushing them from the body. When used externally, clay pulls toxins and harmful bacteria out via the skin. This is why it makes such a good mask for clogged pores, blackheads and acne. Bentonite clay is negatively charged, therefore it pulls positively charged ions (toxins) from the body.
To really amp up the detox factor when dealing with the stomach flu, add Epsom salt. Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, or MgSO4. The liver detoxes in two phases. The first phase is oxidation, the second is conjugation. Zinc is a huge player in phase one detoxification, while sulfate is a huge player in phase two. This is why Epsom salt is great for detoxification on an internal and external level.
Add a cup of epsom salt and a cup of bentonite clay to a bath, you can also add a soothing essential oil such as lavender.