You know what topic many patients are too embarrassed to talk about with their doctors?
Poop. There. I said it.
As the children’s book title says, everyone poops. However, millions of people are too shy to tell their doctors that they’re battling frequent diarrhea.
Now, let me say up front that I don’t blame them. First of all, it’s hard to talk about something so private. And second, when people do get brave and bring this up with their doctors, they rarely get satisfaction.
Often, doctors respond to complaints about diarrhea by simply blaming it on anxiety and prescribing psychiatric medications. Other times, patients hear, “Just take some Immodium”—like they haven’t tried that already. And still other patients hear, “Just eat more fiber,” when they’re already up to their eyeballs in veggies and Metamucil.
Even when doctors actually do give the problem a name—for instance, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s, or colitis—they frequently offer little more than surgery or pills that aren’t always effective and come with serious side effects.
How to tackle chronic diarrhea
In my practice, when a patient complains of diarrhea, I immediately put on my detective’s hat. That’s because this problem can stem from many different causes—anything from food sensitivities to a parasitic infection to celiac disease to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). And to come up with the right treatment, I need to know the root cause. Just prescribing a pill doesn’t cut it.
So if you’re tired of dashing to the restroom all day and you’re frustrated because your doctor’s only solution is a prescription, here’s my first and most important piece of advice: Find a new doctor. I recommend seeking out a naturopathic physician, because these doctors (I’m one of them) look for causes rather than just prescribing “bandaid” treatments.
While you’re looking for a doctor who’ll play detective for you, there are steps you can take on your own to combat your diarrhea. Here are some powerful strategies that often work wonders:
- Do mini-fasts. Our digestive tracts are designed to handle periods of feast and famine, not constant eating. Doing 24-hour mini-fasts once or twice a week—or even shortening your “eating window” by just a few hours each day—can give your GI tract a rest from the hard work of digesting food, allowing it to devote more resources to healing.
- Drink bone broth and take collagen. Bone broth is loaded with healing gelatin that soothes an inflamed gut, helping to control your diarrhea. (As a bonus, drinking bone broth during a mini-fast fights off cravings, making fasting easy.) Collagen, too, does wonders for your digestive tract.
- Eliminate grains and dairy. This is huge. Both of these food groups are major villains when it comes to diarrhea as well as other GI problems including constipation, gas, and bloating. Sometimes, getting rid of them is all it takes to get gut issues under control.
- Cut out high-fructose corn syrup. Did you know that fructose is one of the biggest causes of diarrhea and other GI problems? One study of patients with unexplained digestive problems found that three out of four developed symptoms after drinking a fructose solution.
- Avoid foods that contain sorbitol, mannitol, or xylitol. These sweeteners can cause diarrhea because they reach the large intestine without being absorbed.
- Identify other problem foods. These may include beans, legumes, nuts, eggs, FODMAPs, or foods in the nightshade family. I recommend consulting with a nutritionist or naturopathic physician who can map out an elimination diet to pinpoint foods that don’t sit well with you.
- Try a calcium supplement. Taking a calcium supplement for two or three days before an important event can often save the day. However, the diarrhea-reducing effects of calcium tend to fade over time, and overloading on calcium can be bad for you—so be cautious with this strategy. If you’re taking any medications, check with your doctor to make sure that a calcium supplement won’t interfere with them.
- Take prebiotics and probiotics. This is especially important if you’ve undergone multiple rounds of antibiotics, which nuke the good bugs you need to keep your plumbing under control.
Above all, be patient. It can take lots of trial-and-error, both on your part and your doctor’s, to figure out just what’s making you “go” all the time. Finding the answer, however, can be nothing short of life-changing.
So don’t be afraid to say “poop” at your doctor’s office. It may be the start of the best conversation you’ve ever had!
Keep thinking Big and living BOLD!