Natural Treatments for Diarrhea
By Dr. Mao Shing Ni
MOST OF US GET THE RUNS NOW AND THEN. Something we eat or drink disagrees with our system and our body rejects the offending substance by expelling it through the bowels. The diarrhea soon passes and we are back to normal. But when diarrhea is a recurring condition, the impact on daily life becomes unbearable. The two biggest causes of diarrhea are diet and a stressful lifestyle.
Bacteria or parasites found in uncooked or contaminated foods can cause acute diarrhea. Most chronic diarrhea is associated with either irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes colitis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and proctitis. Dehydration is often a complication of chronic diarrhea; if unchecked, dehydration can have serious, life threatening consequences.
In Chinese medicine, there are three possible causes of diarrhea: emotional imbalances affecting the liver system, unhealthy eating habits that damage the spleen system, and exhausting work and excess sexual activity, which deplete the kidney system. In most cases of acute diarrhea, the culprit is a pathogen from the outside, such as bacteria from contaminated food, a flu virus, or parasites. Chronic conditions always involve the liver, spleen, and kidney systems. Both acute and chronic diarrhea respond well to acupuncture and herbal therapy together with nutrition and stress management.
Often when steroids and immunosuppressant drugs fail to relieve diarrhea in IBD patients, I will get a referral from one of my gastroenterologist colleagues. The collaboration of Eastern and Western medicine has helped many patients go into remission - and stay there. Below are some remedies that my patients have found to be helpful. If you experience uncontrollable, constant diarrhea for more than forty-eight hours and experience dizziness and shortness of breath, you may be dehydrated and should go to the emergency room immediately.
DIET FOR DIARRHEA
- What goes in goes out, so proper eating habits are essential. Eat regularly, more often, and in smaller quantities. Favor blueberries, cinnamon, raspberry leaves, lotus seeds, white rice, green apples, toasted white bread, carob, amaranth, barley water (boil barley in water for 30 minutes; strain), sauerkraut, yams, sweet potatoes, taro root, daikon radish, winter melon, fresh fig leaves, peas, buckwheat, litchi, guava, apples, ginger, pearl barley, basil, and umeboshi plum or pickled green plum. Drink plenty of pure water. Avoid dehydration by drinking at least eight to ten 6-ounce glasses of water a day during the acute phase of diarrhea.
- Do not overeat. Avoid cold and raw foods, including ice cream and iced drinks. Keep raw vegetables to a minimum cook or steam your vegetables. Keep dairy to a minimum, and eliminate spicy, stimulating, fried, and oily foods as well as preservatives, artificial colors, flavorings, and sweeteners. Avoid simple sugars and whole grains with the bran layer, as they may be too hard on the digestive system. Keep your kitchen clean as you prepare your food. Make sure to cut meat and animal products on cutting boards separate from those used for other foods, and wash the boards well. Avoid alcohol, as it impairs the intestinal wall’s ability to absorb water and can contribute to diarrhea.
HOME REMEDIES FOR DIARRHEA
- •Take charcoal tablets (500 milligrams) 3 times a day until the diarrhea stops.
- Eat yogurt containing live cultures- the friendly bacteria help subdue diarrhea.
- Steep black tea in a cup of boiling water for 10 minutes. Drink 3 cups a day until the diarrhea stops.
- Eat rice cakes or dry toast sprinkled with sea salt.
- Make a tea by boiling 1 teaspoon each of ground ginger, fennel, and basil in 3 1/2 cups of water for 15 minutes. Strain, and drink 3 cups a day.
- Drink 3 cups of blackberry tea daily. Blackberry is an astringent, and it is especially good for children.
DAILY VITAMIN SUPPLEMENTS FOR DIARRHEA
- During the active phase of diarrhea it is important to keep hydrated. Drink fluids rich in electrolytes and supplement with potassium (25 milligrams) to make up for potassium loss.
- Take bromelain (450 milligrams), found in pineapples, or another digestive enzyme such as papain (300 milligrams), 3 times a day, with each meal to aid digestion and suppress diarrhea.
- Taking quercetin (400 milligrams) 3 times a day can be useful for dysenteric diarrhea.
- Taking probiotics such as acidophilus (3 to 5 billion organisms) supports healthy flora in the bowels.
- Psyllium (2 to 4 grams) and pectin powder (1 to 2 grams) are useful as bulking agents for treating diarrhea.
HERBAL THERAPY FOR DIARRHEA
Herbs can be found in health food or vitamin stores, online, and at the offices of Chinese medicine practitioners. Herbs should be used according to individual needs; consult with a licensed practitioner for a customized formulation. To learn more about the herbs listed here, go to www.askdrmao.com.
- For urgent, foul-smelling diarrhea accompanied by a burning sensation in the anus and abdominal pain, herbs containing berberin, such as coptidis or goldenseal, are useful, as they’re naturally antibacterial.
- Traditional Chinese herbs to support healthy digestion and bowels include patchouli, atractylodis, magnolia bark, peony, ginger, tangerine, cardamom, fennel, and licorice.
- For IBS and diarrhea due to emotional stress, I often recommend our Chinese herbal formula Emotional Tranquility Tea, which supports healthy nervous system function and maintains calm and peace. It contains Chinese senega, lily bulb, poria, bamboo, zizyphus, dragon bone, and licorice.
EXERCISE FOR DIARRHEA
To help stop acute diarrhea, try this simple 15-minute abdominal massage. Note that the direction of the circles is the opposite of those in the massage for constipation.
- Lie on your back and bend your knees slightly to a comfortable position.
- Begin a circular massage of the abdomen, with both palms moving together: Starting from the lower left side and with moderate pressure, rub your abdomen in small counterclockwise circles with your palms.
- Keep making small circles with your hands as you slowly traverse a counterclockwise path around the navel. The idea is to move opposite to the peristaltic flow of the colon.
- When you reach the lower right abdomen lift your arms and begin again from the lower left side.
Repeat for 10 to 15 minutes, 3 times daily.
If you have chronic diarrhea, mild exercise like tai chi or qi gong can help strengthen your energy and digestive function. I suggest the Stomach-Spleen Strengthening Qi Gong exercise to strengthen the digestive system and promote the flow of energy in the abdomen. Perform this exercise twice a day on an empty stomach.
- Lie on your back, comfortably, with your hands at your sides. Focus on your navel. Visualize a golden disk the size of a Frisbee spinning around your entire abdomen with its center at your navel. With every inhalation the disk spins half of a circle. With every exhalation the disk completes the other half of the circle.
- Breathe deeply so that the disk spins slowly, corresponding to your respiration, for a total of 21 times in the clockwise direction.
- Reverse the direction of the disk’s rotation and repeat the breathing-spinning sequence.
SELF ACUPRESSURE FOR DIARRHEA
- Locate the acupoint Foot Three
Miles (ST-36), four fingerwidths
below and to the outside of the
right kneecap. Apply moderate
pressure with your right thumb.
Hold for 5 minutes. Repeat on
the left leg. This point is often
tender to the touch in people
with digestive disturbances.
- Locate the acupoint Heaven’s
Axis (ST-25), three fingerwidths
to either side of the navel. Apply
steady, moderate pressure with
your index fingers. Hold for
DIARRHEA: WHAT TO AVOID
- Alcohol and coffee, as they tend to irritate the intestinal lining.
- Foods that irritate the intestinal tract, including products containing MSG, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and chemical additives.
- Some antiviral and most antibiotic drugs, as they destroy the friendly and helpful intestinal bacteria. Some beta-blockers such as atenolol can cause diarrhea, as can heart medications such as digitalis and its derivatives. Many prescription and over-the-counter drugs can also cause diarrhea. Be sure to consult with your physician about possible side effects.
- Stress, anxiety, and emotional turmoil, as they stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, which, in turn, stimulates the bowels.