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Diarrhea: Common Triggers and Treatments

Coping With Short-Term Diarrhea continued...

Dark chocolate may even help tame diarrhea. The Aztecs and Mayans knew this, and a handful of 21st century researchers have figured out how it works, writes Alan Greene, MD, a WebMD expert commentator from

In some types of diarrhea (like that caused by E. coli), the intestines actively secrete fluids into the loose stools, leading to watery diarrhea, he explains. A protein called CFTR regulates this fluid secretion into the intestines.

A group of German researchers have found that flavonoids in cocoa target CFTR and can help turn off the faucet. A cup of cocoa -- whether in food or drink -- has enough of these flavonoids to do the trick, Greene says.

Finding Answers for Chronic Diarrhea

With chronic diarrhea, the treatment depends on what's causing the problem, says Aserkoff. "Some people do better on certain diets. Some need medicines." Among the diarrhea treatments for people with IBS:

  • Antidiarrheal medications like Imodium and Kaopectate. 
  • Bulking agents like psyllium, wheat bran, and corn fiber that help slow movement of food through the digestive system.

Because specific foods often trigger episodes of diarrhea, it will be necessary to determine if that's a possibility for you -- then cut them from your diet. Keeping a food journal can help narrow down the suspects.

Possible culprits include: Red peppers, green onions, red wine, wheat, rye, barley, and cow's milk. (If you must eliminate dairy from your diet, you can get calcium from other sources, like broccoli, spinach, tofu, salmon with bones, calcium-fortified juices, calcium supplements, antacids).

Lifestyle changes can also help tame bouts of what feels like constant diarrhea:

  • Kicking the caffeine habit (coffee, tea, and soda).
  • Boosting the fiber in your diet (fruits, veggies, grains, nuts).
  • Drinking at least three or four glasses of water daily.

If you smoke, quit. Also, learning to relax -- either by exercising or finding a stress reduction technique that works for you – may help reduce chronic diarrhea. Meditation, guided imagery, yoga, breathing exercises, biofeedback, massage, and hypnosis have all been shown to promote relaxation -- as have soothing music, long walks, and a nice hot bath.

"Stress can be pretty hard to deal with," Aserkoff says. "To deal with it effectively, you may need more than meditation. Anti-anxiety medications or a counselor can help. There are many treatments for chronic diarrhea, depending on what's causing it."

Reviewed on November 03, 2010

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