Diarrhea is characterized by greater than usual fluidity, frequency, or volume of bowel movements, as compared to the normal pattern for a particular person. Diarrhea is not considered a disease but of itself but a symptom of an underlying pattern.
What is Diarrhea?
From Modern Western Medicine
Acute diarrhea, which starts suddenly and, for most people, usually lasts only two or three days, is often the result of consuming contaminated food or drink. The condition normally subsides without treatment. Chronic diarrhea maybe due to serious intestinal disorder and requires medical attention. Diarrhea in infants and the elderly can be a more serious disorder because of its potential for dehydration.
Common causes of acute diarrhea include anxiety, flu, food allergy, food poisoning, side effects of drugs and drug toxicity, and food intolerance. In addition, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticular disease, cancer, thyrotoxicosis, and irritable bowel syndrome can cause chronic diarrhea.
Treatment involves replacing the lost water and electrolytes (salts) to prevent dehydration, usually by drinking water in which salt and sugar have been added. The formula for salt-and-sugar water is one teaspoon of salt and four teaspoons of sugar in 1 quart of water. Electrolyte mixtures are also available at pharmacies.
Diarrhea in infants, recurring diarrhea that persists for more than a week, and diarrhea that contains blood in the stools requires medical attention.
From Traditional Medicine
Acute diarrhea is the body’s normal reaction to the presence of a toxic agent. It is an effective way of eliminating toxic foods, viruses, or bacteria from the system. Chronic diarrhea, in most cases, is due to weakness in the digestive system, which includes the spleen, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, and small and large intestines.
In the view of Chinese medicine, diarrhea is most frequently caused by deficient spleen-pancreas qi or deficient fire element (heart and small intestine). Finally, healers using Chinese medicine also point out that diarrhea can manifest as a result if excessive heat and cold influences. (See Part III for an explanation of heat and cold conditions.)
The first set of foods recommended below is for general causes and can be used for any type of diarrhea. The second and third set is for cold and hot conditions, respectively.
General Foods to Eat
According to Chinese medicine, the basic diet should consist of small meals that are well chewed. Healing foods include the following:
- Water (to replace lost fluid)
- White rice or white bread
- Rice or barley broth
- Blackberry juice
- Garlic (especially when there is a bacterial contamination – how does one tell this?)
- String beans
- Sunflower seeds
- Umeboshi plums
- Crab apples
- Adzuki beans
- Sweet rice
Diarrhea may manifest as a result of hot and cold influences on the body. Symptoms of cold conditions include watery stools; copious, clear urine; chills; and a white, wet tongue coating. Symptoms of excess heat include stools causing burning sensation in anus, yellow coating of the tongue, yellow urine, aversion to heat, and a desire for cold drinks.
For Cold Diarrhea
- Red, black, or cayenne pepper
- Cinnamon bark
- Dried ginger
- Chicken eggs (organic and fertilized)
For Hot Diarrhea
- Millet congee
- Mung beans
Foods to Avoid No Matter the Kind of Diarrhea You May Have
- Cow’s milk
- Plums (umeboshi plums are helpful)
- Sesame seeds
- Any food difficult to digest
Herbs to Treat Diarrhea
- Blackberry tea: 3 – 4 cups per day
- Peppermint essence: 3 – 15 drops, every 2 – 3 hours
- Cranesbill (one of the safest and most effective astringent herbs for gastrointestinal problems): root powder, 20 – 30 grains; tincture, 2 – 30 drops
- Rose hips: 3 – 12 g
- Nettles: 9 – 30 g
The following remedies will help relieve the miseries of diarrhea without interfering with its cleansing action:
- Arsenicum: If stomach feels heavy, there is nausea, vomiting, and weakness, which come from spoiled food or excessive fruit
- Cuprum arsenicosum for burning, cramping, colicky pain in lower bowels, vomiting, and a sensation of collapse
- Gersemium: for diarrhea caused by anticipation of even an enjoyable social engagement or from fear
- Sulfur for changeable stools that are sometimes yellow and watery and sometimes slimy, or for an urgent need to defecate early in the morning
- Veratrum album: treats similar symptoms to arsenicum, but the patient experiences a cold sweat and feels on the verge of collapse
For children, be alert if diarrhea continues for any length of time and watch for signs of dehydration
- Aconite: use after exposure to cold wind
- Arsenicum album: for diarrhea from spoiled food or too much fruit, to treat frequent, dark, offensive stools; restlessness or thirst for small sips of water
- Chamomilla treats greenish, slimy stools during teething
- Nux vomica: for diarrhea, resulting from overfeeding: usually small quantity is passed each time