Answer – Health Literacy Pop Quiz

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If you had a case of the stomach flu, should you drink plain water, ginger ale, or half-strength apple juice?


See the table below. Ginger ale is likely a poor choice because it does not contain any significant ginger (which has been found to be an anti-nauseant). The sugar would pull fluids into the guts and possibly worsen diarrhea.

The most important thing is to replenish the fluids and electrolytes (the essential minerals your body needs but is losing) and to drink small amounts of liquid frequently. Getting calories from solid food is much less important in the first few days of illness.

Drink more than just plain water. If you think of your sweat and how salty that is, it gives you some idea of what you’re losing through vomit and diarrhea. You can easily buy packages of oral rehydration salts (such as Gastrolyte) that you mix with water yourself, or pre-mixed solutions such as Pedialyte. There are even Pedialyte freezies that some kids enjoy more, and they are great because you can’t consume too much too quickly when they are frozen.

Here are some other solutions with my comments:

GREATOral rehydration salts (such as Gastrolyte)Convenient and cost-effective, especially when you mix it yourself
GREATOral rehydration pre-mixed solutionsReady to use.
FAIRHalf-strength apple juice (half apple juice with half water).1For mild and early symptoms.
FAIRHalf-strength Gatorade (half Gatorade with half water)
POORHomemade combinations of salt, sugar, and water.Errors in mixing could cause harm if measurements are incorrect
POORPlain water.No electrolytes. This can become a problem if the body’s sodium and potassium levels get too low.
Source 1: Freedman SB. “Effect of dilute apple juice and preferred fluids vs electrolyte maintenance solution on treatment failure among children with mild gastroenteritis: a randomized clinical trial”. JAMA, 315. (2016): 1966-74. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.5352

This is an excerpt from PART 4: ARMCHAIR EMERG DOC under a section called “Tips and Tricks for Common Conditions.”

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