Getting enough calcium in your diet may protect you from traveler's diarrhea, scientists in the Netherlands report. And the calcium doesn't even need to come from milk -- taking it in pill form may be good enough.
The leading cause of infectious diarrhea is contamination of food and drinking water with the type of Escherichia coli bacteria that attacks the gut. Tourists often contend with "Montezuma's revenge" when visiting Asia, Africa or South America. More seriously, this type of diarrhea is also a leading cause of death among children in developing countries.
Researchers tested their theory that calcium prevents virulent E. coli from colonizing the intestine, using rats. If fed a high-calcium diet for 2 weeks, the animals had less severe diarrhea and lost less weight after being infected with E. coli than did those fed a low-calcium diet.
The food scientists did the same kind of experiment in 32 brave volunteers, using a less dangerous strain of E. coli that produces milder symptoms. These men ate vanilla custard made either with regular milk products or with reduced-calcium milk for three weeks. On the 10th day, they drank fruit juice spiked with the E. coli bacteria.
The volunteers in the high-calcium diet group recovered fully after two days, while those in the low-calcium group felt no better until the third day. Those who had more calcium also lost less fluid in their stools, making them less dehydrated.
The scientists noted that calcium also protects rats from diarrhea caused by Salmonella, another bacteria that commonly causes food poisoning.
They also believe that calcium supplementation could protect people from cholera, a deadly form of epidemic diarrhea.
However, they added, calcium does not protect against all bacterial food poisoning. For example, Listeria is associated with food poisoning outbreaks caused by contaminated dairy products, and Staphylococcus is often transmitted by food handlers who have infected wounds on their hands.
No matter how much milk you drink, it won't protect you from these causes of diarrhea.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.