Understanding the basics

A common malady, diarrhea refers to loose, runny bowel movements. Diarrhea can be caused by a number of conditions ranging in severity. If the underlying cause isn’t chronic, diarrhea usually clears up within a few days.

Diarrhea can cause stomach cramping, bloating, and skin irritation around the anus. It can also cause dehydration. Replacing lost fluids can help stave off dehydration. Sipping fluids like water, sports drinks with electrolytes, or tea is important.

In addition to staying hydrated, at-home remedies such as drinking apple cider vinegar may help. But apple cider vinegar can also have the opposite effect. If taken in excess, it may actually cause diarrhea.

How does it work?

Apple cider vinegar is made from fermented apples. Fermented apples contain pectin. Pectin may help support the growth of good bacteria in the gut, which is necessary for healthy digestion. It may also bulk up stool and reduce intestinal inflammation.

Since apple cider vinegar is a natural antibiotic, it may be most effective for diarrhea resulting from bacterial infections. These types of infections are often caused by spoiled or contaminated food, which can contain E. coli or salmonella.

It may help to opt for raw, organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar instead of the pasteurized version. Unfiltered apple cider vinegar is cloudy and has silky threads running through it. These threads are called the mother.

The mother may contain added amounts of:

  • pectin
  • minerals
  • good bacteria
  • enzymes

How to use apple cider vinegar for diarrhea

As with many at-home remedies, there isn’t much scientific evidence supporting or rejecting apple cider vinegar’s potential health benefits.

Apple cider vinegar is acidic, so it’s important to dilute it with another liquid before drinking. Otherwise, the vinegar may wear down the enamel on your teeth.

A general rule of thumb is to mix one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with a large glass of liquid. Try mixing it into cool water or juice. Or make a tea by pairing the vinegar with hot water and honey. Drink this mixture two to three times a day until your symptoms subside.

Risks and warnings

Apple cider vinegar is highly acidic. If you drink it straight without dilution, it can burn the tissues of your mouth, throat, and esophagus. It may also damage your tooth enamel. To minimize these potential effects, rinse your mouth out after drinking your diluted apple cider vinegar mixture.

If you drink too much at one time, apple cider vinegar may actually cause diarrhea. This can happen for a number of reasons:

  • The sugars in the cider can stimulate peristalsis.
  • If taken undiluted, the apple cider vinegar may pull water out of the body into the bowel, making the stool more watery.
  • The cider can also kill off the good bacteria in your intestines.

Other risks to consider include:

  • Drinking apple cider vinegar in excess over an extended period of time can cause bone density loss. If you have osteoporosis or brittle bone disease, consult your doctor before use.
  • Too much apple cider vinegar may cause an unhealthy decrease in your potassium levels. Low potassium may cause irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), low blood pressure, and muscle weakness.
  • Apple cider vinegar may not be the right choice for people with type 1 diabetes. It can reduce the amount of time it takes for food to leave the stomach, which may affect sugar and insulin levels.
  • Apple cider vinegar may also interfere with prescription medications, including those used for diabetes and antibiotics such as tetracycline.

What else can I do to treat diarrhea?

Making dietary changes is often the first step in treating diarrhea. It’s important to watch what you eat and drink while experiencing symptoms. Your diet can have a direct impact on the frequency and severity of the symptoms.

What to add to your diet

Drinking clear liquids, such as chicken broth, may be beneficial. Clear liquids can help you stay hydrated without exacerbating your condition. It may also help to pour yourself a soothing cup of herbal tea, such as chamomile. Herbal teas may help reduce stomach spasms.

Eating foods that are binding, like plain white rice and bananas, may also help to bulk up stool. Toast with jam is another easy-to-digest choice. Most jams contain pectin, which may be an added benefit.

What to remove from your diet

Certain foods may make the condition worse and should be avoided while experiencing symptoms of diarrhea.

These include foods that:

  • are high in fiber
  • are high in fat
  • are spicy
  • contain dairy

You should also avoid:

  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • anything that may make you gassy, such as carbonated beverages or certain vegetables

Options for medication

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications may also help. Popular options include bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) and loperamide (Imodium A-D). These non-prescription drugs can be effective, but should only be used with your doctor’s approval.

If your diarrhea is caused by a bacterial or parasitic infection, OTC products may do more harm than good. They may prevent your body from purging out the infection source. You shouldn’t use OTC medications for diarrhea caused by a chronic condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome.

You might also wish to take an OTC probiotic. These can help alleviate diarrhea by increasing the amount of good bacteria in your digestive system.

Learn more: Natural treatments for diarrhea while breast-feeding »

The bottom line

It’s common to experience diarrhea every now and then. If your diarrhea isn’t chronic or accompanied by other symptoms, you may wish to try apple cider vinegar or another at-home remedy.

If you have diarrhea for more than three or four days, or if it’s accompanied by symptoms such as fever, a doctor’s visit may be a good idea. Your doctor can determine the cause of your diarrhea and recommend medications that can help you feel better. Diarrhea in babies and children always requires a doctor’s care.

Keep reading: What to eat after food poisoning »