So you had a great time at an outdoor cookout. The barbecued chicken was delicious, and you even had seconds of the potato salad. But now you’re struck with a queasy, sick feeling. As you rush off to the bathroom, a sinking realization takes hold—you have food poisoning. If you’ve ever had this extremely uncomfortable condition, the symptoms are unmistakable: nausea, stomach pain and loose bowel movements that come fast and furious every half hour or so. As the infecting organisms invade your intestines, it gets even worse. You’re likely to start vomiting…have a mild fever and ongoing abdominal cramps—and just feel lousy.

The good news is that natural medicine can shorten an episode of food poisoning from three to four days to a day or two and dramatically reduce the severity of symptoms. Here are my favorite methods…*

  • Take activated charcoal. At the first sign of food poisoning, take two capsules of activated charcoal and repeat every four waking hours until your symptoms are gone. Activated charcoal can be purchased from a natural-food store or a pharmacy. Inside your digestive system, toxins attach to the surface of the activated charcoal and are drawn out of the stomach and intestines and eliminated from your body via passing stool.
  • Use antiseptic herbs. Oregon grape root, uva ursi and gingerroot will help kill the organisms causing your food poisoning. You can use any of these herbs individually or buy a tincture that contains all three of them for the greatest benefit. Typical adult dose: Sixty drops (about one-quarter teaspoon) in one ounce of water every four waking hours for up to three days.
  • Try carob powder. Unsweetened carob powder, available in bulk at most natural-food grocers, has a “binding” effect and will ease diarrhea. I usually prescribe it along with slippery elm powder, an herb that soothes the digestive tract and helps reduce abdominal pain. Add two teaspoons of carob powder and two teaspoons of slippery elm powder to one-quarter cup of unsweetened applesauce. Eat the mixture slowly in between meals. Repeat one or two more times throughout the day. Do this daily until symptoms are gone.
  • Drink clear liquids. If you limit your diet to mostly clear liquids, you can reduce diarrhea by slowing down the activity of your gut. Good choices: Vegetable broth…peppermint, chamomile and/or raspberry leaf herbal teas…and plain water. Also helpful: Try rice water—cook one cup of brown or white rice in four cups of water, strain off the liquid and drink six ounces several times a day. This gives you starch, which slows diarrhea, without taxing your gut to digest the rice. Avoid dairy products, meat, eggs and beans—these foods are hard to digest when the body is fighting a bug and will worsen your symptoms.

Caution: Seek prompt medical attention if you experience diarrhea for more than three days. Also see a doctor if you have a fever above 101.5°F…blood in the stool or in vomit…severe abdominal pain…lack of urination…or more than one episode of difficulty swallowing, vision changes, fainting or dizziness. These can be signs that infection has spread throughout your body.

*Check with your doctor before using herbal therapies.