Stomach flu is a prevalent stomach ailment affecting millions every year worldwide. Kids are especially at risk as the spread of the infection is mostly through contaminated food. Stomach flu can cause intestinal cramps, diarrhea, and dehydration. It subsides on its own, and a few home remedies can provide symptomatic relief. BRAT diet, the oral rehydrating solution helps combat the loss of fluid and electrolytes via diarrhea. Anise seeds, caraway seeds, ginger and peppermint tea can help ease out the upset stomach and reduce the cramps.
Other common stomach flu symptoms are low fever, nausea, vomiting, muscle ache, malaise, etc. Stomach flu is a contagious infection as it is caused by the virus. You may be contagious even before you show stomach flu symptoms. Let’s see how to get rid of stomach flu naturally at home.
What is stomach flu?
Stomach flu is the common term for viral gastroenteritis (1). It is a highly contagious intestinal infection. Although viral gastroenteritis is referred to as the flu, it is not the same as influenza. Symptoms of stomach flu include watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting.
Norovirus and rotavirus mostly cause stomach flu (2). Adenoviruses, Parvoviruses, and Astroviruses also cause stomach flu. The spread of infection occurs after coming in contact with an infected person or after consuming contaminated food or water.
That’s why it is vital to isolate the infected person from using the common facilities such as bathroom, toilet, etc.
What are stomach flu symptoms?
In most cases, symptoms usually within 1-3 days of infection (3). Stomach usually resolves on its own and lasts for 3-7 days. In case of a severe infection, it can last up to 10 days.
The following symptoms accompany stomach flu –
- Low-grade fever
- Watery, non-bloody diarrhea
- Stomach cramps and pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle aches
In case of food poisoning, the severity of symptoms may increases –
- Blood in vomit or stool
- Vomiting more than 48 hours
- Fever higher than 101 F
- Swollen abdomen
- Severe abdominal pain
Stomach flu is a viral infection, and hence antibiotics cannot help alleviate this condition. Over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics can help with fever and aches but should be used with caution.
Antiemetics can relieve the feelings of nausea. OTC antidiarrheals like Pepto-Bismol can control diarrhea and watery stools. Stomach flu is usually treated with home remedies by enhancing the immunity against the viral infection.
Home remedies for treating stomach flu
Ginger helps flush out toxins created by the virus. It also helps to boosts your blood circulation giving it a good line of defense. Ginger helps alleviate and ease other digestive symptoms such as nausea.
The active ingredient gingerol has potent anti-inflammatory properties which help reduce intestinal tract inflammation accompanying stomach flu (4). Gingerol also acts as a carminative and helps ease an upset stomach.
Add fresh crushed ginger to boiling water, strain the remnants and consume it warm, this ginger tea will help you stay hydrated at the same time boost your immunity and keep down nausea and intestinal cramps. Alternatively, incorporate ginger as a flavoring in food.
2. BRAT diet
BRAT diet is a combination of bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. All these constituents are bland and soothing and are low in protein, fat, hence easily digestible.
This diet is starchy and contains low fiber which encourages binding of loose and runny stools. Bananas and applesauce contain pectin, a starch which soaks up the excess fluid in your intestine and slows down the passage of stool (5). BRAT diet should be started from the first day of the infection when the symptoms arise.
Probiotics are the essential bacteria naturally occurring in our gut. During stomach flu, an imbalance occurs between the good and bad bacteria in our gut, and it can cause stomach cramps and diarrhea.
Probiotics reduce the severity and duration of diarrhea associated with rotavirus infection. Probiotics contain certain beneficial bacteria which can shorten the course of diarrhea.
Lactobacillus reuteri, and Saccharomyces boulardii and Bifidobacterium help restore the gut integrity and balance the gut flora. Probiotics can reduce the duration of diarrhea accompanying stomach flu by twenty-four hours, while also decreasing stool frequency(6).
Natural yogurt is an excellent source of these essential bacteria. Other food sources for probiotics are kefir, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, miso soup, and kombucha.
4. Oral rehydration solution
Plain water is not recommended during stomach flu because it can dilute the electrolytes in the body and cause complications. Diarrhea accompanying stomach flu also causes loss of electrolytes.
Oral rehydration solution using balanced electrolyte solutions replenishes the fluid supply and combats dehydration (7). The key to oral rehydration is frequent small feedings. It is best to limit the amount of fluid given at one time as it can trigger nausea. Sip small amounts oral rehydration solution several times a day.
5. Peppermint Tea
Peppermint tea can help digestive problems; it is an essential beverage to battle with nausea, stomach upset, that painful intestinal cramps. The active ingredient menthol present in peppermint can help the muscles in the digestive tract relax and prevent digestive muscles from cramping (8). Peppermint tea should be consumed before a meal and before bed.
6. Anise seeds
Anise seeds have potent antispasmodic properties which aid in relaxation of the digestive tract (9). The active ingredient anethole has carminative properties helps soothe an upset stomach.
You can use anise seeds in food preparations as a spice or crush a handful of anise seeds after roasting and drink in lukewarm water.
Caraway, also called Carum carvi or Persian fennel, has potent antispasmodic and carminative properties. It has active compounds, such as carvol and carveneara, which help get rid of stomach cramps and inflammation (10).
You can chew fennel seeds or can prepare its tea. Just boil a teaspoon of caraway seeds in a cup of water for 10 minutes. Strain, once it cools down. You can add lemon to this decoction. Sip on this drink multiple times a day.
8. Bone Broth
Studies have confirmed that various components of bone broth influence our immune system. Glycine present in bone broth moderates the immune response, resulting in reduced inflammatory signaling molecules.
Stomach flu leads to thinning of this mucus layer and a decrease in the count of essential bacteria count in our gut. Bone broth is a rich source of gelatin which absorbs water and helps prevent watery stools.
Glycine reduces the inflammation caused by the gastroenteritis virus. It helps rehydrate the body and provide healthy and necessary nourishment to combat stomach flu.
Food to avoid during stomach flu
When you are suffering from stomach flu, you are advised not to consume foods and beverages such as meat, dairy products, alcohol, etc. All these items can aggravate flu symptoms.
Chocolates, sodas, candies can worsen the symptoms of stomach flu. Artificial sweeteners like sucralose and sorbitol can increase the frequency of watery stools.
2. Meat and dairy products
Meat, milk, cheese and other dairy products contain a high amount of lactose which is difficult to digest. During stomach flu, it can cause additional stress on the stomach and hence should be avoided.
Caffeine acts as a mild diuretic. It can lead to loss of essential electrolytes and water from the body. Hence avoid the consumption of caffeinated products.
Alcohol is a strong diuretic. It can cause severe dehydration which can worsen the water loss during stomach flu. It can also irritate the stomach and should strictly be avoided.
How can you prevent stomach flu?
You can prevent stomach flu by maintaining proper hygiene. Whenever you are eating, sleeping or working, make sure everything is cleaned properly.
- Isolate the infected person. If someone is relative or living with you, do not use things that they use. For example, same toilet or bathroom, toiletries products, etc. If you see people in your workplace with such symptoms, advise them to take a few days off.
- Always keep a small hand sanitizer in your pocket. If you touch anything after you step out of your house, sanitize your hands.
- Wear clean clothes and wash them in good detergents. Also, clean floor and different surfaces in your home with a powerful disinfectant solution.
Final words on treating stomach flu at home
Always wash your hands before eating. Do not eat roadside food or food from untrustworthy resources to avoid contracting stomach flu. Staying hydrating is very important during an episode of stomach flu.
Bone broth provides adequate nourishment and hydration to provide symptomatic relief. Try and gain adequate rest. If stomach flu symptoms continue or worsen, then contact your healthcare provider.
Even if you have recovered and do not see any of its symptoms, you can be still contagious for more than a week time frame. Try not to go into daily routine life unless until you are perfectly alright. Remember it is an infectious condition and you do not want your fellow coworker or relative to become a victim of this disease.