Natural Foods Merchandiser

What's bugging them?

Diarrhea, vomiting and nausea are topics few people want to talk about. It turns out that few report those symptoms, either, when they occur after eating tainted food.

According to a poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal Online & Harris Interactive, about 1 in 8 adults, or 13 percent, said someone in their household became sick within the past year after eating food purchased in a store or restaurant. However, only 35 percent of them reported the illness, and only 17 percent sought medical treatment or advice. The study did not quantify the number of people who used supplements or other natural remedies to combat the illness.

"Having been through it myself and not reported it, I kind of understand," said Christopher Turf, director of integrative pharmacy at Pharmaca Integrative Pharmacy in Boulder, Colo. "It's self-limiting in most cases. And you feel so damn bad. Are you gonna go walking into a doctor's office if you're not sure what's gonna come out of what end? And if you're a healthy person, your body usually rallies and takes care of itself."

According to the poll, 20 percent of those who do report food-related illness tell the store or restaurant where they purchased the food, and 91 percent ban the offending food from their diet. But such episodes are great opportunities for natural products retailers and integrative pharmacies to educate people about prevention and treatment options, Turf said. The most common questions his pharmacists get, he said, are: "What can I do to protect myself? What can I take? How can I prevent it?" His first recommendation is probiotics, for both prevention and treatment.

"If you actively use a probiotic on a regular basis, you're far less likely to have these things happen. If you have a healthy digestive tract, your body is going to be able to fend off those attackers," he said. "In the event you do get sick, there are some very good, high-tier probiotics that you can take large doses of, that can stop or slow down these attackers and can limit the duration and severity of nausea."

Turf cautioned, however, that acidophilus by itself is not sufficient, nor is eating a tub or two of yogurt. "You have to take supplements and you have to take high dosages—higher than what the package talks about." Turf recommends working with a health care practitioner to get the dosage right.

Turf said store staffs should encourage customers to keep asking questions, because many are misinformed. "A lot of times people will immediately start taking antidiarrheals," he said. "But your body has something on board that it's trying to get rid of," and the process, though uncomfortable, is necessary. Afflicted consumers should make sure to drink plenty of fluids to replace what is lost, and possibly consider taking an electrolyte solution. Just be aware that electrolytes on an empty stomach might be further upsetting, Turf cautioned.

But when it comes to children, Turf said people shouldn't take any chances. "Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea—those things are the most dangerous and the most critical in small children and infants. Always err on the side of caution and always consult with a pediatrician."

Food fears by the numbers
In an online survey of 2,041 U.S. adults, the Wall Street Journal/Harris Interactive poll asked the following questions, among others:

Sometimes food products are recalled from the market or warnings are issued that a product is suspected of making people sick. How closely do you follow these kinds of food safety announcements?

Follow food safety announcements (total)


To a great extent


To some extent


To a minor extent


Not at all


What do you typically do when you hear about a food safety concern or product recall?

Stop eating the product (total)


Stop eating the product entirely


Stop eating the product until I learn that it's safe to do so


Stop eating the product for some time, but don't look for additional information to see when it's safe to eat again


Do nothing



Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 2/p. 1, 14

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