The cold and flu season is still lingering, and while there are fewer cases of influenza in the U.S. this year than in previous years, it seems that more people are dealing with gastrointestinal infections. Did you ever have one of those nasty stomach illnesses? They are commonly referred to as “the flu”, “the stomach flu”, and “a GI bug”, just to name a few. To be clear, the “flu” is actually short for influenza, a respiratory virus with cough, sore throat, aches, and fever.
Gastrointestinal “bugs”, on the other hand, are caused by a variety of invaders. We are all familiar with the common presentation regardless of the source: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, aches, and fever. Bacterial contamination of food or water can cause severe illness requiring medical intervention. But, the most common cause is the good old virus.
Of course, viruses are everywhere, and armed with a hardy immune system and common sense hygiene, most of us fight them off. But, sooner or later, one slips through the cracks…one of the heartier varieties perhaps…the kind who’s mission it is to put you in bed (and in the bathroom) and keep you there for a few days. While you will never know the source of the alien inhabitant, one thing is for certain – you don’t think you will ever eat again! Surely, this must be the worst case on record, and you consider writing to Mr. Ripley to tell your tale, but lack the energy to pick up the pen. Your kids are asking if there will be dinner this evening, and the thought of food preparation sends you into a dark place. As you nod off to sleep, you are consumed with thoughts of wasting away, not even a consideration a few short hours ago.
After waking, you start to take sips of water and realize that it will be a long journey from here to normalcy. You ask yourself, “How is it that I can eat a burrito without puking when I’m well? Why did I use ‘burrito’ as an example? (urp), Why did I say ‘puke’? Why does water taste bad? When will this be over?”
As you settle into day two or three of your illness, and advance your diet from clear liquids to crackers, toast, and applesauce, you start to marvel at the complexity your delicate balance, and amaze at your body’s ability to heal. There is a renewed appreciation for the state of your healthy pre-illness stomach and intestines. Now that your body has stopped tossing everything out, maybe it’s time to think differently about what you eat. But, will you? If a raw cookie dough is that last thing we would put into a sour stomach, why would we ever put it there at all?
Let’s take a moment to remember that the health of our immune systems and our bodies is reliant on the microorganisms of the stomach & large intestine. Prebiotics (from numerous food sources) are necessary for the synthesis of probiotics (good bacteria) in the gut. The inflamed lining of your stomach will slowly return to normal after an illness, provided you fuel it sensibly. In general, a well-balanced and nutritious diet, rich in prebiotics will keep you functioning at peak performance: more energy, improved sleep, elevated mood, optimal weight and metabolism, and fewer insults to vital organs.
So, if you were “bugged” this winter, and lived to tell the tale, try to fuel the engine of your immune system. Eat well, feed your family well, and stay well.