How do stomach bugs come about in the first place?
Although you may not be caring, as all you want to focus on is getting better and forgetting about the ridiculous amount of time you spent in the bathroom, there are a number of different bugs that could have made you ill.
Firstly, there are viral infections, such as norovirus. Commonly known as the ‘winter vomiting bug,’ norovirus is contagious and pretty common in both children and adults alike. Then, there are the bacterial infections to be aware of too. Common strains include salmonella, campylobacter or e coli. Although some strains occur naturally in our digestive tract already, some of the most harmful strains can be spread from animals or faeces (lovely), to us through food or infected surfaces and make us quite ill.
What effects do bugs have on your system?
Initially – diarrhoea galore!
When it comes to most infections, whether they are viral or bacterial in nature, the first few days are often the worst and we can be left feeling quite poorly. You may suffer from vomiting, diarrhoea or both, alongside some other common symptoms including fever or headaches.
Depending on the type of bug, symptoms may only last for 24 hours. You may be lucky enough and symptoms may pass as quickly as they came on. In other cases, the infection may be slightly more stubborn and symptoms may trouble you for up to a week or two before they eventually start to dissipate.
Sometime after – you may still be suffering from the effects!
Although on average, stomach bug symptoms tend to last for 2-5 days, what your doctor may not be telling you is that the effects of infections may be much longer lived than we might have expected. Let me explain in more detail, why this might be the case:
They could have an effect on stomach acid levels
Again, this depends on the type of infection and the underlying cause, but it’s possible that some types of bacterial infections could have an adverse effect on our stomach acid.
As much as stomach acid often gets a bad rap, we really need sufficient levels, especially when it comes to bad bacteria! These bacteria are smart little critters, they know this and they can have an influence on their local environment in order to help improve their chances of survival.
Take H. Pylori, for example. Firstly, once they’ve successfully infected you, they can burrow deep into the lining of your stomach where they lie protected by a neutral mucous layer which acts as a prefect shield against the harsh, acidic environment of your stomach. Now as is clear from this, the bacteria don’t tend to like the acidic contents of your stomach very much, and worryingly over time, they may have the ability to influence the levels of your secretions to better support their own existence.
Long-term, these infections can potentially reduce stomach secretions, which as we’re gradually learning can give rise to a whole host of everyday symptoms including acid reflux or heartburn, and in the long-term, may make you more vulnerable to subsequent infections and even affect your nutrient status.
They can have negative effects on the balance of bacteria in your gut
Naturally, we have billions of bacteria lining our digestive tract and believe it or not, we have both good and bad types that reside there – and that’s ok. What’s important is the balance in which they exist.
If our good bacteria are on the low side (and this won’t be helped by other contributing factors such as weak stomach acid), then the bad bacteria can more easily become established and start to exert their unfavourable effects. Infections will initially create an influx of bad bacteria, but over time, our stomach acid, good bacteria and immune cells should be working hard to get things back under control. So, although the acute symptoms may initially disappear, the fear is that our balance of gut bacteria doesn’t quite recover longer-term and milder symptoms may still trouble us such as a lack of appetite, nausea, acid reflux, bloating, or altered bowel habits.
Follow my advice to get you back on track
Initially, especially if you’re quite ill, we’d recommend you go to your doctor for a check up. In some cases, especially if it’s a viral infection that’s at play, your GP will advise that you rest up, keep properly hydrated and let it run its course. If a bacterial infection is at the root of the cause instead, they may prescribe you a course of antibiotics to help get things under control.
Although antibiotics may be helpful in some cases, they can have unfavourable effects on your good bacteria too, especially if they are taken consistently over some time.
So what can be done to help? If you’ve followed the doctor’s order but still don’t quite feel yourself and suspect something might still be amiss, here’s some steps I’d advise taking:
1 – Manage your diet
Firstly, proper hydration is essential at any stage of having an infection. Initially, if you’re vomiting, experiencing diarrhoea or suffering from a fever you definitely need to be taking in sufficient fluids. A sachet of Balance Mineral Drink may also be an added bonus, especially at this stage, to help replace any lost electrolytes and minerals.
But actually, even after you assume you’ve sufficiently recovered, drinking enough water daily is super important. Water helps to support the movement of waste through your digestive tract (slow moving waste is a prime target for bad bacteria to fester on), and it helps keep your urinary tract flushing through too.
In terms of diet, at the time of the infection you might not be feeling very up to food. In order to keep your energy levels up though, read more on our blog for ‘what to eat if you have a stomach bug’.
After the majority of your symptoms have passed, it’s still important to support a longer, less obvious, recovery process. Processed foods should be avoided as generally they are packed full of hidden sugars, fats and chemicals; none of which will be doing you much good. Sugar is only likely to feed the bad bacteria further and heavy fats or chemical-laden processed nasties will only put pressure on your liver, which we need to be in tip top condition during recovery from an infection.
2 – Support your stomach
It’s well known that we need good levels of stomach acid to help fend off bad bacteria. Whether it’s because you had weaker stomach secretions to start with (our stomach acid secretions deplete as we get older and also in times of stress), or you suspect the infection itself has made things worse (ever have that heavy feeling and feel your stomach isn’t emptying properly), then perhaps now’s the time to be supporting your stomach sufficiently.
The best way to do this? Digestive bitters are often the answer. Digestisan contains a helpful blend of artichoke, dandelion, boldo and peppermint. This creates a perfectly bitter, but also liver-supporting blend. Take 15-20 drops, in a small splash of water, 5-10 minutes before meals, 3 times. This, of course, should taste very bitter which is exactly what we want to introduce!
3 - Support your immune system
When any infections are at play, whether it’s affecting your digestive system or your respiratory tract, for example, your immune system needs to be in top tip condition to help fend it off. Did you know that up to 80% of your immune cells are thought to lie in your gut? Therefore, in theory, your immune system should be doing a pretty good job at detecting any pathogens that encroach on our digestive system, but in reality, if your immune system isn’t quite as fighting fit as we like, bugs can slip through the net and you can end up suffering at the hands of them.
To help give your immune system some extra support, an extract of echinacea in Echinaforce can do just the trick. Although it’s licensed for the symptomatic relief of infections, it has been traditionally used over lengthier periods of time to help support recovery.
4 – Balance your bacteria
Finally, if your balance of bacteria has been disrupted at the hands of an infection, it makes sense to work towards correcting this again.
Alongside supporting your stomach with some herbal bitters, my advice is to take a dose of a prebiotic such as Molkosan, once daily during the recovery phase. This is rich in L+ lactic acid which helps support the internal environment of the gut, working to create the correct pH which your good bacteria will love and any bad bacteria will struggle to survive in.
Then, finally, on top of this, the final step is to introduce a probiotic. Especially if antibiotics have been used throughout your treatment, a course of probiotics is advised to help get you back to your old self again.
If you’re really struggling...
If things still haven’t returned to normal despite your best efforts it’s time to return to your doctor so they can investigate this further. Stool tests may be required to help determine exactly which pathogens may be causing you trouble.