<em>Clostridium difficile</em> and Diet: Here’s What You Should Know

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on March 2, 2017Written by Corey Whelan

What does your diet have to do with C. diff?

Clostridium difficile (C. diff) is a type of bacteria that can cause severe diarrhea, nausea, fever, and stomach pain. The people most vulnerable to C. diff infection are those in medical care who require antibiotics for an extended period of time. Older individuals may also be at increased risk.

C. diff’s main symptom is severe diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and an inability to absorb the nutrients in food. For this reason, what you eat during and after treatment is very important.

Nutrition has a significant impact on health. While you’re being treated for C. diff, you may benefit from eating foods that are easy on your stomach and help control diarrhea. Many doctors recommend a diet of soft, easy-to-digest foods during this time. Dehydration is a common side effect of watery diarrhea, so fluid intake is very important.

It’s also important to eat foods that can repopulate your gut with the good bacteria you’re lacking.

Malabsorption of nutrients is another common side effect of C. diff. During and after treatment, focus on eating foods with high nutritional value. Look for foods that are rich in vitamins, potassium, sodium, magnesium, and calcium.

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What should your diet consist of?

While you’re being treated for a C. diff infection, consider adding foods to your diet that can help you recover more quickly. These foods include:

  • Probiotics: Probiotics are friendly, live bacteria you need to combat the C. diff germ. They can be found in active yogurt cultures and in fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and miso. Probiotics help to reduce or eliminate watery diarrhea by putting good bacteria back into the gastrointestinal tract. They’re also available in supplement form.
  • Liquids: To avoid the dehydration that can result from diarrhea, make sure to drink lots of liquid. Water and broth-based soup are both good choices.
  • Calcium: Getting enough calcium is important. If you can’t tolerate dairy, good sources of calcium to try include almond milk, flax milk, hemp milk, and soy milk. These types of milk work very well in fruit smoothies.
  • Fiber: Foods containing soluble fiber may help to move the infection out of your system. Oatmeal, lentils, flaxseed, and oranges may be good choices.
  • Protein-rich foods: Protein sources that are easy to digest include eggs, chicken, and turkey.
  • Non-cruciferous vegetables: Non-cruciferous vegetables that are cooked well, made into juice, or added to green smoothies or soups are also good choices. Veggies to use include beets, green beans, zucchinis, cucumbers, and celery.
  • Starchy foods: Easy-to-digest, starchy foods that are binding, such as potatoes, bananas, noodles, crackers, and white rice, may also be beneficial.

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What should you limit or remove from your diet?

Even if you pride yourself on having a cast-iron stomach, you’ll need to take it easy during and after a C. diff infection. Certain foods can exacerbate stomach distress, gas, or cramping, and should be avoided. They include:

  • cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts
  • raw vegetables of any kind
  • spicy food
  • fried or greasy food
  • caffeinated beverages
  • food with a high fat content, such as mayonnaise
  • beans
  • synthetic cooking oils, like Olestra, Olean, and oleomargarine

Lactose intolerance is a common side effect of C. diff infection. Avoiding milk and dairy products — with the possible exception of yogurt containing live, active cultures — may help eliminate added gastrointestinal distress.

You may become gluten intolerant for a period of time after infection. If so, it’s important to avoid foods containing gluten, such as wheat, rye, and barley.

Does C. diff treatment impact your diet?

Treatment for C. diff usually starts with a change in your current antibiotic intake. Your doctor may try other antibiotics to stop the C. diff germ from multiplying. Some antibiotics used to treat C. diff have potential side effects, such as abdominal pain and nausea. These symptoms may make it harder for you to eat. If you find it difficult to keep food down, your doctor may recommend that you stick to a liquid diet for several days prior to starting a soft food regimen.

If you continue to experience symptoms or you have a recurrence of infection, alternative treatments may be beneficial. These include:

  • Surgery: If you experience organ failure, inflammation of the abdominal wall lining, toxic megacolon, or severe pain that interferes with daily life, surgery to remove the infected part of your colon may help.
  • Digestive enzyme use: Digestive enzymes help to break food down into easily digestible parts. This may help you absorb more nutrients from the food you eat. There are several different types of digestive enzymes, some of which contain probiotics. Some are plant-based, and others are derived from animal sources.
  • Fecal microbiota transplant (FMT): This fecal transplant procedure has success rates of over 90 percent in people who don’t respond to antibiotic treatments. During this procedure, carefully screened, donated feces is administered to a patient via an enema. This helps replenish the gut with good bacteria, making it harder for C. diff germs to overpopulate the digestive tract.

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The takeaway

Vigilance about handwashing and maintaining sanitary conditions can help reduce C diff. exposure. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers don’t kill the C. diff germ and aren’t a viable substitute for soap and warm water.

Ask your doctor and medical caregivers to wear gowns and gloves or to wash their hands prior to examining you.

Don’t overuse antibiotics, and only take them as directed by your doctor.

Sometimes the diarrhea associated with C. diff may become chronic. If so, nutrient supplements that supply iron, B-12, and zinc may help. Talk to your doctor about taking vitamins and other ways that you can ensure you’re receiving adequate nutrition during this time.

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