Your stomach is where it starts. Faint cramps, perhaps. An urgent need to go. Then again. And again. Your mother makes you rice, but you don’t want to eat. She tries coconut milk, but your strength stays away. She walks to the next village to visit the traditional healer, who recommends mashing a certain leaf in creek water. It tastes foul, but you drink it. By day two, you are listless, as the rotavirus you had for lunch the other day has invaded your intestine, damaging the cells that control the intake of nutrients and fluid. The overwhelmed cells are expelling your waste without extracting the nutrients and fluid the body needs. Your energy is sapped; you are seriously dehydrated. You are in crisis.
The leaf medicine has done nothing. The water, full of fecal particles because upstream villages use the creek as a toilet, has made things worse. By now, your eyes have a sunken look. Your mother brings you a bucket because you haven’t the strength to go in the yard, as you usually do, but only watery stuff comes out. You are crying, but there are no tears; your body doesn’t have enough water to spare. Your skin gets a yellowish tinge. You are so tired. On day three you are motionless. Your eyes are vacant. Your mother pinches your cheek to jolt you awake, but the skin stays pinched. She is desperate. On day four, you are dead.
Your mother loved you, but she didn’t boil the water. She loved you, but she didn’t walk four hours to the clinic to fetch the free oral rehydration solution (ORS) that would have saved your life. Her ignorance was the death of you.
Do-it-yourself: Oral Rehydration Solution
It is so simple. A child could make it. Mix six teaspoons of sugar, half a teaspoon of salt and one liter of clean water to create a dose of Oral Rehydration Solution, a spectacularly successful cure for diarrhea. Proportions should be exact. Too much sugar can make diarrhea worse; too much salt is bad for children. You can add more water, though.
Refugee camps – crowded, dirty – are perfect diarrhea breeding grounds. They also proved that Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) worked. After it was distributed to refugees in Bangladesh in 1971, the death rate dropped from 30 percent to three percent.
Three thousand years ago, Indian Ayurvedic practitioners treated cholera patients with a drink of dissolved rock salt and molasses, similar to ORS. Today, it is widely available in sachet form.
Even though ORS sachets are either cheap or free, 86 percent of rural mothers in Brazil, for example, take their child to a traditional healer first.
Widespread hand-washing with soap could cut diarrhea deaths by half, more than any vaccine or medical intervention. Always use running water, and don’t forget to wash between fingers and around wrists.
Do-it-yourself: Alternative medicine
The body can often cure diarrhea on its own. Avoid spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, prunes and other toxins and irritants, and diarrhea will probably stop in a few days. Otherwise, take your pick from these remedies.
“Diarrhea is more complicated if you or someone in your family is sleeping with a relative. Then, a sheep is slaughtered. The shit is removed and mixed with herbs and water. Every family member family spits in it, drinks it and pours it around the compound. It works instantly” – Yahya Abdallah Kombe, 36, witchdoctor, Kilifi, Kenya
A common over-the-counter remedy, loperamide hydrochloride targets the receptors on your intestinal lining that are making your guts contract too often. Block them, and your body has more time to absorb electrolytes and water. It is helpful for travelers, but not advisable for long-term use.
The guts house the enteric nervous system, which produces the motions – peristaltic waves – that push waste through your system. But nerves are vulnerable to fear and stress. Both produce adrenaline, speeding up your defecation. Meditation, or any other calming activity, can put on the brakes.
Peanuts are protein- and energy-rich. They form the base of Plumpy’nut, a commercially produced paste for severely malnourished children, some of whom can’t retain nutrients because of diarrhea. For less serious adult cases, marshmallows and peanut butter are reasonable alternatives.
Umeboshi are salty, pickled plums from Japan. They are believed to have anti-bacterial properties, as well as soothing hangovers, banishing colds, slowing down aging, and curing diarrhea. For best results, eat with a bowl of congee (a type of rice porridge).
Sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and other diarrhea-inducing conditions find coconut macaroons soothe symptoms. The exact science is unclear, but the type of fatty acids in coconuts may be a reason. If your tooth is not sweet, try a spoonful of coconut oil instead.
From the pages of COLORS #82 - Shit.