Diarrhea according to Chinese Medicine

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Diarrhea 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 diarrhea 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 diarrhea is often associated with abdominal pain, poor appetite and feeling of cold in the pattern “Cold in the Uterus”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause diarrhea.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of diarrhea we’ve identified five 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 diarrhea.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause diarrhea

In Chinese Medicine diarrhea is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Cinnamon Twigs (Gui Zhi) is the king ingredient for Wen Jing Tang, a formula used for Cold in the Uterus

Cold in the Uterus

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Soggy (Ru)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Pale

There are two types of cold patterns: Full Cold or Empty Cold. Full cold refers to actual Cold Evil invading the Uterus and Dampness Stagnation often come along with this Full pattern. Empty cold is the result of Yang Deficiency, especially the Spleen and Kidney Yang.

In addition to diarrhea, other symptoms associated with Cold in the Uterus include abdominal pain, poor appetite and feeling of cold.

Cold in the Uterus is often treated with Wen Jing Tang, a herbal formula made of 12 herbs (including Cinnamon Twigs - Gui Zhi - as a key herb). Wen Jing 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: "Warms the Uterus and vessels".

Read more about Cold in the Uterus here

The Liver is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Liver in Chinese Medicine

Liver Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red)

When Liver Qi does not flow smoothly or regularly, it becomes Stagnant and in Excess. This leads to Heat accumulating in the Liver. The feeling of ‘Distension’ (zhang 胀) is the main symptom of Liver Qi Stagnation.

In addition to diarrhea, other symptoms associated with Liver Qi Stagnation include abdominal pain, vomiting and fever.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Liver Qi Stagnation is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Mastitis or Breast Engorgement.

Liver Qi Stagnation is often treated with Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize liver-spleen", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen".

Read more about Liver Qi Stagnation here

Inula Flowers (Xuan Fu Hua) is the king ingredient for Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a formula used for Rebellious Qi

Rebellious Qi

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Normal (light red), Red sides

Rebellious Qi is when Qi flows in the wrong direction. For instance, if one suffers from a rebellious Stomach Qi (a common case), the normal downward flow of Stomach Qi is disrupted and it goes upward instead. This may result in nausea, vomiting, belching or hiccupping.

In addition to diarrhea, other symptoms associated with Rebellious Qi include vomiting, coughing and insomnia.

Rebellious Qi is often treated with Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Inula Flowers - Xuan Fu Hua - as a key herb). Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang belongs to the category of "formulas for a rebellious qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Regulates the downward flow of Stomach Qi".

Read more about Rebellious Qi here

The Kidneys is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine

Kidney and Spleen Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Weak (Ruo)

In addition to diarrhea, other symptoms associated with Kidney and Spleen Yang Deficiency include impotence, poor appetite and feeling of cold.

Kidney and Spleen Yang Deficiency is often treated with Li Zhong Wan, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Dried Ginger - Gan Jiang - as a key herb). Li Zhong Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that warm the middle and dispel cold", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms the Middle Burner".

Read more about Kidney and Spleen Yang Deficiency here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Spleen Deficiency with Dampness

In addition to diarrhea, other symptoms associated with Spleen Deficiency with Dampness include edema, insomnia and tiredness.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Spleen Deficiency with Dampness is associated with health issues such as Vaginal Itching.

Spleen Deficiency with Dampness is often treated with Wu Ling San, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Water Plantain - Ze Xie - as a key herb). Wu Ling San belongs to the category of "formulas that promote urination and leach out dampness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Promotes urination,".

Read more about Spleen Deficiency with Dampness here

Five herbal formulas that might help with diarrhea

Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang

Source date: 1827 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Supports Kidney Yang. Supplies Spleen Qi. Expels Cold and Dampness from the Uterus.

Why might Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang help with diarrhea?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Cold in the Uterus' of which diarrhea is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Cold In The Uterus include abdominal pain, poor appetite and feeling of cold.

Read more about Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang here

Yue Ju Wan

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Promotes the movement of Qi. Releases all types of Stagnation (Qi, Blood, Phlegm, Fire, Food and Dampness).

Why might Yue Ju Wan help with diarrhea?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Qi Stagnation' of which diarrhea is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Liver Qi Stagnation include abdominal pain, vomiting and fever.

Read more about Yue Ju Wan here

Wu Ling San

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Promotes urination,. Warms the Yang. Strengthens the Spleen. Promotes Qi transformation function. Drains Dampness. Clears edema.

Why might Wu Ling San help with diarrhea?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Spleen Deficiency with Dampness' of which diarrhea is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Spleen Deficiency With Dampness include edema, insomnia and tiredness.

Read more about Wu Ling San here

Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang

Source date: Essentials from the Golden Cabinet

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Directs rebellious Qi downward. Stops hiccup. Augments Qi. Clears heat.

Why might Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang help with diarrhea?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Rebellious Qi' of which diarrhea is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Rebellious Qi include vomiting, coughing and insomnia.

Read more about Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang here

Li Zhong Wan

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Warms the Middle Burner. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach.

Why might Li Zhong Wan help with diarrhea?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidney and Spleen Yang Deficiency' of which diarrhea is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Kidney And Spleen Yang Deficiency include impotence, poor appetite and feeling of cold.

Read more about Li Zhong Wan here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat diarrhea

Why might Atractylodes Rhizome (Bai Zhu) help with diarrhea?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat diarrhea and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat diarrhea as a symptom (such as Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang for instance).

Atractylodes Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen Qi. Fortifies the Spleen Yang and dispels Damp through urination. Tonifies Qi and stops sweating. Calms restless fetus when due to Deficiency of Spleen Qi.

Read more about Atractylodes Rhizomes here

Why might Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with diarrhea?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat diarrhea and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat diarrhea as a symptom (such as Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang for instance).

Poria-Cocos Mushrooms is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination and drains Dampness. Tonic to the Spleen/Stomach. Assists the Heart and calms the Spirit.

Read more about Poria-Cocos Mushrooms here

Why might Tangerine Peel (Chen Pi) help with diarrhea?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat diarrhea and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat diarrhea as a symptom (such as Ju Pi Zhu Ru Tang for instance).

Tangerine Peel is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Spleen and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Warms the Spleen and regulates the Middle Burner Qi. Dries Dampness and disperses Phlegm from the Lungs and Middle Burner. Reduces the potential for Stagnation caused by tonifying herbs.

Read more about Tangerine Peel here

Why might Dried Ginger (Gan Jiang) help with diarrhea?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat diarrhea and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat diarrhea as a symptom (such as Li Zhong Wan for instance).

Dried Ginger is a Hot herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Stomach, the Heart, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Warms the Spleen and expels Cold. Restores collapse of Yang and expels Interior Cold. Warms the Lungs and assists expectoration of Cold Phlegm. Stops chronic bleeding caused by Cold.

Read more about Dried Ginger here

Why might Jujube Date (Da Zao) help with diarrhea?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat diarrhea and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat diarrhea as a symptom (such as Xiao Jian Zhong Tang for instance).

Jujube Dates is a Warm herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen and Stomach Qi. Tonifies the Blood. Calms the Shen (spirit). Moderates the actions of other herbs in formula.

Read more about Jujube Dates here