Lots of critters like to eat our food besides us - and sometimes us and them don't get along. That's when we find ourselves running to the bathroom every few minutes within a few hours of eating. Most food poisoning in North America is what's called self-limiting. You throw up and have the runs for a while and then get over it. It can be hard to tell, in fact, if you've got another kind of stomach bug or the tuna salad was dressed with spoiled mayo.
But food poisoning can be deadly serious for children, the elderly and those with chronic diseases. Seek medical attention if it drags on for more than 48 hours or includes fever and chills; bloody diarrhea, vomit or urine; abdominal cramps; weakness; respiratory symptoms; dizziness or headache. You need to get yourself to an ER immediately if mushrooms, tainted fish or seafood could have brought on your discomfort.
Ask that your stool and perhaps vomit be cultured to test for the nature of your infection (you want the docs to know what you have if it gets worse), and, if possible, bring suspect food along for testing.
Dehydration is the single most common health risk when you've got the runs. Sipping water slowly will help keep it down. If you're on diuretic herbs or drugs, get professional advice pronto. If your mouth and eyes become dry and you stop producing urine for more than eight hours, you likely need intravenous rehydration.
Avoid milk or caffeinated drinks; milk can worsen diarrhea, while caffeine is dehydrating. If you want something in your water, make it electrolytes - but avoid sports drinks and juices containing sugars that feed the critters making you sick. Stay away from medicines meant to stop diarrhea, which could make you seriously ill by blocking your natural detox process. If your doc prescribes antibiotics, ask him or her to think again. Even allopathic info sources agree that these drugs can prolong your illness.
What The Experts Say
"Herbalists mostly use activated charcoal, available at health food stores, for food poisoning. It absorbs the toxins in the gastrointestinal tract. Take about 1,000 to 5,000 mg two to three times a day. Take the herbs goldenseal and triphala as tinctures, powders or capsules. Take acidophilus in supplement form. For dehydration I like vitamin C and electrolytes . People don't put enough emphasis on calcium, magnesium and potassium. My favourite product is an electrolyte mix called Emergen-C. If the person is too sensitive for that, I use Trisalts from Ecological Formulas."
ROGER LEWIS , master herbalist, Toronto
"For immediate life-threatening conditions, taking Ipecac 6Ch every five to 10 minutes in the time that it takes to get to the hospital could actually save your life. Symptoms (that indicate a need for Ipecac) include retching, a sensation that something is eating away at your organs, severe nausea and vomiting that do not provide relief, and black stools or bloody diarrhea. Metallum album 6Ch is useful when digestion problems are caused by meat or poultry. For tainted shellfish the remedy is Lycopodium 6Ch. If you eat a spoiled fruit or vegetable, take Natrum phos 6CH. I highly recommend travelling with Ipecac at all times. It will give relief (in all food poisonings)."
DANIEL LUPU , homeopath, Toronto
"Most food-borne illness comes from poor food hygiene. Cold food has to stay below 4°C and hot food above 60°C. Food can stay in between those temperatures for only two hours. We see more and more food handlers wearing gloves. But if you contaminate the glove, it's no different from having a contaminated hand. It creates a false sense of security. They should put on a fresh glove as frequently as they would wash their hands. The guidelines are that food handlers should wash every time they touch raw meat or cheese, after sneezing or coughing, touching their nose or mouth, going for a smoke or going to the washroom. Belly pain without vomiting or diarrhea could be appendicitis, so get it checked out."
STEVEN MARC FRIEDMAN , MD, assistant professor, faculty of medicine, U of T, emergency physician, Toronto
"Before you prepare food, your hands and all surfaces should be clean. When washing, make sure you have a nice soapy lather on your hands for about 15 seconds. Use a paper towel to close the faucet and then discard it. If you're cutting raw meat, clean the surface of the knife with soapy water or 1 tsp of bleach per litre of water before using it to prepare other items. Bakery items with fillings and puddings, pies and custards must be kept at 4°C. In restaurants, items made up of a whole bunch of ingredients mixed together, like tuna salad or egg salad, are most suspect."
AVA MORGAN , registered dietitian, Toronto
"If vomiting is persistent over 24 hours and you feel it's continuing, go to your ER, because you'll have to get a saline drip. At the onset of vomiting, sip a saline solution made with 1 tsp of salt and 4 tsps sugar in a litre of water. Use a natural salt, like a sea salt. Some people advocate taking fibre. If you can keep it down, it helps to bulk up the stool. Probiotics like acidophilus and saccharomyces are helpful in re-establishing gut flora if you have diarrhea without vomiting. Take a multivitamin/mineral supplement , because you are probably not absorbing nutrients. Later on you want to look at botanicals that can fight infection directly or help the gut heal. Those should be used in consultation with a professional."
AARON SAMANTA , naturopath, Toronto