Gurgle, gurgle, gastroenteritis!

Now that sum­mer is finally here, I know that many of you are spend­ing week­ends out­doors, hik­ing, bik­ing, camp­ing or out by the pool. We exper­i­ence such beau­ti­ful sum­mers here in Ontario, that we def­in­itely live them to their fullest! Outside time also means we enjoy tak­ing our meals out­doors, which can mean a bar­be­cue, a fam­ily pic­nic, or a camp­ing stove.

Pros to eating your meals outside

  1. Sense of com­munity
  2. Trying new and light dishes, cool sum­mer salads, ice-cream made in your ice-cream maker
  3. On a grill, it’s dif­fi­cult to argue about eat­ing your veget­ables when they are smoked to deli­cious­ness!

Cons to eating your meals outside

  1. Food can be exposed to hot tem­per­at­ures longer than is safe and can lead to the growth of bac­teria on food (e.g. may­on­naise-con­tain­ing sand­wiches like tuna, egg, or sal­mon and even potato salad)
  2. Meat cooked on a bar­be­cue may not be cooked to the prop­er tem­per­at­ure and may be con­tain­ing bac­teria like sal­mon­ella or E.coli that will be inges­ted
  3. Meat and veget­ables cooked on a bar­be­cue and charred (to give that often great smoky fla­vour) have car­ci­no­gens found in the car­bon mater­i­al (that is the black mater­i­al on the meat)
  4. Points 1 and 2 above can lead to gast­roen­ter­it­is

E-coli, a cause of gast­roen­ter­it­is

Gastroenteritis prevention

Gastroenteritis is a con­di­tion in which our digest­ive tract has an inva­sion (or in some cases an over­ex­pos­ure or over­growth) to bac­teria, vir­uses, or para­sites that should not nor­mally be present at cer­tain levels or at all in the small and large intest­ine. To cope with this change in our intest­in­al flora, the body is adept in reject­ing these for­eign microor­gan­isms. To us, this means gas, cramp­ing, gurg­ling, and rap­id elim­in­a­tion of the offend­ing material(s). This is not a pleas­ant exper­i­ence, but is adapt­ive! If we did not elim­in­ate these microor­gan­isms, we could become very, very ill.

This sum­mer if you exper­i­ence gast­roen­ter­it­is, there are a few things that are import­ant to have on hand:

  1. Hydrating flu­ids or elec­tro­lytes like Gatorade or for chil­dren, Pedialyte, help to replen­ish not only lost water from the colon but also import­ant ions such as mag­nesi­um, sodi­um, and potassi­um that are lost in very liquid diarrhea.
  2. Probiotics or good bac­teria always present in our gastrointest­in­al tract need to be replen­ished with gast­roen­ter­it­is not only to slow down the speed of flu­id out of the colon, but to help to re-estab­lish the nor­mal flora bal­ance. Good bac­teri­al pop­u­la­tions in our digest­ive con­sti­tute mul­tiple strains (Lactobacillus lacti, Bifidobacterium lac­tis, Lactobacillus GG, Lactobacillus acido­philus, Lactobactillus rham­nosus are just a few of these bil­lion colon­ies) and help to “fight” against the pres­ence of a for­eign invader.
  3. L-glutam­ine is an amino acid (this is a term for a build­ing block for pro­tein) that is often used by our entero­cytes (cells in the intest­ine) to grow, repair and heal. It helps to soothe the dam­age. Similarly, slip­pery elm (lat­in: ulmus rubra) is a herb that not only coats the digest­ive tract with a slimy lay­er to pro­tect it and heal inflam­ma­tion, it also pro­motes the adher­ence and growth of good bac­teria vital to the digest­ive tract.

Serious complications of gastroenteritis

Watch out for a fever, vomit­ing and diarrhea for longer than 48 hours (in adults) as this is severely dehyd­rat­ing. In chil­dren and eld­erly indi­vidu­als, keep­ing an eye out for dehyd­ra­tion signs of dry skin and mouth, con­fu­sion or deli­ri­um, decreased sweat­ing or tears should be mon­itored as this may arise earli­er. Keeping a phar­ma­ceut­ic­al anti-diarrhe­al on hand may be import­ant to slow down your bowel trans­it time. Blood in the stool is not con­sidered nor­mal and you may want to seek help from your doc­tor at a walk-in clin­ic or at the hos­pit­al.

Ways to avoid gastroenteritis

  1. Make sure you bring a meat ther­mo­met­er when camp­ing, and have one on hand at home at all times. Undercooked chick­en and pork deliv­er intense gast­roen­ter­it­is, beef less so but still pre­val­ent espe­cially in homemade bur­gers.
  2. Keep your food cold or in a cool­er, espe­cially if with may­on­naise as this reduces the incid­ence of bac­teri­al growth.
  3. Keep a good pro­bi­ot­ic on hand in the sum­mer. Probiotics are best kept in the refri­ger­at­or as the cul­tures are live, and if your pro­bi­ot­ic bottle is not in the fridge (unless it is a soil-cul­tured strain) it is not good enough! Throw it out and get some­thing bet­ter.
  4. Keep hydrated as much as you can. If diarrhea or vomit­ing hits, then you are not in as much danger as when you are dehyd­rated from sun-expos­ure or alco­hol con­sump­tion.

Above all, have fun and use your com­mon sense!

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