If you’ve ever had food poisoning, you know how miserable it is. I always keep natural remedies for food poisoning in my natural medicine cabinet ever since I experienced food poisoning myself (many of these remedies I already had for other uses!).
After a lovely date with my husband on a Wednesday night, I started to have a weird feeling in my stomach. I drank some apple cider vinegar, which is my normal remedy for any kind of tummy troubles and the feeling went away… until 3 a.m.
At 3 a.m., I was awoken by that feeling of needing to vomit but not being able to. I spent the next few hours with horribly cramping stomach aches and awful nausea. Then the vomiting hit… and did it ever!
I’ll spare you the rest of the details, but basically, I couldn’t keep anything down, including water, for the next 8 hours and I had really bad stomach cramps, dizziness, chills, etc. In fact, I had every food poisoning symptom.
Causes of Food Poisoning
Food poisoning can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites present in contaminated food. Some foods are more likely to carry these pathogens (like raw meat and other animal products) but any food handled improperly can become contaminated. I take food safety very seriously at my home, but we have less control when we’re out. However, we try to only eat at restaurants that have zero food safety violations to avoid food poisoning.
Some of the most common pathogens responsible for cases of food poisoning include:
- Clostridium perfringens
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Escherichia coli (E. coli)
The above common causes of food poisoning are not the only pathogens responsible for foodborne illness though. Despite there being many causes of foodborne illness, natural remedies for food poisoning should work for all of them.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Food Poisoning?
Food poisoning is fairly easy to recognize. Symptoms include:
- Watery or bloody diarrhea
- Abdominal pain and cramps
- Fever or chills
The above symptoms may also be present if you catch a stomach bug, so it can be difficult to tell the two apart sometimes.
Food poisoning comes on quickly and strongly and is usually within a few hours (up to 6) after eating a meal. Bloody diarrhea is typically a symptom of food poisoning but not a stomach bug.
Food poisoning (also known as foodborne illness) is often more severe than a stomach bug as well. Stomach bugs (often caused by norovirus) may come on slower, last longer, and generally be less intense.
Natural Remedies for Food Poisoning
When I got food poisoning I was very happy to have a few natural remedies already at home ready to use. Here are the most common food poisoning natural remedies:
Apple Cider Vinegar
At some point when I had food poisoning, I was debating going to the hospital to get an IV so I would have some fluids to be able to nurse the baby. Then I remembered the apple cider vinegar (ACV) and how it had helped for a few hours. So I tried it again and it worked!
A 2018 study confirms apple cider vinegar’s ability to kill pathogens. Researchers discovered that ACV has antimicrobial properties against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Candida albicans.
This is important because when it comes to food poisoning, we don’t want to just get rid of symptoms since they are doing their job of riding the body of the invader. But ACV actually helps kill the pathogen that causes food poisoning while offering some relief from symptoms.
ACV is safe for most people, including children and women who are pregnant or nursing. According to an article on Harvard Health Publishing, long term use may cause potassium level issues, insulin level issues, or tooth enamel loss, so it’s best to use it judiciously (like for food poisoning). Doses of 1-2 teaspoons of ACV mixed in water or juice is good for adults. For children, cut this dose in half.
At first signs of symptoms, I took equal parts water (or juice) and apple cider vinegar (organic, with the mother!) and that did the trick.
I also remembered something I learned in a class long ago about activated charcoal being a fast remedy for food poisoning. Activated charcoal can be helpful in dealing with severe to life-threatening intoxications including food poisoning. It does this by binding to the pathogen and removing it from the body. Activated charcoal is safe for most people including pregnant or nursing women and children.
The review stipulates that activated charcoal should be taken as soon as possible after the ingestion for the best effect. Dosage is 0.5 to 1 g/kg body weight in children or 50 g in adults. It’s generally a good idea to taper off the dosage if you take it more than once. Dosages may be different for different people and cases, so it’s always good to check with your doctor.
I took way less than the recommended dose (1/2 tsp) activated charcoal mixed into applesauce after taking the ACV. Within a few minutes, I started to feel a lot better. I repeated the regimen until I didn’t have symptoms.
Another helpful remedy for food poisoning is herbal tea. As mentioned earlier, we don’t want to simply mask the symptoms of food poisoning because they are doing their job. So a remedy that eases upset isn’t necessarily what you want (though you would feel better in the short term). However, along with the above remedies that deal with the underlying cause, a cup of herbal tea can be very soothing to a sore stomach. Here are my favorite stomach soothing herbal teas:
These herbs are generally safe for children and pregnant or nursing women in small amounts, but to be safe, always check with your healthcare provider. In addition to easing stomach upset, taking small sips of these teas can help the body stay hydrated once vomiting has eased up a bit.
Recovering From Food Poisoning: Home Remedies
When the vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea start to subside, you’ll still want to be cautious about what you put in your stomach. Here are some ways to recover from food poisoning according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease :
- Ease into food and drink – You may be especially thirsty after food poisoning, but you’ll want to ease into ingesting anything. Start with a few sips of water or tea and then drink a bit more if you’re still feeling okay.
- Electrolyte water – For rehydration, drinking water or an electrolyte drink such as coconut water or an electrolyte drink can help.
- Avoid some foods – It’s best to start with bland foods. Carbohydrates like sweet potatoes are a good choice when reintroducing food after food poisoning. Fruit may also be easy enough on the stomach. Bone broth is my favorite food for getting some nutrition without causing upset in the stomach. Stay away from dairy products, grains, legumes, greasy or fried foods, or anything else that could cause digestive upset.
- Take it easy when getting back to your regular daily schedule – Give yourself a chance to recuperate and nap if needed. Food poisoning is draining on the body so you may need extra rest.
Bottom line: Give the body some time to get better before jumping back into a regular diet and daily schedule.
When to Call the Doctor
Pregnant women, children, and older adults are at higher risk of complications from food poisoning, so it’s best to call the doctor to get medical advice right away. If you’re nursing, you need to be extra attentive to your hydration levels and may need an IV for fluids. You may also want to call if you have:
- bloody stool or vomit I might add that certain kinds of bloody diarrhea can lead to more serious health complications – but you’ve got it covered by saying call the doctor if there is bloody diarrhea
- severe stomach cramping
- Inability to keep liquids down for 12-24 hours or signs of dehydration (excessive thirst, dry mouth, dizziness, little or no urination, severe weakness, or lightheadedness)
- Diarrhea for more than three days
- An oral temperature higher than 104 degrees F
Also, follow your intuition. If you feel that you need extra support, follow that feeling. Give your doctor a call and get medical care if needed.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Lauren Jefferis, board-certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.
Ever had food poisoning? How did you recover?
- Yagnik, D., Serafin, V., & Shah, A. J. (2018). Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Scientific Reports, 8(1). doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-18618-x https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5788933/
- Zellner, T., Prasa, D., Färber, E., Hoffmann-Walbeck, P., Genser, D., & Eyer, F. (2019). The use of activated charcoal to treat intoxications. Deutsches Aerzteblatt Online. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2019.0311 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6620762/
- Shmerling, R. H. (2020, April 22). Apple cider vinegar diet: Does it really work? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/apple-cider-vinegar-diet-does-it-really-work-2018042513703
- Treatment for Food Poisoning. (2019, June 1). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/food-poisoning/treatment