Monthly Archives: September 2014


Diarrhea is characterized by the frequent passage of watery stools. Some of the more common causes are viruses, food poisoning, parasites such as Giardia, anxiety and nervousness, or reactions to food, alcohol, or medications.  Antibiotics, antacids and other products containing magnesium, antihypertensives, laxatives that are not bulk-forming and medications for irregular heartbeat can all cause diarrhea.

Because diarrhea is a healthy eliminative function that is intended to rid the gut of irritants causing the problem, experts consider it best to let the diarrhea run its course, if possible, while using rehydration products to prevent dehydration. Seek medical assistance when severe diarrhea renders you weak, when your temperature is above 101 degrees, when there is blood or black tarry stools or when diarrhea persists for more than 10 days.  Other symptoms accompanying diarrhea that warrant medical attention include severe abdominal pain, confusion, unresponsiveness or dizziness while standing.

One type of frequently occurring diarrhea is due to antibiotic use. Antibiotics can cause the intestines to become inflamed.  The result is diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever.  The symptoms usually begin 4 to 10 days after starting the antibiotic, but can develop after the drug has been stopped.  The most serious form of antibiotic-associated diarrhea is pseudomembranous colitis, caused by overgrowth of the Clostridium difficile organism.  If diarrhea has been developed from antibiotics, the physician who prescribed the drug should be consulted. It may be necessary to switch to another medication.

Self Help    

Most diarrhea cases clear up within a few days without treatment. To help cope with symptoms until the diarrhea goes away, one can try the following:

  • Probiotics contain healthy strains of living bacteria that are similar to the healthy bacteria found in the digestive system. Probiotics may boost the number of healthy bacteria present to fight germs in the digestive tract. Beneficial bacteria can also be found in yogurt and cheese.
  • Eat baby food – it’s easy to absorb.
  • Eat rice congee – 1 cup of rice cooked in six to eight cups water until porridge results
  • Drink plenty of clear liquids including water, broths and juices every day. Use rehydration formulas or sports electrolyte drinks to replenish lost fluids. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Avoid certain foods such as dairy products, fatty foods, high-fiber foods or highly seasoned food for a few days.
  • Over-the-counter anti-diarrheal medications, such as Imodium A-D and Pepto-Bismol may help reduce the number of watery bowel movements one may experience.

Western Treatments

If one has tried lifestyle changes and home remedies without success, a doctor may recommend medications or other treatments. The doctor will advise steps to replace the fluids and salts lost from diarrhea. For most people, replacing fluids means drinking water, juice or broth. If drinking liquids upsets the stomach or causes diarrhea, the doctor may recommend replacing fluids intravenously.

Antibiotics may help diarrhea caused by bacteria or parasites. If a virus is causing the diarrhea, antibiotics won’t help.  If an antibiotic medication caused the diarrhea, the doctor may modify the treatment plan by lowering the dose or switching to another medication.  If the diarrhea is caused by a more serious disease or condition, such as inflammatory bowel disease, the doctor may work to control that condition.  The patient may be referred to a specialist, such as a gastroenterologist, who can help devise a treatment plan.

A Case in TCM Treatment

A 64-year-old Japanese-American man reported a lifetime of diarrhea and tiredness after eating; particularly following lunch. Because of his age, he was referred to a gastroenterologist for tests; they were all normal. He was a tennis player and avid gardener.  His diet consisted of mostly Japanese food. He seemed to have a sensitivity to fruits, which gave him gas.  Traditional Chinese diagnosis found that his pulse was wiry and his tongue was red.  He wanted to try herbs, which had previously helped him when he had kidney stones.  He was advised to go on a soy-free and low fermented-food diet, eliminating soy, alcohol, dairy, fruits and high-fat foods for two weeks.

He was started on the herbal formula containing licorice root, cardamon fruit, capillaris herb and other herbs at which one tablet was to be taken three times daily for the first week and then two tablets at three times daily the second week. He was also given a formula containing bovine colostrum complex to take at two tablets, twice a day.  Within two weeks, his condition was alleviated.  He was then to start reintroducing the foods he had previously eliminated.  In the subsequent weeks, he found that soy, milk and alcohol contributed most to his diarrhea.  After six weeks, a formula containing lotus seed, nutmeg seed, White Ginseng root and other herbs were to be taken at three tablets three times a day, was substituted for the formula containing Licorice root, cardamon fruit, capillaris herbs and other herbs, in order to address spleen qi deficiency.  Forty years of diarrhea would have damaged the digestive system and would be a major contributor to his fatigue.  The formula containing bovine colostrum complex was reduced to one tablet to be taken twice daily; the formula containing licorice root, cardamon fruit, capillaris herbs and other herbs was restarted at three tablets, three times daily. He continued taking the formula containing the licorice root, cardamon fruit, capillaris herbs and other herbs for three months and reported his afternoon fatigued greatly improved.

Canker Sores and Cold Sores

Stress, fatigue or food allergies can trigger canker sores, painful ulcerous sores, usually inside the mouth. Iron deficiency in anemia, as well as having a deficiency in vitamins B1, B2, B6, B12 or folic acid, are known to trigger attacks. Canker sores can be painful and can make eating and talking difficult.

Cold sores are caused by the herpes virus (HSV-1), which is usually transmitted by a person who has an active infection. Towels, razors and eating utensils can spread the herpes virus. Symptoms include fluid-filled blisters, or a red, painful area of the skin. Stress, menstruation, sun exposure or illness can trigger recurrences. When you have a cold sore, avoid contact with infants as well as those with weak immune systems. If you feel you have a cold sore, consult a physician for an examination and possible tests.

Self Help

If you have recurrent canker sores, evaluate food sensitivities to citrus fruits, tomatoes and other high acid level foods. Canker sores may also be caused and aggravated by smoking. Gluten-containing foods such as wheat, rye, oats, barley, and spelt are known to trigger canker sores.

To heal active ulcers and sores, take clove oil or myrrh tincture: Dab the liquid on the ulcer several times a day, making sure to hold the liquid in the mouth for as long as possible and moving the tongue to insure that the liquid remains in contact with the ulcer.

To speed healing of a canker sore, you can rinse your mouth with salt water or a mixture of one teaspoon baking soda in half a cup of warm water. Over-the-counter products such as Anbesol and Orajel can also help numb the pain of canker sores. To help relieve pain for canker sores and cold sores, apply ice or washcloths soaked in cold water over the sore to ease symptoms. Some over-the-counter medications contain a drying agent, such as alcohol, may speed the recovery of cold sores.

Western Treatments

Treatment usually isn’t necessary for minor canker sores; most go away on their own in a week or two. Severe episodes can lead to fever and swollen glands and may require antibiotics, antihistamines or corticosteroid preparations. If several canker sores are present, a doctor may prescribe a mouth rinse containing the steroid dexamethasone to reduce pain and inflammation. During the cautery of the sores, an instrument or chemical substance is used to burn, sear or destroy tissue.  By chemically cauterizing canker sores, healing time may be reduced to one week.

Cold sores usually heal within two weeks; antiviral medications such as acyclovir, penciclovir, valacyclovir or famciclovir may be prescribed to help cold sores heal more quickly. Some of these products are packaged as pills to be swallowed, while others are creams to be applied to the sores. Some antiviral drugs can be administered intravenously for severe infections.

A Case in TCM Treatment

A healthy 29-year-old secretary frequently came down with canker sores, which lasted up to two weeks. Although she had signs of poor digestion, such as abdominal pain and burning as well as food intolerance, she was only interested in help for the canker sores. Traditional Chinese diagnosis found her pulse slightly fast and tongue bright red with cracks. As she was currently suffering an outbreak, it was suggested she dab clove oil on the sore three times per day and take three tablets of a formula with licorice root, White Peony root, scute root and other herbs four times a day. She telephoned the next day to say that the canker sores were gone.

Bacterial Overgrowth

Bacteria can grow in the intestine to the point where absorption of food is impaired. Conventional doctors diagnose the condition rarely, usually in diabetics and after bowel surgery.

Symptoms of bacterial overgrowth often include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • An uncomfortable feeling of fullness after eating

After abdominal surgery, you should see your doctor if you have:

  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Rapid, unintentional weight loss
  • Abdominal pain lasting more than a few days

Self Help

Damage to the small intestine may cause one to lose the ability to digest milk sugar, also known as lactose. In that case, it is important to avoid most products containing lactose, or use lactase preparations that help digest milk sugar. Some people may be able to tolerate yogurt because the bacteria used in the culturing process naturally break down lactose.

Western Treatments

Standard medical treatment is to administer antibiotics in a cyclical fashion, such as one week per month. A short course of antibiotics often significantly reduces the number of abnormal bacteria. But bacteria can return when the antibiotic is discontinued, so treatment may need to be long term.

Doctors may also switch among different drugs to help prevent bacterial resistance. Antibiotics may wipe out most bacteria, normal and abnormal. As a result, antibiotics can cause some of the very problems they are trying to cure, including diarrhea.

Correcting nutritional deficiencies is crucial in treatment, particularly in people with severe weight loss. People with bacterial overgrowth may need treatment to improve vitamin deficiencies. Intramuscular injections of vitamin B-12 as well as oral vitamin, calcium and iron supplements may be needed.

A Case in TCM Treatment

Holistic doctors diagnose this condition more commonly and administer herbal supplements and antibiotics to address their most acute symptoms. Based on the individual’s symptoms and constitution, treatment based in traditional Chinese medicine can be applied to help relieve many of the painful side effects.

  • Acidophilus and bifidus supplements 3 times per day on an empty stomach
  • A formula containing Bovine Colostrum Complex 1 to 2 tablets twice daily for loose stools
  • A formula containing isatis extract leaf and root, echinacea root and leaf, platycodon root and other herbs or a formula containing phellodendron cortex, licorice root, cardamon fruit and other herbs 1 to 2 tablets twice daily for their antimicrobial effects
  • A formula containing magnolia bark, angelica root, red citrus peel and other herbs 2 tablets twice daily to resolve gas, bloating and food stagnation