The Best (and Cheapest) Response to Traveler’s Diarrhea
You’re crouched over a squat toilet (if you’ve made it that far) and your Snicker’s bar suddenly looks like Hershey’s chocolate milk.
Delhi Belly, Montezuma’s Revenge… here in Varanasi we call it Banaras Belly. And to the casual traveler in India or on other off-beaten paths, it’s likely to happen. The good news: Your body probably won’t react to the same agent in the same way again. Yes, you’re getting stronger. But in the meantime, what to do?
If you said “drink more water” - you’d be mistaken.
The best response to a net loss of body fluid is three little letters:
O - R - S.
And they stand for Oral Rehydration Salts. (Alternatively: ORT, Oral Rehydration Treatment).
(It’s also, apparently, a good cure for a hangover and jet lag - read on.)
Recently I learned some interesting facts about this magic mixture, from the site www.rehydrate.org. In a diarrheal state, the healthy intestinal wall is impaired and water isn’t absorbed. So the result of just drinking more water is increased secretion of water. Diarrhea worsens.
And that’s not all. 98% of the body’s potassium, for instance, is held within cells, or is intra-cellular. But the body’s store of sodium is almost entirely extra-cellular - i.e., in body fluids and blood plasma.
Salt water isn’t absorbed well when you’re sick. O-R-S to the rescue! ORS contains sodium and glucose. The glucose molecules are absorbed into the intestines; the sodium in turn is carried through with the glucose. Then, the increased relative concentration of Na+ across the intestinal wall pulls the water through after it.
And, voila! Sip it slowly and your body will thank you for it.
An ORS packet is cheap (Unicef provides them to children in developing countries at a cost of 10 cents a pack) and is added to a liter of water.
They’re light and they’re packable, which makes us wonder, why aren’t they a part of every traveler’s tool kit?
Oh yeah - the mix to most tastes pretty gnarly.
But consider bringing these or picking some up for your travels. You may need it when you get a Hershey’s milk surprise.