Although eating certain foods doesn't guarantee that you won't become a victim of stomach flu symptoms, diet can play a role in keeping your immune system healthy. By building up a strong immunity to bacteria and viruses, your body will be better equipped to fight off infections and disease.
Is It the Stomach Flu?
If you woke up feeling achy and feverish and not wanting to get out of bed, you may be wondering if a stomach flu bug has invaded your body.
Stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, is an infection that targets your gastrointestinal system. Although you may initially think you have a common cold, stomach flu symptoms are often more serious and intense than a stuffy nose and sneezing. The norovirus is one of the most common viruses responsible for this condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Gastroenteritis differs from the influenza virus because it affects the gastrointestinal tract. The common flu, on the other hand, affects only your respiratory system. If you have contracted stomach flu, you may experience the following symptoms of assault on your intestines within 12 to 48 hours after being exposed to the virus, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Low-grade fever and chills
- Headache, muscle aches
- Watery diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps
- Nausea or vomiting
There are many ways that you may have caught stomach flu. It is very contagious, so if you're in close contact with other people, all it takes is a cough or sneeze to send virus-filled droplets into the air you breathe.
How susceptible you are to the viral infection may have something to do, in part, with your genes, according to the CDC. Or you may be more vulnerable to being infected by a stomach virus due to certain factors, including your age, a weakened immune system or a chronic medical condition, says the Mayo Clinic.
Read more: Food to Eat During a Stomach Virus
Antioxidants Protect Against Stomach Flu
There is no effective treatment for stomach flu. Antibiotics and other drugs can't cure this condition because it is caused by a virus, but you can help your body fight off invading germs by keeping your immune system strong, This may lessen your chance of getting sick and help your body recover quicker.
Many vitamins and minerals act as antioxidants that support immune function. The best known include vitamins C and E as well as carotenoids, selenium and zinc. These nutrients are found in plant-based foods, so eating plenty of fruits and vegetables may help increase your body's defense system and protect you from susceptibility to infectious diseases like stomach flu.
Plus, fruits and vegetables are easy to digest if you do get stomach flu symptoms. Foods to avoid with stomach virus include sugary foods, dairy products, greasy fatty foods, spicy foods and meat, all of which could make your diarrhea and abdominal cramps worse.
The risk of contracting an infectious disease increases if your body's immune system is weak. Your cells are constantly bombarded with particles called free radicals, which normally protect you from bacteria viruses.
When your antioxidant defenses are strong, damage caused by free radicals is effectively repaired. But without a healthy immune system, free radicals can become excessive and damage your cells, which might result in disease, explains a review published in the International Journal of Inflammation, Cancer and Integrative Therapy in July 2014.
Best Food for Stomach Flu
Foods containing vitamin C are known for their therapeutic action against common cold and diseases. A case report published in the Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine in June 2018 determined that infectious diseases cause a depletion of vitamin C and increase the body's requirements for vitamin C.
Furthermore, a meta-analysis of nine control trials found that daily supplementation of vitamin C may shorten the duration and severity of the common cold. The study reported that vitamin C maintains the balance between oxidants and antioxidants in cells, and thereby protects them against reactive oxygen generated during an inflammatory response. The findings were published in BioMed Research International in July 2018.
The results of this research show that vitamin C may be particularly valuable for its potential role in helping maintain your immune system strong during an illness. It's important that you fill up on foods rich in this antioxidant, especially during flu season. Some foods highest in vitamin C, according to the USDA, include:
- Bell peppers
Fill Up on Antioxidants
Another potent antioxidant that protects your body from oxidative damage is vitamin E. To help reduce your susceptibility to infections, include plenty of vitamin E-rich food for stomach flu in your diet, including:
- Vegetable oils
- Nuts and seeds
- Green vegetables
- Fortified foods
According to an August 2017 study in the journal Gut Microbes, vitamin A has shown promising potential for its antiviral effect on the treatment of norovirus.
Foods that contain beta-carotene, an important precursor of vitamin A, have a strong antioxidant effect that can help strengthen your immune system against infection and disease. Eating foods rich in beta-carotene along with fats will increase its absorption. Think colorful when choosing foods to boost your immunity:
- Sweet potatoes
- Dark leafy greens
- Butternut squash
Selenium is another antioxidant nutrient with a powerful effect on boosting your immune system. It has protective properties against oxidative damage from free radicals and infection. You can get sufficient amounts of selenium to help protect you from getting sick by eating selenium-rich foods:
- Meat and poultry
- Eggs and dairy products
- Whole-grain, cereals and other grain products
Zinc is often used in cold preparations, especially in the form of lozenges. A May 2017meta-analysis published in JRSM Open reported that zinc may reduce the duration of a cold by 33 percent.
Additionally, a review featured in the Canadian Family Physician in April 2013 reported that a severe zinc deficiency is associated with gastroenteritis, or stomach flu. Administration of zinc was found to benefit diarrhea-related symptoms.
Keep your immune system healthy by eating foods high in zinc:
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Green peas
- Lima beans
Herbal Remedies for Stomach Flu
For centuries, herbal medicines have been traditionally utilized for the treatment of various ailments, including viral diseases. Although natural remedies cannot directly prevent you from getting stomach flu or kill the virus in its track, some natural antiviral agents used in Ayurvedic treatments may help alleviate your symptoms. They may also protect you from complications and speed up your recovery.
A September 2016 study published in the journal Genomics and Informatics assessed the role of various traditional plants as natural remedies for preventing human influenza and enhancing the immune system. Some of the natural compounds they studied, along with their use in traditional medicine as a role in their antiviral properties, include the following:
Ginger: Certain active compounds present in ginger, including allicin, alliin and ajoene, exhibit anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral properties. The compound allicin may also contain anti-influenza proteins and help prevent certain kinds of flu.
Holy basil: The antimicrobial properties of holy basil have been found helpful in the prevention and spread of swine flu without side effects. Basil and ginger work best when made into a tea to treat stomach cramps associated with the flu.
Green tea: Particularly rich in polyphenolic compounds like theaflavin and catechins, green tea appears to enhance cell immunity. These antioxidants may inhibit viral infections by blocking the enzymes that allow viruses to reproduce, points out Genomics and Informatics_._
Turmeric: The active constituent in turmeric is curcumin, which is reported to have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties.
Garlic: Ajoene, one of the active compounds in fresh garlic, is responsible for its natural antiviral, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties, says the 2016 study in Genomics and Informatics.
Other organic sulfur compounds, especially allicin, also contribute to garlic's antimicrobial effects. An October 2013 review published in the Iranian Journal Of Basic Medical Sciences has found that garlic was effective against viruses, including influenza and the common cold as well as bacterial infections, such as pneumonia. The benefit of garlic for maintaining and increasing the function of the immune system was also reported in the Journal of Immunology Research in April 2015.
Elderberry: Black elderberry has been used to reduce the length and severity of flu symptoms for centuries. According to the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors, taking 60 milliliters a day may help achieve complete recovery in as few as three days. The theory is that elderberry extract binds to a virus protein, preventing it from invading your cells.
Echinacea: The herb echinacea is also used as a dietary supplement for the common cold and other infections, says the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Although echinacea may boost your immune system to help fight infection and reduce your chance of catching a virus, there is no proof that it provides relief from stomach flu once you get sick.
Licorice: With the nearly 300 flavonoids, licorice possesses antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activities, according to a review published in Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica B in July 2015. One of the flavonoids in licorice is glycyrrhizin, which has antiviral properties that may inhibit the replication of viruses and halt their ability to connect to healthy cells. The study noted that this activity may be effective in the treatment of many viral illnesses, including influenza.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "About Norovirus"
- Mayo Clinic: "Viral Gastroenteritis (Stomach Flu)"
- International Journal of Inflammation, Cancer and Integrative Therapy: "Review Article Open Access Inflammation, Free Radical Damage, Oxidative Stress and Cancer"
- Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine: "High Dose Vitamin C and Influenza: A Case Report"
- BioMed Research International: "Extra Dose of Vitamin C Based on a Daily Supplementation Shortens the Common Cold: A Meta-Analysis of 9 Randomized Controlled Trials"
- MyFoodData: "Top 10 Foods Highest in Vitamin C"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin E"
- Journal of Gut Microbes: "New Perspectives Regarding the Antiviral Effect of Vitamin A on Norovirus Using Modulation of Gut Microbiota"
- MyFoodData: "Top 10 Foods Highest in Beta Carotene"
- National Institutes of Health: "Selenium"
- JRSM Open: "Zinc Lozenges and the Common Cold: A Meta-Analysis Comparing Zinc Acetate and Zinc Gluconate, and the Role of Zinc Dosage"
- Canadian Family Physician : "Zinc Supplementation for Acute Gastroenteritis"
- MyFoodData: "Top 10 Vegetables Highest in Zinc"
- Genomics and Informatics: "Identification of Suitable Natural Inhibitor Against Influenza A (H1N1) Neuraminidase Protein by Molecular Docking"
- Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences: "Therapeutic Uses and Pharmacological Properties of Garlic, Shallot, and Their Biologically Active Compounds"
- Journal of Immunology Research: "Immunomodulation and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Garlic Compounds"
- Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors: "Top Ten Natural Anti-Viral Agents:
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Echinacea"
- Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica B: "The Antiviral and Antimicrobial Activities of Licorice, a Widely Used Chinese Herb"