Sept. 4, 2003 -- You might want to add a calcium tablet to your next travel kit. A new study shows that calcium -- even in a supplement -- can prevent Montezuma's revenge from ruining your next vacation.
Diarrhea caused by E. coli bacteria is a deadly problem worldwide, particularly in poor countries. People usually contract the bacteria from contaminated drinking water. Tourists traveling to tropical places -- including Mexico, Asia, Africa, and South America -- are among those at high risk.
Now researchers say high doses of calcium may prevent the bacteria from multiplying in the intestine, relieving symptoms such as weight loss and diarrhea. The findings are published in the recent issue of Gastroenterology.
During the three-week study, 32 healthy men ate either high-calcium or low-calcium custard. Both desserts tasted the same so volunteers were unaware of who had the higher calcium food. Other dairy products were prohibited during the study.
After 10 days, researchers infected the entire group with a weakened form of toxic E. coli., a kindthat causes typical symptoms of Montezuma's revenge -- just less severe. This weakened strain typically causes mild diarrhea for one to three days.
Results showed that both groups had similar diarrhea severity the first day after infection. But the similarities ended there. By day two the high-calcium group recovered completely, whereas the low-calcium group continued to suffer with more diarrhea.
And it looks like a pill might work as well as dairy products to prevent Montezuma's revenge. When researchers gave a calcium supplement to rats and then infected them with E. coli, the calcium largely prevented diarrhea.
Researchers say the findings are promising. They note that the positive effects of dietary calcium are not restricted to Montezuma's revenge from E. coli infections and they are testing calcium for treatment of other forms of bacteria.