Finding the Best Drink When Your Child Has Diarrhea

Aug. 21, 2001 -- When your child has diarrhea you want to replenish the fluids they lost as quickly as possible, but many parents with good intentions may not be giving their kids the most effective things to drink.

In the U.S., just under 10% of all hospitalizations of kids under age 5 are because of diarrhea, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The group says kids younger than age 3 average about one to two episodes of diarrhea per year, with rates typically being higher for kids attending day care.

Since diarrhea causes the body to lose essential fluids and minerals, some pediatricians recommend that these kids drink plenty of liquids such as rehydrating solutions like Pedialyte. One problem though is that kids often turn up their noses at the salty taste of these solutions. And, juice or sports drinks or soda, which kids like, isn't recommended by the AAP for rehydrating a child with diarrhea.

The problem with fruit juice is that it contains different types of sugar that may worsen diarrhea and stomach pain. The four major types of sugar are sucrose, glucose, fructose, and sorbitol. Juice and other foods that have sorbitol or high levels of fructose (such as grape, apple, or pear juices) are the worst culprits.

But letting kids have the right kind of juice with the right blend of sugars along with the rehydrating solutions can give them needed calories, fluids, and minerals and a more familiar taste, says Fima Lifshitz, MD, who reports results of a new study on juice after diarrhea in the August issue of the Journal of Pediatrics.

In the study, 60 boys aged 6 months to 2 years were divided into three groups and given one serving of either pear juice, apple juice, or white grape juice after they had been properly rehydrated in a hospital following a bout of diarrhea.

According to Lifshitz, chief of nutrition sciences and professor of pediatrics at Miami Children's Hospital, children in the study responded best to juice containing equal amounts of fructose and glucose without sorbitol. Of the three juices tested, only white grape juice fit the bill.

In addition to a reduction in the amount of diarrhea within 24 hours of drinking the white grape juice, children also were less likely to have repeat episodes of diarrhea after drinking this juice compared with the other juices tested.

"Not all juices are created equal," Lifshitz says.

But pediatricians such as John Dorsey, MD, say despite the results, juice containing any sugar isn't a good idea because the lining of young digestive tracts can't handle it well and it could end up causing more diarrhea.

"Sugar really is an extra burden [on their young bodies]," says Dorsey, a pediatrician at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oaks, Mich.

Dorsey says while some pediatricians recommend Gatorade for kids with diarrhea, that isn't a good choice either because it contains sugar and while it replaces some fluid and minerals, it doesn't compare with the benefits of rehydrating solutions, some of which now come in different flavors and even in frozen pops to make them more taste-friendly to kids.

Lifshitz agrees that the oral rehydrating agents are a necessary first choice, but says since kids need extra fluids when recovering from diarrhea and dehydration, it may be helpful to parents to know that giving them white grape juice is a better choice than apple juice or other popular fruit juices or sports drinks.

Lifshitz's study was supported in part by a grant from Welch Foods, Inc.