Loose Stool

What Causes It? What Should I Do About It?

Loose stool
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We've all experienced loose stool at some point in our lives. A common characteristic of diarrhea, loose stools may have a number of causes, such as:

  • Viral infection
  • Food poisoning
  • Bacterial infection
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Medications or herbs (antacids containing magnesium hydroxide, antibiotics, senna)
  • Certain gastrointestinal diseases (such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, bile acid malabsorption, Crohn's disease)
  • Other medical conditions 

In addition, loose stools may be triggered by the excessive consumption of certain foods, such as caffeine, sugar, carbonated drinks, sugar substitutes, and alcohol. For instance, high intake of fructose (a sugar found in fruit, honey, and many soft drinks and candies) is often linked to diarrhea.

Some people notice loose stools after changing their diet. A higher fat intake on a keto diet or other type of low carb diet, for instance, can cause loose stools. A sudden increase in fiber-rich foods on a vegetarian or vegan diet can also trigger bloating, gas, and loose stools.

For some individuals, use of herbal remedies (such as senna) or medications (such as antacids containing magnesium hydroxide) may lead to the passage of loose stools.

Celiac disease and gluten intolerance can also cause loose stools.

In order to rule out any underlying issues possibly causing loose stools, make sure to consult your health care provider (rather than attempting to self-treat).

Certain causes of loose stools require immediate treatment.

Here's a look at simple remedies that may help:

1) Avoiding Certain Foods

Some people can eat broccoli, cabbage, and other fruits and vegetables without having issues but they may cause bloating and loose stools in others. Milk and other dairy products can also be problematic for some people, while others may react to fried and greasy foods.

Keeping a food diary and noting your symptoms can help to identify any foods that may be causing your symptoms. Here are some of the common culprits:

  • Dairy products. Even if your loose stools aren't caused by lactose intolerance, some people may be temporarily sensitive to milk, ice cream, cheese, and other dairy products.
  • Gluten. A protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, gluten products like bread, pasta, and baked goods may be a problem for people with gluten intolerance or Celiac disease.
  • Fatty foods. 
  • Artificial sweeteners. Some people find that mannitol, sorbitol, and other artificial sweeteners have a laxative effect. Check labels carefully as artificial sweeteners are found in sugarless candy and gum, diet beverages, and sugar substitutes.
  • Spicy foods. Hot and spicy foods can irritate the stomach lining and cause loose stools.
  • Alcohol and caffeine. Due to their diuretic properties (which cause you to lose fluids), it's best to avoid alcohol and caffeine.
  • Fructose. A type of sugar in fruit and fruit juice, honey, and other foods. 
  • Soda and carbonated beverages. Avoid foods that may increase gas and bloating, such as carbonated, fizzy drinks.
  • Foods that can cause gas. While fiber and vegetables are an important part of the diet (and often lacking in the diet), foods like cabbage, broccoli, beans, and cauliflower can contribute to bloating and gas if you consume them in excess or if you have loose stools.

    Even if these foods aren't the cause of your loose stools, you may wish to avoid them or eat them sparingly until you feel better.

    2) Probiotics

    Probiotics are live microoganisms found in fermented foods like yogurt and sauerkraut and also available in supplement form. They help to restore beneficial bacteria in the intestines that some people with loose stools may be lacking.

    Research suggests that probiotics may help prevent diarrhea that can occur after taking antibiotics. This research includes a report published in Nutrition in Clinical Practice in 2016, which involved the analysis of previously published clinical trials testing the effects of probiotics on people with antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

    Their analysis revealed that probiotics were associated with a reduced risk of antibiotic-associated diarrhea in adults (but not in those over the age of 65). According to another study, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG and Saccharomyces boulardii are the most effective strains for antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

    3) Staying Hydrated

    In general, loose stools contain more fluid and electrolytes than solid stools. Due to this higher content of fluid and electrolytes, frequently experiencing loose stools may result in dehydration. To avoid this complication, consume liquids with sugar and salt. 

    4) Foods to Eat When You Have Loose Stools

    Just as certain foods can worsen symptoms, other foods can help, especially in the first 24 hours. Bland, thicker foods are usually tolerated, such as:

    • Applesauce
    • Bananas
    • Chicken, plain and cooked without skin
    • Crackers, plain
    • Oatmeal
    • Potatoes, boiled
    • Rice (white)

    The First Steps

    While home remedies may help loose stools in certain situations, it's important to take caution. Trying any remedy on your own isn't recommended and they shouldn't be used in place of standard care.

    In some cases, loose stools may stem from an underlying health condition. That's why it's important to consult your doctor if you are experiencing loose stools or are considering using any remedies. 

    It's also important to seek medical attention if you experience loose stools accompanied by symptoms like severe pain in the abdomen or rectum, a fever of 102 degrees or higher, stools containing blood or mucus, and/or stools that are black and tarry.

    SEE ALSO:  Floating Stool | Green Stool | Dark or Bright Red Stool | Mucus in Stool | Pellet-Shaped Stool | More Poop Colors Explained


    Nutr Clin Pract. 2016 Aug;31(4):502-13. Probiotics Reduce the Risk of Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhea in Adults (18-64 Years) but Not the Elderly (>65 Years): A Meta-Analysis. Jafarnejad S, Shab-Bidar S, Speakman JR, Parastui K, Daneshi-Maskooni M, Djafarian K. 

    Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using any alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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