A pilot study examining the effects of diet on US adults being treated for traveller’s diarrhea suggests a restricted diet does not improve clinical symptoms or decrease the duration of diarrhea.

The study took place in Guadalajara, Mexico and involved 105 US college students who were randomly divided into two groups. All the students had been diagnosed with acute traveller’s diarrhea and were undergoing treatment with an antimicrobial agent. During treatment, subjects in one group were assigned to a restricted diet consisting of clear fluids and simple carbohydrates, and excluding dairy products, fatty foods, spicy foods, and complex carbohydrates. Subjects in the second group were given instructions to eat and drink whatever they wished. Both groups were directed to consume liberal amounts of fluid to replace their diarrheal losses.

After monitoring both dietary groups for 48 hours, researchers found no “clinically important difference between the diet intervention groups in the duration of diarrhea or in clinical symptoms of diarrhea.” Both groups showed virtually the same improvement in abdominal pain, gas, nausea, vomiting, fever, and tenesmus (rectal pain associated with urgency), leading to the conclusion that there is no obvious benefit to a restricted diet in treatment of traveller’s diarrhea among patients receiving an antimicrobial agent.

As a result of these findings the investigators believe that patients suffering from acute traveller’s diarrhea should be encouraged to eat if they are hungry. Adequate food intake allows for repair of the cells lining the intestines as well as regeneration and recovery from intestinal inflammation. Researchers note the need for a much larger study to clearly link dietary interventions to clinical effects in diarrhea and further suggest that future studies might look at whether specific foods, such as complex carbohydrates, would affect the non-specific treatment of traveler’s diarrhea.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 145 – September/October 2004