Diarrhea according to Chinese Medicine

watery stools and chronic diarrhea redirect here

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 vomiting, coughing and nausea in the pattern “/tcm-education-center/patterns/rebellious-qi”. 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.

Inula Flowers (Xuan Fu Hua) is the king ingredient for Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a formula used for /tcm-education-center/patterns/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 /tcm-education-center/patterns/rebellious-qi include vomiting, coughing and nausea.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/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

Prepared Rehmannia (Shu Di huang) is the king ingredient for Ba Wei Di Huang Wan, a formula used for /tcm-education-center/patterns/yang-deficiency-or-empty-yang

Yang Deficiency or Empty Yang

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Empty (Xu), Slow (Chi), Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

Yang Deficiency is an Empty-Cold condition characterized by Coldness and Deficiency. It can cause a general hypoactivity of Organ functions and Oedema. Qi and Blood is more likely to stagnate. Yang Deficiency is mostly related to Spleen Yang, Kidney Yang, Heart Yang or Lung Qi. It is a result of lack of activity or exercise, excessive sex, over-exposure to cold environments and bad diet.

In addition to diarrhea, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/yang-deficiency-or-empty-yang include edema, impotence and feeling of cold.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/yang-deficiency-or-empty-yang is often treated with Ba Wei Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Ba Wei Di Huang Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that nourish yin and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Yang".

Read more about Yang Deficiency or Empty Yang here

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

Rebellious Liver Qi invading the Spleen

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to diarrhea, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/rebellious-liver-qi-invading-the-spleen include abdominal pain, irritability and tiredness.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/rebellious-liver-qi-invading-the-spleen 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 Rebellious Liver Qi invading the Spleen here

Dried Ginger (Gan Jiang) is the king ingredient for Li Zhong Wan, a formula used for /tcm-education-center/patterns/greater-yin-stage

Greater Yin stage

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

In addition to diarrhea, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/greater-yin-stage include vomiting, feeling of cold and tiredness.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/greater-yin-stage 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 Greater Yin stage here

The Large Intestine is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Large Intestine in Chinese Medicine

Large Intestine collapse

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

In addition to diarrhea, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/large-intestine-collapse include poor appetite, fatigue and cold limbs.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/large-intestine-collapse is often treated with Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Milkvetch Roots - Huang Qi - as a key herb). Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner)".

Read more about Large Intestine collapse here

Five herbal formulas that might help with diarrhea

Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Source date: 1602

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Disperses Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood. Alleviates pain. Harmonizes Blood.

Why might Chai Hu Shu Gan San help with diarrhea?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/rebellious-qi' of which diarrhea is a symptom.

Read more about Chai Hu Shu Gan San here

Ba Wei Di Huang Wan

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Yang. Warms the Kidneys and lower extremities.

Why might Ba Wei Di Huang Wan help with diarrhea?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/yang-deficiency-or-empty-yang' of which watery stools is a symptom.

Read more about Ba Wei Di Huang Wan here

Xiao Yao San

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Harmonizes the function of Liver and Spleen. Relieves Liver Qi stagnation. Nourishes the Blood.

Why might Xiao Yao San help with diarrhea?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/rebellious-liver-qi-invading-the-spleen' of which alternating constipation and diarrhea is a symptom.

Read more about Xiao Yao San 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 '/tcm-education-center/patterns/greater-yin-stage' of which diarrhea is a symptom.

Read more about Li Zhong Wan here

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Source date: 1247

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner). Raises the Yang. Detoxifies. Lifts what has sunken.

Why might Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang help with diarrhea?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/large-intestine-collapse' of which chronic diarrhoea is a symptom.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang here

Acupuncture points used for diarrhea

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat diarrhea

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with diarrhea?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat diarrhea as a symptom, like Li Zhong Wan or Ge Geng Huang Qin Huang Lian Tang for instance.

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

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 Atractylodes Rhizome (Bai Zhu) help with diarrhea?

Because Atractylodes Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat diarrhea as a symptom, like Yue Ju Wan or Li Zhong Wan 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 Prepared Aconite (Zhi Fu Zi) help with diarrhea?

Because Prepared Aconite is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat diarrhea as a symptom, like You Gui Wan or Ba Wei Di Huang Wan for instance.

Prepared Aconite is a Hot herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Kidney and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Raises the collapse of Yang. Warms the meridians and relieves pain caused by Cold. Reduces Damp caused by Deficiency in Yang.

Read more about Prepared Aconite here

Why might Cape Jasmine Fruit (Zhi Zi) help with diarrhea?

Because Cape Jasmine Fruit is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat diarrhea as a symptom, like Yue Ju Wan or Jia Wei Xiao Yao San for instance.

Cape Jasmine Fruits is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Gallbladder, the Heart, the Lung and the Sanjiao.

Its main actions are: Clears Heat and calms spirit. Drains Damp-Heat affecting the Liver and Gallbladder. Clears Heat in the Blood and stops bleeding. Anti-inflammatory.

Read more about Cape Jasmine Fruits here

Why might Ginseng (Ren Shen) help with diarrhea?

Because Ginseng is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat diarrhea as a symptom, like Du Shen Tang or Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang for instance.

Ginseng is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Heart, the Lung and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Very strongly tonifies the Qi. Tonifies the Lungs and Spleen. Assists the body in the secretion of Fluids and stops thirst. Strengthens the Heart and calms the Shen (mind/spirit).

Read more about Ginseng here