Black and tarry stools according to Chinese Medicine

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Black and tarry stools can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like black and tarry stools here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here black and tarry stools is often associated with chest fullness, chest pain and boring fixed stabbing pain in the pattern “Qi And Blood Stagnation”. As you will see below, we have in record two patterns that can cause black and tarry stools.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of black and tarry stools we’ve identified three herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat black and tarry stools.

The two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause black and tarry stools

In Chinese Medicine black and tarry stools is a symptom for 2 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Peach Kernels (Tao Ren) is the king ingredient for Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang, a formula used for Qi And Blood Stagnation

Qi And Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Deep (Chen), Fine (Xi)

In addition to black and tarry stools, other symptoms associated with Qi And Blood Stagnation include chest fullness, chest pain and boring fixed stabbing pain.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi And Blood Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps, Absence Of Menstruation or Menopausal Syndrome.

Qi And Blood Stagnation is often treated with Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang, a herbal formula made of 11 herbs (including Peach Kernels - Tao Ren - as a key herb). Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Invigorates the Blood".

Read more about Qi And Blood Stagnation here

Water Buffalo Horns (Shui Niu Jiao) is the king ingredient for Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang, a formula used for Heat in the Blood

Heat in the Blood

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu)

Tongue color: Red

Heat in the Blood (or Blood-Heat) refers to a condition whereby Heat, as a so-called "Pernicious Influence", entered the Blood. This invasion tends to accelerate Blood flow (leading to a faster pulse) and to manifest itself in various types of bleeding as well as other symptoms.

In addition to black and tarry stools, other symptoms associated with Heat in the Blood include irritability, dark clots in menstrual blood and fever.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Heat in the Blood is associated with health issues such as Early Menstruation, Abnormal Uterine Bleeding or Heavy Menstruation.

Heat in the Blood is often treated with Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Water Buffalo Horns - Shui Niu Jiao - as a key herb). Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that clear nutritive-level heat", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Treats severe fevers and Heat in the Blood system".

Read more about Heat in the Blood here

Three herbal formulas that might help with black and tarry stools

Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Expels Cold and warm the menstruation Blood. Stops pain. Invigorates Blood. Dispels Blood stagnation.

Why might Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang help with black and tarry stools?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi And Blood Stagnation' of which black and tarry stools is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Qi And Blood Stagnation include chest fullness, chest pain and boring fixed stabbing pain.

Read more about Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang here

Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang

Source date: 650 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Treats severe fevers and Heat in the Blood system. Removes Blood Stagnation.

Why might Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang help with black and tarry stools?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Heat in the Blood' of which black and tarry stools is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Heat In The Blood include irritability, dark clots in menstrual blood and fever.

Read more about Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang here

Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Invigorates Blood. Eliminates Blood Stagnation below the diaphragm. Stops pain. Promotes Qi movement.

Why might Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang help with black and tarry stools?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi And Blood Stagnation' of which black and tarry stools is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Qi And Blood Stagnation include chest fullness, chest pain and boring fixed stabbing pain.

Read more about Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat black and tarry stools

Why might Szechuan Lovage Root (Chuan Xiong) help with black and tarry stools?

Because Szechuan Lovage Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat black and tarry stools as a symptom, like Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang or Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang for instance.

Szechuan Lovage Roots is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Gallbladder, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Regulates and moves the Blood. Relieves Wind-Cold and pain. Circulates the Qi in the Upper Burner, relieving headaches.

Read more about Szechuan Lovage Roots here

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with black and tarry stools?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat black and tarry stools as a symptom, like Chai Hu Shu Gan San or Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here

Why might Flying Squirrel Faeces (Wu Ling Zhi) help with black and tarry stools?

Because Flying Squirrel Faeces is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat black and tarry stools as a symptom, like Shi Xiao San or Shao Fu Zhu Yu Tang for instance.

Flying Squirrel Faeces is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Disperses congealed Blood in the lower abdomen and uterus and relieves pain. Promotes childhood nutrition with Cold Stagnation and focal abdominal swelling.

Read more about Flying Squirrel Faeces here

Why might Red Peony Root (Chi Shao) help with black and tarry stools?

Because Red Peony Root is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat black and tarry stools as a symptom, like Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang or Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang for instance.

Red Peony Roots is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Liver.

Its main actions are: Moves Blood, relieves pain and reduces swelling. Cools the Blood and the Liver.

Read more about Red Peony Roots here

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with black and tarry stools?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat black and tarry stools as a symptom, like Shen Tong Zhu Yu Tang or Ge Xia Zhu Yu Tang for instance.

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here