If you’ve ever suffered from food poisoning (sometimes known as “traveller’s diarrhea”) you probably know that absolutely horrible feeling when you’d do almost anything to stop the stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting.
Food borne illness is caused when parasites, bacteria, viruses or toxins contaminate food through unhygienic food handling techniques, insufficient cooking, inadequate refrigeration or excessive age. Typical cases clear up within 24 – 48 hours, but in very serious cases the food poisoning can lead to organ failure, paralysis, neurological impairment, blindness, stillbirths and even death.
Even firm believers who avoid antibiotics whenever possible like me are usually more than happy to take them in the hopes of feeling better when hit with a bad case of food poisoning. Although antibiotics can clear up many bacterial infections, they can also have side-effects, including nausea and longer-term diarrhea! This is generally not what you want when you are trying to get rid of a case of food poisoning.
The good news is that many incidences of food poisoning can typically be treated at home without the need for antibiotics. Probiotics and a healthy gut micro biome have been shown to prevent many cases of traveler’s diarrhea, taking probiotics can also treat food poisoning and help sufferers feel better quickly.
Note: When to Seek Immediate Medical Treatment
If you think your sickness has been caused by either eating a mushroom or some bad shellfish, seek medical assistance promptly and do no attempt to treat it on your own. The toxins that may be associated with either of these foods can be dangerous and require a doctor’s evaluation and treatment. Additionally, if you feel dangerously ill, develop a high fever, or feel extremely dehydrated or depleted, seek a doctor’s attention right away as this can be an indication of serious sickness requiring medical intervention and a strong antibiotic.
How Probiotics Assist the Immune System
Probiotics are the friendly or health-promoting microbes (including both bacteria and yeasts) that typically live in healthy person’s digestive tract. These health-promoting organisms assist in maintaining a strong intestinal lining. This lining in turn helps to prevent harmful substances from crossing from the digestive tract and into the blood stream, where they can cause greater harm.
The large majority of the body’s immune cells are located in the digestive tract and are assisted by the probiotic microorganism that live there. Certain types of probiotic microorganisms can recognize the presence of harmful pathogens and communicate with the immune system, alerting it to the attack. They can provoke or stimulate the body to initiate an immune response to fight off threats.
Furthermore, some probiotics support our immune system by directly harming the disease-causing pathogens with the anti-microbial substances known as bacteriocins they produce, thereby working directly to eliminate them from the body.
Probiotics also help us to eliminate harmful or pathogenic bacteria and viruses by outcompeting the harmful microbes for food and other resources. They take up space within the digestive tract, making it harder for the bad microbes to take hold and cause harm.
Research on Probiotics to Treat or Prevent Food Poisoning
There have been a few medical studies that have shown that probiotics can help reduce the incidence of food poisoning as well as reducing the duration of the illness and the severity of the symptoms.
Salmonella enterica, a pathogenic bacteria, is a very common cause of food poisoning. Animal studies have shown that administering probiotics has great potential to both reduce risk of Salmonella infection and its severity. In 2007, researchers reported on a study they undertook whereby they gave healthy pigs a mix of five common probiotic bacteria (two strains of Lactobacillus murinus and one strain each of Lactobacillus salivarius subsp. salivarius, Lactobacillus pentosus, and Pediococcus pentosaceous) for six days. They then infected the pigs with Salmonella enterica and monitored the exposed animals for the next 23 days. Those pigs that treated with the probiotic cocktail showed reduced incidence, severity, and duration of diarrhea as well as a reduced number of Salmonella cells in their feces, as compared to the control group that were not given probiotics. The study appears to show that giving probiotics prophylactically (to pigs at least) seems to reduce the risk of getting Salmonella, a potentially food-borne disease, as well as reducing the severity of the disease for those that did get it. We look forward to human studies looking at this issue.
Probiotics to Prevent Traveler’s Diarrhea
A significant percentage of people who travel internationally get persistent diarrhea, which is caused by contaminated food or water and is commonly referred to as Traveler’s Diarrhea. From 5 to 50% of overseas travelers will develop this food poisoning, depending on the destination of their trip.
A 2007 meta-review of research that had been done on this burdensome condition and that can really ruin a nice vacation, concluded that taking probiotics prophylactically appeared to be effective at reducing the likelihood of travelers developing diarrhea in the first place. The authors noted that no adverse effects from taking the probiotics was observed in any of the studies they reviewed. In particular, the probiotics Saccharomyces boulardii and a mixture of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum have been shown to be very effective.
With relatively little downside (other than cost) and the potential to increase the enjoyment from a journey, it seems worthwhile to give strong consideration to taking probiotics before and during travel, particularly if the itinerary includes destinations such as India or Mexico, which are known hot-beds of Traveler’s Diarrhea!
Self-care: Probiotics for Food Poisoning
Probiotics have been shown to be useful in preventing and improving cases of food poisoning and they are typically quite safe, except for people with compromised immune systems, who should avoid them.
Friendly microbes will assist your immune system to fight off the illness. Additionally, the beneficial bacteria and yeasts in the probiotics will help your digestive tract return to normal faster after a bout of food poisoning. In some cases, an unexpected side effect of food poisoning is that the sufferer develops lactose intolerance ( a problem digesting milk and foods made with milk). Probiotic Lactobacillus bacteria can help the body to digest milk and milk products while the digestive tract recovers.
If you have taken antibiotics for a bout of food poisoning, taking a probiotic supplement along with, or even after, the prescription medication can help return the healthy microbes to your digestive tract that may have been inadvertently harmed by the antibiotics. One downside of antibiotics is that they kill beneficial as well as harmful microbes. Probiotics can help with antibiotic-induced diarrhea and improve digestion.
Although it may be difficult to consume food or liquids when suffering from food poisoning, eating probiotic rich foods, such a live-culture yoghurt, kefir or preservative-free fermented foods like miso and sauerkraut is one of the most effective ways to get a high dose of good quality probiotics. Be sure to eat and drink lots of these prior to travel to destinations known for a high incidences of food poisoning.
Anecdotally, we have heard people having very quick improvement from food poisoning symptoms after drinking kefir.
If you prefer to take probiotics for preventing or treating food poisoning in pill form, choose a good quality probiotic that contains some or most of these beneficial organisms that have been shown to helpful: Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus murinus, Lactobacillus salivarius, Lactobacillus pentosus, and/or Pediococcus pentosaceous.
Don’t forget to seek medical treatment if your bout lasts longer than a few days, you develop a high fever or you notice blood in your stool.
Please let us know in the comments below if you have had any experience with food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea and probiotics.