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Treating Diarrhea with Chinese Medicine

Diarrhea always seems to strike at the most inopportune times, when you are far away from restroom facilities, or in the middle of a big party. Even if it happens to affect you at home, when you are not really doing anything at all, it is not exactly the most pleasant of experiences. Luckily, Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM) offers several methods of combating it.

From a Western medical view, diarrhea results from the large intestine not being able to absorb liquid, thereby firming up the stool. The root is sometimes a toxin from foods, food allergies, or other large intestine disorders (colitis, Crohn’s Disease, etc).

Lotus Seed Soup
1-person serving
Ingredients: 30g lotus seed, 1 cup of water
Soak 30g of lotus seeds in warm water for a couple of hours. Add brown sugar to flavor, and boil until the seeds are done.

In TCM, we differentiate diarrhea as an excess, deficiency, or mixed excess with deficiency. Excess cases include those induced by bacterial infections, food toxins, or overeating. A telltale sign is a burning sensation after defecation. For these excess patterns, make mung bean or lotus seed soup (see recipe below) and drink it throughout the day. Use rhubarb and ginger in your foods, especially if you suspect your condition is caused by bacteria. Green tea, due to its cooling nature, can also help. Foods that can help include soy products, taro root, radish, and brown rice. Definitely avoid spicy or fried foods.

Deficient patterns are usually related to a weak spleen. From the TCM point of view, the spleen is like a fire in which food essences are brewed. If that fire is weak, then you will experience low energy and watery diarrhea, sometimes with undigested foods. For this type of disorder, try cooking foods with garlic, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, fennel, basil, and cardamom. Rice congee with ginger and black pepper is easy to digest when spleen energies are weak. In general, you will want to avoid cold, raw, and greasy foods; excess meats will exacerbate the situation. This type of disorder usually takes longer to address, and may require professional consultation and treatment.

Mung Bean Soup
1-person serving
Ingredients: 30g mung beans, 8oz of water
Loosely break up 30g of mung beans and soak in 8 oz of water for a few hours. The beans should puff up. Boil down until it has a thick consistency. Add brown sugar to flavor.

Mixed disorders often relate to stress. From a TCM point of view, the Liver energies become stagnant when one is stressed, and can spill over into the Spleen system. You will want to use many of the spices listed above, but try to avoid the really hot ones such as cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. This type of pattern generally responds much more quickly to dietary adjustment. Also consider finding ways to deal with you stress: meditation, yoga, and Taiji are common Eastern approaches; but any type of light exercise can be helpful.

With all of these methods, be sure to drink plenty of water or electrolyte drinks such as Gatorade. Since you are losing a lot of water from your bowel movements, you must try to keep from becoming dehydrated. If the excess type diarrhea persists for more than two days, it is best to seek professional help.