What's the best way to rehydrate after a bout of diarrhea? Nutritional supplements, sports drinks, water, or something else?
This is a great question as diarrhea is one of the biggest contributors to dehydration and malabsorption of nutrients. The degree of dehydration will determine the best treatment for rehydration.
It is important to respond quickly at the first signs of mild dehydration (i.e., dry mouth and thirst) by treating with consistent water intake and electrolyte replacement. In very mild cases, when there are no symptoms other than dry mouth and thirst, it is adequate to drink lots of water, non-caffeinated teas, 100% fruit juices and other beverages that don’t contain added sugars, alcohol or caffeine until symptoms disappear. Beverages containing alcohol, caffeine and added sugars should be avoided, as they contribute to dehydration rather than improve it. Electrolytes can be consumed by eating potassium, magnesium and sodium-rich foods that are tolerated.
When more severe dehydration sets in, with symptoms such as thirst, lack of urination, dry skin, fatigue, light-headedness or inability to sweat, it is important to see a doctor immediately to seek their advice.
If diarrhea persists for more than 3 days, with or without the above-stated symptoms, it is still a good idea to see a doctor, as dehydration can set in very quickly.
While waiting for medical attention, it is best to drink as much as possible of water, sports drinks, fruit drinks and broth, as well as to salt food and beverages. If getting liquids down is hard to do, try sucking on ice cubes or fruit popsicles.
When treating a dehydrated child, doctors often recommend over-the-counter replacement formulas, which have the ideal balance of water, sugar and salt for younger bodies. Please make sure to check the labels to ensure these products are gluten-free.
In the most severe cases of dehydration, when an individual is experiencing low blood pressure, fainting, muscle contractions, rapid and/or deep breathing or a fast, weak pulse, take them to the emergency room immediately.
Lastly, read all labels to be sure that what is being consumed is gluten-free. Diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms experienced by those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Consuming a gluten-containing item will exacerbate the diarrhea in the short term as well as trigger the autoimmune response that damages the intestines.
Rachel Begun, MS, RD