Probiotics benefits: Prevention and Treatment of the Stomach Flu (aka Gastroenteritis)

Probiotics benefits: Prevention and Treatment of the Stomach Flu (aka Gastroenteritis)

  • Gut Health

  • By Desiree Nielsen, Registered Dietitian

    Had a stomach bug lately?

    Gastroenteritis, also known as the stomach flu or food poisoning, is no picnic. Gastroenteritis means inflammation of the gut; however, the inflammation occurs in response to viral or bacterial infection. Norovirus, E.coli and Salmonella are common causes of gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is why you need to keep food cold at picnics, why we drink bottled water when we travel to tropical countries, and why you wash your hands thoroughly after using the bathroom.

    Spread by contact with contaminated food, infected person, or surfaces, gastroenteritis can lead to stomach flu symptoms like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, stomach pain and even fever. It’s often short-lived, lasting maybe a day or two, although feeling better can take significantly longer. These microbes have a dramatic impact on your well-being so you might be wondering… how do they impact your microbiome?


    Gastroenteritis: Pathogens vs Microbiota

    An upset stomach because of infection can cause significant alterations to the beneficial bacteria living in our gut. So our body does its best to protect them (and us!): immune cells continuously patrol the gut space, looking for potential harm. Whenever we ingest food, the rapid pH shift from our acidic stomachs to alkaline digestive secretions not only helps us digest and absorb food – it helps kill microbes to protect our resident bacteria from attack.

    The stronger your gut microbes are, the more resistant you are to infection – although some bugs are super villains and very challenging to fight. Part of the role of your resident gut bacteria is to fight off and outcompete other microbes. This feature is why some of us can be carriers of pathogenic Clostridium difficile strains without showing signs of infection4. We also know that the Lactobacillus strains in Bio-K+ have been shown to fight off E.coli and C.diff bacteria effectively.

    In gastroenteritis, if a pathogenic (disease-causing) microbe enters the system successfully, the body tries to expel it as fast as possible. When the pathogenic microbe enters the gut, the immune system within the gut recognizes it as harmful and triggers a cascade of events to help rid you of the infection. Enterochromaffin cells (EC) in the gut release a flood of serotonin that causes strong peristalsis waves either upwards or downwards (or both) and water secretion into the gut to wash contents along1.

    This rapid gut transit, along with inflammation and the impact of the foreign microbe itself, can alter your gut flora so that the post-gastroenteritis community looks significantly different than the bacterial community pre-infection2. Beneficial microbes living in our gut tend to be depleted by inflammatory states; if you end up needing antibiotics for the bacterial infection, the dysbiosis may be worse2. For this reason, careful recovery from viral gastroenteritis is critical, as it may create chronic changes in the gut flora that can lead to increased gut inflammation, gut barrier dysfunction, and even post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome2.


    How to treat stomach flu?

    Wondering what you should do if you get gastroenteritis? What are possible stomach flu treatment options? Here are some home remedies for stomach flu and tips:

    1. Drink as much fluid (water, diluted broth, diluted juice, electrolyte drinks and herbal teas) as possible to avoid dehydration and maintain your strength. Sip slowly throughout the day to avoid triggering nausea and vomiting.
    1. Always wash your hands and clean surfaces thoroughly and frequently with a mild (non-antibacterial) soap.
    1. Sleep as much as possible. Did you know that sleeping has a lot of health benefits? ? can help modulate your immune system and also allows your body enough time to recover from the condition. 
    1. When able, eat small amounts of bland food like crackers, bread and rice. Doing this will help your stomach settle. Plus, eating small amounts of clear soup and bland crackers can help you slowly ease into eating full meals again. However, be sure to pause if you feel any symptoms resurfacing.
    1. Probiotics for stomach flu: take a probiotic product like Bio-K+ to stop diarrhea and replenish your gut as soon as you can tolerate liquids. Try to drink two a day, in small doses, during the worst part of the infection.


    When to see a doctor

    For some cases of gastroenteritis or norovirus illness, there isn’t much a doctor can do – for example, there is no medication to combat norovirus – and staying home can prevent the spread of disease. However, if any of the following occur, call or visit your doctor immediately.

    1. Can’t hold any fluids down for 24 hours
    2. There is blood in your vomit or stools
    3. You have a high fever
    4. Your vomiting lasts longer than 24 hours
    5. You have profuse diarrhea, lasting longer than three days


    How to Care For Yourself Post-Gastroenteritis

    Nourishing yourself well helps rebuild your gut lining and get diarrhea under control.

    Taking a daily probiotic like Bio-K+ is a foundational part of the healing process to help lower inflammation and help strengthen and rebuild gut microbe families. Also, keep your intake of extra fluids high and start by gradually introducing lower fibre foods such as cooked vegetables, low residue toast and pasta and protein rich-foods like tofu.

    Dairy is less likely to be tolerated while your gut is still irritated as the enzyme you need to digest lactose can be diminished with damage to the gut lining, so if you consume dairy, don’t reintroduce it for a few days.

    When your gut is ready for more complete meals, this is the time to gradually introduce higher fibre fruits, vegetables and legumes while steering clear of gut irritants like sugar, spice and alcohol to help feed your beneficial bacteria and restore healthy bowel movements.

    If you are looking to prevent gastroenteritis, after hand washing, the best thing you can do is support a healthy microbiome. Take a probiotic like Bio-K+ daily; make half your plate vegetables to nourish yourself with anti-inflammatory phytochemicals and eat plenty of high fibre plants such as nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes to feed your gut bacteria well.


    Do you have any other questions concerning the health of your gut microbiome? Let us know in the comments below! Join our community for more healthy tips. Click here to find a store near you. Contact us or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.









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    Desiree Nielsen Registered Dietitian
    About the author
    Desiree Nielsen is a registered dietitian, author and host of the vegetarian cooking sshow, The Urban Vegetarian. Desiree takes an evidence-based, integrative approach to her dietetics work, with a focus on anti-inflammatory, plant-centredcentered nutrition and digestive health.
    View all articles by Desiree Nielsen
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