Did you know that diarrhea is the third biggest killer of young children in the developing world? So there’s a strong motivation to find a way to stop diarrhea, especially in places like South-East Asia and Africa.
Here’s the newest non-toxic method they’re using: zinc. That is, zinc supplements in syrup or tablet form. You might have heard about zinc nasal sprays for colds. Well, now there’s zinc for diarrhea. Children are given 20 mg of zinc per day for 10 days to two weeks and apparently it clears up the diarrhea that could otherwise be fatal.
I’ve read several articles about using zinc supplements for diarrhea but none of them explain exactly how it works. One theory, according to WHO diarrhea specialist, Olivier Fontaine, is that because zinc is “an essential ingredient in about 300 enzymes” it boosts your immune system. He suggests that supplementary zinc keeps the diarrhea from getting worse. 60% of the immune system is near or around your digestive system.
In Nutrition Almanac, Lavon J. Dunne says that, after iron, the human body uses more zinc than any other essential trace mineral. It is part of 25 or more enzymes involved in digestion and metabolism, and helps you digest carbohydrates, absorb vitamins, break down alcohol, produce insulin and heal wounds.
So it’s pretty important to your digestive health as well as your general health. But will zinc work for IBS-D (IBS with diarrhea) the way it works for children’s chronic diarrhea in Africa and Asia? It's a good question. Here are a couple of thoughts...
First of all, if you have a computer, you’re unlikely to be living in the developing world. Why does that matter? Because the child diarrhea in those countries seems to be microbial – whether it’s from parasites, bacteria or virus or all three, I don’t know. But parasite-based diarrhea is unusual in the industrialized world, says Dr. David Dahlman, unless you’ve been travelling to other countries or eating raw seafood.
So if the zinc is acting primarily as an anti-microbial agent, it may not be effective if your diarrhea has a different cause. On the other hand, people with chronic diarrhea and other digestive problems often lack minerals or have trouble absorbing them. So, if your diarrhea is linked to mineral deficiency, zinc supplements may be useful.
Here’s another thought. Pain specialists, Dr. Robert Scaer and Dr. John Sarno, among others, say that IBS is caused by a brain process that triggers the digestive system to react because of stored trauma (Scaer) or unconscious emotions (Sarno.) In that case, a nutrient may not make a huge difference to your symptoms. (This is where I put in my plug for The No IBS Program, since it is designed to deal with those brain process triggers of IBS.)
So, is zinc the answer to IBS D?
Maybe. At least one IBS forum offers anecdotal evidence that zinc works for diarrhea. Trying it is inexpensive. Prescription for Nutritional Healing author, Dr. James Balch, says adults should not take more than 100 mg per day.
When you try it, let me know your results.