In this edition of “When Being Healthy Doesn’t Feel Good,” we’ll be getting to the nitty-gritty and ugly side of adaptability. Let’s talk about the very unpleasant topics of vomiting and diarrhea. I know. They aren’t glamorous at all. But, they truly are necessary and healthy responses by the body to an unhealthy situation. Remember, health is the ability to adapt; to perceive the environment and respond appropriately to it.
Vomiting and diarrhea are the body’s way of expelling viruses or bacteria (or any other unwanted material) from the stomach and/or intestinal tract. When you eat spoiled food, for instance, your immune system recognizes that there is something in the stomach that shouldn’t be there. Your immune system and nerve system work together to get rid of the unwanted invaders and the nerve system causes the stomach to violently contract to expel its contents. The same thing happens when the immune system recognizes the overwhelming presence of viruses or bacteria. If the invaders are located in the intestinal tract (below the stomach) then the nerve system activates the smooth muscles of the large and small intestines to expel what shouldn’t be there. Vomiting and diarrhea, while terrible unpleasant, are absolutely perfect adaptations of the body in response to a less-than-optimal environment.
I mean, think about it. If you’ve got poison, bad food, or an overpopulation of viruses or bacteria in your digestive tract, do you really want them to stay there? If they stay, they will just continue to wreak havoc on your system. Wouldn’t you rather get them out and be done with it? I know I would. But, when you take (or give to your child) medication that prevents vomiting or diarrhea, that is precisely what you’re doing. You’re inhibiting the body’s natural adaptation and response to something being in the digestive tract that shouldn’t be there. While terribly unpleasant and uncomfortable, it is ultimately better for your body to just let the nerve system guide the process of elimination.
So, if you or your little one are vomiting or have diarrhea, what can you do?
- First, remember that the nerve system runs your body (including your immune system and digestive system). Make sure that your nerves are free from any possible interference (subluxation) that may prevent your body from adapting and functioning as it should. It’s times like these when you should be getting checked and adjusted if necessary MORE, not less.
- Stay hydrated. The biggest thing to watch out for when it comes to vomiting or diarrhea is dehydration. A lot of water is lost during either of these responses, so it is very important that you do everything you can to keep up hydration. Try taking little sips of water or coconut water every few minutes. I recommend avoiding sports drinks like Gatorade or Pedialyte because of their high sugar content. Coconut water is a better alternative because it has electrolytes and it actually rehydrates you faster than regular water. You can even try freezing it into a popsicle and allow your child to suck on it. However, if Gatorade or Pedialyte are the only things that will stay down, then go for it. It is much more important to maintain hydration at this point. Younger children are much more prone to dehydration and it can happen rather quickly in them. If the vomiting or diarrhea has been going on for a couple of days and you’re concerned about their hydration level, contact your child’s doctor immediately.
- Rest. Rest. Rest. You body is working very hard to fight an infection. Lay low and rest or sleep as much as possible.
- Eat only when hungry and go slow. If and when your appetite returns, go slow. Your stomach and digestive tract have just been through a lot and are probably still recovering. Go slow when reintroducing foods. Start with foods such as broths and soups (also great ways to maintain hydration), plain toast or crackers. Eat slowly, only a few bites at a time, to make sure your body can tolerate it, before eating any more.
- Trust the body’s ability to get through this. Look, vomiting and diarrhea are no fun. I get it. Totally. But, they are both your body’s perfect adaptation to an imperfect situation. Try to be patient and allow the body to do what needs to be done.
As always, live life and thrive!