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, feeling of cold and cold limbs 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, feeling of cold and cold limbs.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Cold in the Uterus is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps or Late Menstruation.

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

Milkvetch Roots (Huang Qi) is the king ingredient for Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, a formula used for Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking

Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu)

Tongue color: Pale

In a Qi Collapsing (also called 'Sinking Qi') situation, a weakened Qi is unable to perform its holding function, resulting in a prolapse of the Organs. This condition mostly applies to the Qi of the Spleen.

In addition to diarrhea, other symptoms associated with Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking include poor appetite, tiredness and frequent urination.

Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking 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 Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking 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, feeling of cold and premature ejaculation.

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

Prepared Aconite (Zhi Fu Zi) is the king ingredient for Si Ni Tang, a formula used for Lesser Yin Cold Transformation

Lesser Yin Cold Transformation

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

In addition to diarrhea, other symptoms associated with Lesser Yin Cold Transformation include feeling of cold, cold limbs and listlessness.

Lesser Yin Cold Transformation is often treated with Si Ni Tang, a herbal formula made of 3 herbs (including Prepared Aconite - Zhi Fu Zi - as a key herb). Si Ni Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that rescue devastated yang", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Rescues devastated Yang".

Read more about Lesser Yin Cold Transformation 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, feeling of cold and cold limbs.

Read more about Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang 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 'Qi Collapsing or Qi Sinking' of which diarrhea is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Qi Collapsing Or Qi Sinking include poor appetite, tiredness and frequent urination.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang 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

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, feeling of cold and premature ejaculation.

Read more about Li Zhong Wan here

Si Ni Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Rescues devastated Yang. Warms the Middle Burner. Stops diarrhea.

Why might Si Ni Tang help with diarrhea?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Lesser Yin Cold Transformation' of which diarrhea is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Lesser Yin Cold Transformation include feeling of cold, cold limbs and listlessness.

Read more about Si Ni Tang 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 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 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 Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi 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 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