Travelers' Diarrhea No Reason Not To Eat

No Need for Fasting, Bland Diet in Healthy Adults With Traveler's Diarrhea

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 6, 2004 -- Healthy adults who come down with travelers' diarrhea -- and get antibiotic treatment -- don't have to fast or eat bland foods.

The finding comes from a study of U.S. college students attending summer sessions in Guadalajara, Mexico. Travelers' diarrhea struck 105 of the students, who then were enrolled in a study comparing treatment with two different antibiotic regimens.

Half the students were told to eat whatever they liked. The other half were told to consume only clear liquids and bland food (crackers, tortillas, or dry toast) while their diarrhea continued. As their symptoms improved, they were allowed to eat bananas, rice, potatoes, and baked chicken or fish. But just about everything else was off the menu. Both groups were advised to drink plenty of water to replace lost fluids.

The result: The bland foods didn't help. Those who ate whatever they liked were all better in 33 hours. Those who dieted got better in 37 hours.

Bland May Be Better Without Antibiotics

A bland diet still might be better for some people who get travelers' diarrhea -- especially if they don't take antibiotics, notes study leader Charles D. Ericsson, MD, of the University of Texas Houston Medical School.

"Such a diet might speed the repair of the gut and avoid persistent symptoms," Ericsson says in a news release. "The problem is that we do not yet know how to identify who might benefit from such a diet."

The study appears in the current issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases. In an editorial accompanying the study, Robert Steffen, MD, of the World Health Organization and Klaus Gyr, MD, of University Hospital, Basel, Switzerland, note that grandmothers of the world have always used diet to treat diarrhea.

They note that with antibiotics, travelers' diarrhea doesn't last long enough for diet to have much of an effect. That's especially true if a person is also treated with Imodium.

However, they note that larger studies are needed to see whether diet helps people who don't get antibiotic treatment for travelers' diarrhea.

Travelers' diarrhea -- for those careful enough and lucky enough never to have had it -- is no fun. Symptoms include frequent watery diarrhea, abdominal pain, excessive gas, nausea, vomiting, intestinal spasms, and/or fever.


It's an infection one gets from consuming contaminated food or water. To avoid it, travelers are advised to drink only purified, carbonated, or boiled water; to eat only freshly cooked foods; and to avoid unpeeled fruits or unpeeled raw vegetables. Ice made from contaminated water is a frequently overlooked source of the illness.

SOURCES: Huang, D.B. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2004. Steffen, R. and Gyr, K. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2004; in press. News release, Infectious Disease Society of America.

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