No one likes loose poops. It’s uncomfortable, interferes with life, and has the potential to be very embarrassing. I know this first-hand, because I’ve dealt with loose stools on-and-off for decades. After many tests and years of frustration, I was given the diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in my mid-30s, which is the diagnosis you get when nothing else is found. However, IBS is less of a diagnosis and more of a symptom in my opinion, so that answer wasn’t good enough for me. After a bit more trial and error on my part, it became increasingly obvious that stress was my main culprit, which made a world of difference in how I manage my loose stools.
So, whether you have loose stools from a current infection like food poisoning or from a chronic issue you’re still trying to figure out, here are some things to consider to navigate your diarrhea and find the root cause for some much needed relief.
Visit Your Doctor. It can be uncomfortable discussing your bowel movements with others; however, diarrhea can be a serious health issue depending on your age, severity of your loose stools, and other symptoms. If you have any of these alarm features, definitely visit your doctor: unintended weight loss, blood in your stools, low blood iron levels, fever, new onset of symptoms after 50 years old, and/or family history of cervical or colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and celiac disease.
… And Get Tested. It’s also best to visit your doctor to take the guess work out of your loose stools and learn how to properly treat it. For instance, if you have diarrhea due to food poisoning or pathogen infection, taking an anti-diarrheal medication could be unsafe since your body’s clearing out for good reason. Also, loose stools can indicate other health issues at play, such as lactose intolerance, dysbiosis, pancreatic insufficiency, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), IBD, food allergies or sensitivities, celiac disease, bile acid diarrhea, and hyperthyroidism.
Hydrate. Loose stools can be caused by dehydration, and likewise, severe diarrhea can worsen dehydration. While it’s important to drink water, you may want to also add a few cups of an electrolyte-rich drink to your day. Check out the World Health Organization’s (WHO) homemade rehydrating solution for a simple recipe.
Pay attention to foods and drinks that stimulate the colon. Certain foods/drinks can contribute to loose stools. Practice keeping a symptoms journal and track which foods/drinks make your symptoms worse. Common irritants are spicy foods, fried fatty foods, coffee, alcohol, dairy, fructose, sugar alcohols (including those found in chewing gum), and artificial sweeteners (even stevia).
Stress. If you have a hypersensitive gut-brain axis like me, then you’ll notice your loose stools are easily brought on by stress. I encourage you to eliminate what you can (i.e. saying “no” when you don’t have the time or simply don’t want to), practice deep breathing or other activities that help you find calm, and work with a therapist to uncover the root issue(s).
Put Out Your Butts. Cigarette butts, that is, because nicotine can cause diarrhea. I encourage you to seek help and stop smoking/using nicotine for better overall health.
Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor. If urgency and accidents are part of your loose stool concerns, practice strengthening your pelvic floor with the help of a physical therapist or skilled Pilates instructor. This won’t fix your diarrhea, but it can help decrease the risk of accidents occurring.
Try Psyllium Husk. Psyllium husk is magic fiber for any poop issues. It can soften hard poops if you have constipation, and it can thicken poops if you have diarrhea, so it’s a great symptom-reliever while you find your root cause. Start with 1 tsp and work your way up to 1 tbsp by week two (you can go all the way up to 3 tbsp gradually). Just make sure you mix it with 2 ounces of water per 1 tsp and drink it relatively quickly, because it’ll thicken (you can also add it to soups and stews). If you don’t notice improvements after a month, then psyllium husk may not be right for you.
Probiotics. Certain probiotics have been shown to help regulate stools, including antibiotic-related diarrhea. Work with your doctor, pharmacist, or dietitian to find the correct probiotic for your specific concerns.
Medications & Supplements. Many medications list diarrhea as a side effect, such as antibiotics, antacids, NSAIDs, and metformin. Diarrhea can also be worsened by certain supplements like magnesium and vitamin C. If you think this could be a culprit, speak to your doctor, pharmacist, or dietitian about reducing dosage or finding alternative medications and/or supplements.
I’d love to hear from you. Do you suffer from loose stools? If so, what tips are you going to implement to navigate your diarrhea and find the root cause? Please comment below or send me an email. Also, if you’d like support with your digestion and gut health, I’d love to help. Please send me an email and let’s work together!
If you thought this blog post was helpful or know someone who would benefit from it, please like it and share it.
With love, Steph
LaRocque, R. L. & Harris, J. B. (2020). "Approach to the adult with acute diarrhea in resource-rich settings." UpToDate. Retrieved June 4, 2021. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/approach-to-the-adult-with-acute-diarrhea-in-resource-rich-settings
Schiller, L. R., Pardi, D. S., & Sellin, J. H. (2017). “Chronic diarrhea: diagnosis and management.” Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 15, 182-193.