Sports Drinks May Be a Winning Choice for Kids With Diarrhea

By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Oct. 31 (HealthDay News) -- When a child is sick with viral gastroenteritis and suffering from vomiting and diarrhea, the last thing he or she wants to do is drink something that doesn't taste good.

Unfortunately, so-called oral replenishment solutions like Pedialyte -- though very effective at restoring the body's electrolyte balance and helping prevent dehydration -- aren't very tasty. Gatorade and other sports drinks, on the other hand, come in flavors children enjoy.

So, researchers sought to answer the question -- could Gatorade be as effective as Pedialyte or other oral replenishment solutions (ORS)?

The answer to that question may be yes, according to a study supported by a grant from the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.

"Gatorade seems to work very well, and it really might do the trick until kids feel better," said study author Dr. Satish Rao, a professor of medicine at the University of Iowa.

But if your child shows any signs of dehydration, Rao added, Gatorade or an ORS would not be adequate treatment in themselves. At that point, medical care is necessary to prevent more serious complications, such as hypokalemia -- low potassium -- and hyponatremia -- a serious electrolyte imbalance.

And another expert cautioned that because of its high sugar content, Gatorade may not be the best choice of liquid replenishment for dehydrated kids.

Thirty percent to 40 percent of all diarrheal illnesses are caused by viral gastroenteritis, and in children rotavirus is the most common cause of the illness, according to the National Library of Medicine. Symptoms include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and nausea.

If a child appears to be increasingly lethargic or really can't take in any food or liquid for six to 12 hours, Rao said, he or she should be seen by a doctor. In infants, signs of dehydration include a decrease in the number of wet diapers, crying without tears and skin torpor -- which means if you pinch the skin, it stays up for several seconds, added Kimberly Kazmerski, a registered dietician at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

With the help of colleagues at Osmania Medical College in Hyderabad, India, Rao identified 73 Indian children between the ages of 5 and 12 admitted to the hospital due to viral gastroenteritis.

Sixty-one of the children qualified for the trial and were randomly assigned to receive either Gatorade, Pedialyte or another ORS for 48 hours. They were also given yogurt or rice if they could tolerate the food. Neither the researchers nor the children knew who was receiving which product.

The researchers found no difference between the two solutions with regard to stool frequency, stool consistency and body weight. Gatorade was less effective than Pedialyte and the newer ORS in preventing potassium deficiency.

Results of the study were to be presented Monday at the American College of Gastroenterology annual meeting, in Honolulu.

"The most important thing a parent can do for viral gastroenteritis is to try and encourage fluid intake in any form, preferably one that is palatable to the child," said Rao.

However, both Rao and Kazmerski said drinking water is not helpful during a diarrheal illness and may, in fact, make the diarrhea worse.

That's also one of the reasons that other studies have discouraged the use of Gatorade in children with viral gastroenteritis, according to Kazmerski. She said that because Gatorade contains simple sugar as its main ingredient, it can exacerbate diarrhea.

"Gatorade is better than something like juice or popsicles, but you just don't get the electrolyte replenishment you need with Gatorade," she said.

"All of the other studies and research tell us that Pedialyte and other ORS are better than sports drinks or Gatorade," Kazmerski said, though she acknowledged those options aren't always as palatable as sports drinks.

She recommended buying the Pedialyte freezer pops, which may be slightly more enjoyable for children.

SOURCES: Satish Rao, M.D., Ph.D., professor, medicine, University of Iowa, and fellow, American College of Gastroenterology; Kimberly Kazmerski, R.D., Children's Memorial Hospital, Chicago; Oct. 31, 2005, presentation, American College of Gastroenterology annual meeting, Honolulu

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