Nutritional Support for Food Poisoning
Food poisoning is a foodborne illness that affects about 48 million Americans every year. This serious public health problem is caused by ingesting food and/or water that is contaminated with viruses, bacteria, parasites, toxins or chemicals.
What Causes Food Poisoning?
Although there are about 250 diseases that can cause food poisoning, the most common causes include:
- Novovirus infection, which accounts for about half of all gastroenteritis outbreaks in the US, and 90% of all nonbacterial epidemic outbreaks in the world. Most outbreaks occur where many people come in close contact, such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. These infections may be transmitted through food and water, contaminated surfaces, or from personal contact.
- Other viruses that can cause foodborne illnesses include rotaviruses and hepatitis A viruses.
- Salmonella infection, which is the most common bacterial infection that causes food borne illnesses in the US. It is also the most common cause of hospitalization and death related to food poisoning. It usually occurs after eating contaminated animal food products.
- Campylobacter infection, which causes acute diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. It usually occurs after eating contaminated raw chicken.
- coli O157:H7, which causes bloody diarrhea, is associated with eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef and drinking sewage-contaminated water or unpasteurized milk. It is a growing cause of foodborne illness that may also be associated with poor hygiene.
- Shigella infection, which also causes dysentery and bloody diarrhea, is common in tropical countries with warm climates, and is associated with poor hygiene.
- Listeria infection, which is caused by eating contaminated vegetables, processed foods, uncooked foods, and unpasteurized milk. People with weak immune systems, pregnant women, and the elderly are highly susceptible to the disease.
Aside from viruses and bacteria, parasites, such as amoeba and tapeworms can also lead to food poisoning. Toxins from plants such as mushrooms, fish and bacteria can also cause foodborne illnesses. Thousands of chemicals can cause food poisoning, but only a few are well-studied, such as mercury, lead and polychlorinated biphenyls.
Symptoms of Food Poisoning
Signs and symptoms of food poisoning may vary according to the causative agent, the amount ingested, and the organs affected. The most common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrea, abdominal cramps, and fever. Some develop bloody diarrhea, headaches, muscle aches, body weakness, bloating, and dehydration. Serious signs and symptoms may include blurring of vision, convulsion, muscle paralysis, spontaneaous abortion, and possibly, death.
When to Call a Doctor
In most cases, people with mild to moderate symptoms of viral or bacterial food poisoning get better within 24 to 48 hours without any specific medical treatment. However, you should seek immediate medical treatment if you experience signs of dehydration such as dizziness, dry mouth, decreased urination, increased thirst, and weakness. Other symptoms such as bloody stools, fever, diarrhea or vomiting that do not improve within 72 hours also need medical care. Seek help immediately if you suspect a rare cause of food poisoning.
Nutritional Support for Food Poisoning
Most people will not need specific medical treatments such as antibiotics to treat food poisoning. However, some patients might benefit from taking medications to control vomiting and prevent dehydration. Medications to treat diarrhea, such as Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, or Imodium are usually not recommended, since these might just prolong the course of the disease. Some health care providers recommend activated charcoal (50-100 grams) in the form of pills or powder mixed with liquid to help eliminate the toxins by absorption, and to prevent gas.
In most cases, experts recommend reducing food intake temporarily and increasing fluid intake to prevent and treat dehydration. Sipping clear liquids frequently, in small amounts, is the best way to avoid dehydration. Aside from water, you may take over-the-counter rehydration products such as Pedialyte and Rehydralyte (for children) and diluted Gatorade or Powerade sports drinks for adults. These products contain some salt, sugar and electrolytes, which can help replace your gastrointestinal losses.
Other home remedies that may help reduce symptoms include:
- tea with lemon and ginger
- barley or rice water
- probiotics, such as Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Lactobacillus acidophilus, to help restore the good bacteria balance in the intestine.
- apple cider vinegar diluted with water
- cooking herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, coriander, basil, spearment, sage, and fennel, which have antimicrobial effects
- alpha-lipoic acid and milk thistle, which are believed to be effective against mushroom poisoning
- vitamin A, which is believed to help against salmonella
- calcium phosphate, which boosts good bacteria, may protect against salmonella
- Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng)
- Chinese cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum aromaticum)
- Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus)
- Ginger root (Zingiber officinale)
- Peony root (Paeonia officinalis)
- Licorice ( Glycyrrhiza glabra)
- Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Remember that it is best to seek medical care from a doctor, especially when your symptoms do not get better after a couple of days or if you have symptoms of dehydration.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
WebMD. Food Poisoning.
EmedicineHealth. Food Poisoning.
MedicineNet. Food Poisoning Health.
UMMC. Food Poisoning.
WebMD. Activated Charcoal.