Calcium May Prevent Travelers' Diarrhea
People suffering from infectious diarrhea (Travelers' diarrhea) may get relief by consuming high-calcium milk products, according to a new study in Gastroenterology (2003;125:469–76).
Travelers' diarrhea affects two of three tourists visiting Asia, Africa, and South America. However, it is also common in Western societies as the result of food or water contamination (food poisoning). Diarrhea is the world’s second leading cause of death after heart disease. Young children, elderly adults, and people with immune-suppressive diseases may be at higher risk. The most common cause of travelers' diarrhea is a bacterium called E. coli. While the symptoms are often self-limiting and resolve in a few days, they can cause great discomfort. Treatment is usually supportive, focused on making sure that fluid and electrolyte intake is maintained. This is the first human study to suggest calcium has a protective effect against E. coli.
In the new study, 32 healthy men between the ages of 20 and 55 years were intentionally infected with a live but weakened form of E. coli. They were then randomly assigned to consume approximately 3 cups of regular milk and 1 cup of a milk-based custard per day (providing a total of 1,100 mg of calcium per day) or the same amounts of low-calcium milk products (providing 60 mg of calcium per day) for three weeks. Bowel symptoms and fecal output were measured initially and at the conclusion of the study. All participants maintained a regular diet but excluded other dairy products and high-calcium foods.
All participants developed diarrhea shortly after being infected with E. coli. The men drinking the regular milk had complete resolution of symptoms after the second day of treatment, while the men drinking the low-calcium milk continued to have diarrhea. The results of this study show that calcium in milk accelerates recovery from infectious diarrhea.
Although this is the first study in humans, preliminary animal research also showed that calcium was effective in preventing infectious diarrhea. One animal study found that oral calcium phosphate helped prevent E. coli infection, while another study showed calcium protects against Salmonella infection. More human research is necessary to determine if calcium might be effective against other organisms that cause diarrhea.
Although it has not been determined whether calcium from other food sources or from supplements would provide the same benefit, individuals with milk allergy or lactose intolerance might consider alternative sources of calcium. Foods high in calcium include calcium-fortified soy products; nuts; green, leafy vegetables (kale, collard greens, mustard greens); and seaweed.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of The Natural Pharmacist: Lowering Cholesterol (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice at New England Family Health Associates located in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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