How to Treat Diarrhea with Traditional Chinese Medicine

Rice is the best solid food to eat to treat diarrhea according to traditional Chinese medicine.

The causes of diarrhea vary. In acute cases, a person can become dehydrated very quickly, so it is important to seek immediate medical attention if the condition persists. If an acute case of diarrhea occurs along with a common cold or stomach upset and it is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and a lack of appetite, a reliable remedy is Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Wan.

If contaminated food or water is the cause, the diarrhea is often accompanied by a burning sensation and a strong smell. In these cases, a practitioner provides treatment to kill the pathogen (usually bacteria) with a formula such as Huang Lian Su Pian and restore normal digestive function with a formula such as Mu Xiang Shun Qi Wan. Most practitioners recommend a laboratory test to ensure the pathogens are eliminated.


In cases of chronic loose stools, the underlying pattern is usually spleen qi deficiency. Other symptoms might be fatigue, poor appetite, pale face and tongue, and gurgling sounds in the intestines. Shen Ling Bai Zhu Pian is an effective remedy in this pattern: The Codonopsis and Atractylodes herbs tonify the spleen, while its astringent herbs, such as lotus seeds, stop the diarrhea.

Acute diarrhea is fairly easy to treat with one or two acupuncture treatments and a few days of herbal therapy. Two points on the stomach meridian (25 and 37) are especially effective; relief comes soon after they are needled. If the diarrhea is chronic and due to qi or yang deficiency, moxibustion is very helpful when applied to these points.

If the cause of discomfort is bacteria or parasites, herbal therapy as described above is the recommended treatment. The length of time needed to treat chronic cases varies; ultimately, the person's dietary habits are usually the decisive factor. Cases due to severe qi deficiency can take a few weeks to months to resolve.

In all types of diarrhea, it is important to drink sufficient liquids to avoid dehydration. Hot peppermint tea or vegetable broth are good choices. Plain white rice is the best solid food to soothe the stomach and firm up the stools until the condition passes.


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Bill Schoenbart has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) since 1991, when he earned a Masters degree in TCM. He teaches TCM medical theory and herbalism at an acupuncture school in California, and also maintains a clinical practice.


Ellen Shefi is a licensed massage technician, licensed acupuncturist, and registered dietician. She is a member of the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, the American Herb Association, and the Oregon Acupuncture Association.