We’ve all been there, and it’s not pleasant: nausea, diarrhea, puking, fever. Food poisoning is an all around crappy (pardon the pun) situation. But you can find relief and even shorten the duration with a few key natural items. More importantly, treating food poisoning properly may prevent future bacterial infections like SIBO.
What is Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning is a brief illness caused by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with viruses, bacteria, toxins, parasites, or chemicals. The most common symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea, and they occur from six hours to a day or so of eating the contaminated food.
Foods that most often cause food poisoning are eggs, poultry, fish, other meat, cheese, raw fruits, and veggies that may not have been washed.
Food poisoning is often a blanket term that includes gastroenteritis and food borne illness, but the symptoms of each are similar. What it all means essentially is you’ve ingested a pathogen in food or a toxin produced by bacteria in a food. It’s usually because food hasn’t been handled properly, is spoiled, or is contaminated by a host (which could be a human who’s handled the food passing along a pathogen). Infection from food-borne pathogens may be caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses. Common food-borne pathogens are Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella, Norovirus, and Listeria.
Certain bacteria such as S. Aureus or B. Cereus will typically cause illness between 2-12 hours after the meal. Salmonella or Clostridium can cause illness between 12-24 hours afterwards. But infections with Campylobacters are slow to manifest, and illness may occur a week or more after the infected food has been eaten (source).
Infections caused by bacteria, parasites or viruses in food or drinking water include the following: (source)
- Campylobacter infection
- Escherichia coli (E.coli) infection
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Q fever
- Vibrio infections
Illnesses caused by toxins in the foods we eat include the following:
- Bacillus cereus poisoning
- Ciguatera fish poisoning
- Clostridium perfringens poisoning
- Scombroid (or histamine) poisoning
- Shellfish poisoning
- Staphylococcus aureus poisoning
- Mushroom poisoning
Some of these bacteria can stick around and take up residence in the gut long after the initial infection has passed. After you recover from the acute symptoms, if you still don’t feel quite right, make sure to get stool testing (I recommend the GI MAP which you can order here) to check for pathogens or parasites. Also consider breath testing for SIBO. Some 80 percent of SIBO cases are caused by food poisoning because the pathogens damage the migrating motor complex in the gut.
All that said, no matter what type of food poisoning you have, there are immediate steps you can take to lessen the duration and feel better.
How to Treat Food Poisoning
Note: these are adult dosages. While all these remedies are safe for children, you’d need to consult a doctor to determine dosages and safety based on your kid’s age and weight.
First off, how do you know you have it? Symptoms include stomach pain and cramping, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stools, dizziness, chills, fever, and headache.
The absolute first thing to do if you think you’ve been food poisoned is to take activated charcoal. Activated charcoal is adsorptive, meaning it binds poisons and toxins in the gut. The chemicals are trapped in the holes of this porous substance rather than being absorbed. The charcoal isn’t absorbable by your body, so it passes through the GI tract, taking bound toxins with it. Take 2 charcoal tab/caps three times daily, preferably away from other supplements, with plenty of water. If you puke it up, take the dose again.
Secondly, start taking oil of oregano. Again, take 2 caps three times daily. It kills viruses and bacteria and basically most, if not all, pathogens. I don’t recommend taking drops of oregano essential oil internally, as it burns and may damage the delicate esophageal tissue unless you put it in a capsule first. Thieves essential oil (a blend of oils that kill germs) in the diffuser will kill airborne pathogens and may help you recover when applied to the bottoms of the feet.
You can do freshly grated ginger tea for nausea. A shot of apple cider vinegar in a little water 2-3 times a day may help also. Peppermint tea is soothing to the stomach.
Stick to plain bone broth or bone broth-based soups with easy to digest cooked veggies such as sweet potato and zucchini or spinach for a few days while your digestion recovers. Chicken broth actually increases killer T cell activity. Drink plenty of water. If you have diarrhea, try bananas, smoothies, rice as you’re easing back into normal foods.
Can Food Poisoning Be Prevented?
So here’s the thing. Your body was built to prevent food poisoning. Your stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) should be very acidic, about a pH of 2, to kill any bacteria or pathogens that hitchhike in on your food. This is why the majority of your immune system is in your gut: Through the mouth and down the gullet is the most vulnerable place for you to be poisoned.
All that said, if your digestion is in good working order, you can likely fight off a potential case of food poisoning. However, most of us, especially as we age, do not have optimally functioning digestion. We’re producing overly alkaline hydrochloric acid that doesn’t kill pathogens, and we have poor probiotic diversity. If you experience regular GI symptoms like heartburn, gas, bloating, or constipation, you need a digestive tuneup. Read how here. Simply taking digestive enzymes and a probiotic will help immensely.
Daily Habits Prevent Food Poisoning
Day to day, make sure to wash your hands before you eat; cook your food properly; store food properly and at the right temperature; and pay attention to food prep. That means washing hands after handling meat, and don’t use the same knife and cutting board for veggies after you’ve used them with meat. Sometimes if I suspect I’ve eaten something dodgy, I’ll take hydrochloric acid tabs just to ensure I have enough acid to kill off any offenders.
Finally, buying your meat from smaller production local farms is a good way to ensure the animals were healthy and that the meat was handled properly, and it’s probably fresher.
Food poisoning is the pits, but these tips will help. Get the diffuser going, cozy up in bed with some Netflix and natural remedies (you can probably find all these at Whole Foods if you don’t order through the links, BUT good idea to have them on hand, especially if you have kids!), and you’ll feel better faster than you think.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.