It turns out, I’m not superhuman.
Fiance came home last week with a very mild case of the stomach flu, and I didn’t even think twice about it. Seriously, it never even crossed my mind that I’d get it too.
I got it alright. I got it times infinity. What for him was 8 hours of tiredness and an upset stomach, for me was over 36 hours of a writhing, feverish, throw-uppy, hallucinatory wild ride.
I was not prepared for it, either. I had nothing ready. Nothing available to help mitigate the sickness. Nothing but me and my porcelain god.
So this here, this is a cautionary tale. Here are ways you can help be ready for the stomach flu this winter.
And I fear the title is a teensy bit misleading: There’s no real way to “home remedy” yourself out of the stomach flu (otherwise known as gastroenteritis).
But while there may not be any cure for the icky sicky, there are plenty of things we can do to help avoid it, lessen the effects, treat the symptoms, and speed up recovery.
Stomach Flu Prevention
Now, you guys probably know the basics here. Things like:
- Wash your hands often, especially when you’ve been around ill people.
- Eat plenty of foods high in antioxidants, like blueberries, garlic, and green tea.
- Keep your stress levels at a minimum.
- Be nice to your stomach by not drinking loads of soda, coffee, or alcohol.
But I have something you may not have heard about. A secret weapon for the flu season.
It’s called astragalus root.
This stuff kind of looks like tongue depressors, but it’s actually a very potent root and a great way to boost your immune system in the winter months.
Astragalus has been a staple of Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, and is used for many maladies (including lowering blood pressure and providing energy). Its most effective use, though, is as a very hearty immune booster.
You don’t actually eat the dried root itself, though you can find astragalus extract in health food stores. This is what I did last winter:
I kept a jar of astragalus root next to my stove. Once or twice a week, whenever I cooked something that either sauteed or was a soup of some sort, I’d toss in half a stick of astragalus and allow it to cook with my food. Then, I just pulled the root out before I eat the food.
Astragalus has no taste at all, which is awesome. You super charge your food with immune boosters, and you don’t even know it.
What to Do When You First Suspect the Stomach Flu
I wish I could take my own advice here, two days ago. Because I have intimate insight at this moment, please forgive my first tip (but understand that I believe it’s the most important):
- Clean your toilet. Throwing up is horrible stuff, but it’s eighty times worse when you realize, just as you open the lid, that you haven’t cleaned your toilet in a week. Even a day-old cleaned toilet at that point is disturbing. As SOON as you start to feel icky or even suspect that you’re getting sick, clean your toilet.
- ï»¿Take some vitamin C. It may be too late, and your body may not digest all of it, but the faster you can get antioxidants into your system at this point, the better off you’ll be.
- Avoid spicy or acidic foods. Gastroenteritis often starts as a slight nausea, probably not enough to keep you from eating the Thai takeout you ordered just before you started feeling a little icky. Put it in the fridge and don’t touch it until you’re sure you’re well. Your stomach and throat will thank you for it later.
- Make sure you have ginger, bananas, and crackers. Either send your spouse to the store, or if you’re not terribly sick yet, get there yourself. These will come in handy later.
- Put on more clothes. You may not be able to avoid the chills completely, but tossing on a pair of socks and a sweatshirt may help your body regulate its temperature before a fever sets in.
Treat Your Stomach Flu Symptoms
Sadly, there’s not a lot you can do for yourself once viral gastroenteritis sets in. Once the first visit to the toilet happens, you’re probably not going to be able to eat or drink anything at all for a few hours.
So just forget about that for now. If you feel up to it, you can suck on a piece of ice (it’s important to stay as hydrated as you can), but don’t try to put too much into your stomach, because it’s just going to head on back up soon anyway.
Here are some other things you can do, though, that don’t involve eating or drinking:
- Take a cool bath with mustard. Mustard helps draw out impurities from your body and it increases circulation. If you have a fever, make sure your bath is on the cool side. Add 2 Tbsp mustard powder to 1/4 c. baking soda, and stir it in the bathwater. Relax as much as you possibly can.
- Put a warm towel on your stomach. If your flu involves stomach cramps, one way to get them to chill out a bit is to warm your stomach muscles up. I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re running a high fever, but it’s one way to keep yourself from doubling over in pain every few minutes.
- And then put a cool peppermint washcloth on your head. You could skip the peppermint and just use a cool washcloth to help lessen a fever and headache, but if you add peppermint to the mix, you’ll get extra headache-fighting powers and relief from nausea. Either soak the washcloth in peppermint tea (and put it in the freezer until it’s cold), or put two or three drops of peppermint essential oil on the washcloth after wetting it down with cool water.
- Have someone special rub your feet. One tried-and-true home remedy for nausea is a good old-fashioned foot rub. Have your lovey grab some shea or cocoa butter and go to town on your footsies. It may keep you from lurching to the bathroom so often.
- Pinch away your headache. Take your first finger and thumb and pinch (as hard as you can) the very sensitive webbing between your other first finger and thumb. This simple acupuncture-type treatment might help lessen the headache pain significantly.
- Sleep as much as humanly possible, and stop worrying about your life. This was the hardest thing for me the last couple of days. When I wasn’t sleeping, I was worrying about what I wasn’t getting done. It didn’t help me get better any faster, and–surprise–the world didn’t fall apart during my down time.
What to do When You’re on the Mend
One of the quickest ways to mend an upset stomach is to break out the yummy ginger tea. I drink it whenever things feel a little unsettled in the digestive area, but it’s been a GIANT help today as I’m getting better.
Here’s how you do it:
Cut about four quarter-sized slices of peeled ginger (ginger peels VERY easily using the side of a spoon, by the way). Boil some water, and pour it in a tea mug. Add 1 tsp honey and stir. Then put in the ginger and let the mixture cool to a drinkable temperature. You don’t even need to remove the ginger. Just let it keep steeping as you drink up.
In addition to the ginger tea, there are other things you can do to help speed up recovery and be ready for a fresh, new, and exciting day when you wake up the morning after. Here are some ideas.
- Eat slowly – MCBRAT. Don’t eat until you’re ready – until it’s starting to sound kind of good, and when you do eat, do it slowly. A tiny bit at a time – and choose one of the foods from the MCBRAT diet. The BRAT diet is the standard diet for children who have diarrhea, but it’s perfect for recovering flu sufferers. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. MC stands for mashed potatoes and crackers. Whatever you eat, make sure they’re VERY bland foods that are high in starch. Bananas are especially good, because they also replace the potassium you lost by throwing up or having diarrhea.
- Drink chamomile tea. If you’re feeling up to it at any point in your flu, head for the chamomile tea. This is going to soothe your stomach tremendously, and it may also help with the stomach cramps (chamomile is a calmative). This is great as your on the mend, or even during your bout of flu, if you think you can handle it.
- Allow yourself time. Just because you’re not writhing around in pain doesn’t mean you should jump up and start cleaning the kitchen. Relapses are VERY common with viral gastroenteritis, and one way you can absolutely ensure a relapse is if you start doing too much too quickly. Take an extra day off if you have to. Otherwise, you could end up in bed for another three.
- Drink everything you can, except coffee, alcohol, dark soda, or milk. Water, (decaffeinated) tea, juice, ginger ale … you name it. Whatever you can drink, do it. You need to rehydrate, sicky. You need to rehydrate as soon as you possibly can.
- Take your vitamins. Don’t do this on an empty stomach, because it could cause extra nausea. But the faster you can replenish your vitamin stores after you start eating, the better. Most importantly, though, try to take a potassium supplement ASAP. Vomiting and diarrhea do very nasty things to your potassium reserves. In addition, the World Health Organization recommends that children take a zinc supplementation for up to two weeks after suffering from a bout of gastroenteritis.
- Eat yogurt, but skip the artificially sweetened kind. Any fermented milk product would work here (like kefir … yum). Fermented milk products have been shown to reduce the duration of gastroenteritis symptoms, as they contain good bacteria that regulates the stomach flora. Just avoid yogurt or kefir that also uses artificial sweeteners – bad for your stomach and your health.
- Read a book. Write a letter. While you’re on the mend from the stomach flu, you’ve got some down time you hadn’t planned for. This down time shouldn’t be spent working – it should be spent recuperating. So do something relaxing that you wouldn’t normally do. That book on your shelf you’ve been meaning to get to? Thank the illness. You now have time.
One More Note: Vomiting and diarrhea can dehydrate you to dangerous levels if they’re prolonged in duration. If you’ve suffered from vomiting or diarrhea for more than 48 hours or are running a temperature over 103, you should give your doctor a call or visit the urgent care center.
Okay, so I’m feeling MUCH better after writing all of this. While I may not have been ready for my illness, hopefully some of you will be ready now – just in case.
Do you have anything you like to do when the stomach flu makes its unwanted appearance?
Any secrets or home remedies we should all know?
In time-for-chicken-soup crunch!