Diarrhea is one of those unpleasant (gross) things that no one wants to talk about but that we all suffer from at one time or another. It can range from mild to severe, yellow to green (eww), but whenever it strikes, you have three choices: 1) suffer, 2) take an over-the-counter or prescription medicine, or 3) find out how to stop diarrhea naturally.
Thankfully, the natural world of medicine offers several options for treating diarrhea holistically. Unlike OTC or prescription medicines, which counteract the colon’s natural processes without regard for the consequences, natural remedies:
- soothe the intestines
- can often treat the root cause of the problem
- help the body to heal
What causes diarrhea?
Diarrhea has many causes, and it’s not always possible to determine the exact origin. Some common triggers include:
- viruses (“stomach flu”)
- food poisoning from eating spoiled or contaminated food (can range from very mild to life threatening)
- eating food to which you are sensitive or intolerant (e.g. milk products, wheat, spicy foods)
- anxiety / nervousness
- taking antibiotics
- sensitivity to a medication or nutritional supplement
In some of these cases, having diarrhea is actually a good thing. It’s your body’s way of flushing a harmful substance, such as a bacteria or virus, out of your body before it can do serious damage.
This is why those OTC and prescription anti-diarrhea medicines aren’t the best idea. When you chemically put the brakes on diarrhea, you may be keeping harmful microbes inside the colon where they’ll be able to cause a worse problem.
Gentle, natural remedies, on the other hand, help the body to heal itself while allowing any necessary “flushing of the colon” to continue.
How can you stop diarrhea naturally?
Choosing the best way to treat diarrhea naturally depends on what is causing the problem and even how exactly your body is affected. We’ll look at 19 foods and 18 natural remedies for diarrhea and see which situations each is best suited to handle.
(Since herbs are food, it was hard to draw the line – but those are the numbers I came up with!)
How Diet Affects Diarrhea
When diarrhea strikes, it’s important to choose the right foods since some foods will just make the problem worse. Doctors have long recommended the BRAT diet to combat diarrhea and have recently added a couple other items to make it the BRATTY diet.
The foods on the BRATTY diet will naturally help slow diarrhea and allow the body to heal:
- Rice (brown, not white)
- Toast (whole grain, not white)
- Yogurt (preferably organic and without added colorings and sugar)
All of these foods (and beverage) contain tannins, pectin, mucilage, fiber, and/or probiotics. Let’s look at why each of these are helpful in treating diarrhea and which other foods contain them as well.
Tannins are naturally-occuring chemicals that act as astringents, which means that they tone and contract tissue. In the intestine, this slows the resorption of any toxic substances and decreases secretions from the intestinal wall that cause diarrhea.
The follow all contain tannins and are helpful in treating diarrhea:
- Black Tea and Herbal Teas made from:
- Dried Bilberries & Dried Blueberries (not fresh)
It’s best to sweeten your tea with honey or stevia since refined sugars may exacerbate diarrhea.
Pectin is a soluble fiber, which means that it increases in size as it readily absorbs liquid. This adds bulk to the stool and soothes the colon. These foods contain pectin:
- Applesauce (preferably unsweetened)
- Dried Bilberries & Dried Blueberries (not fresh)
Some spices you probably already have in your cabinet will also help curb diarrhea. Add a pinch of ground ginger or cloves or up to 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon to your applesauce or oatmeal.
Herbs and foods that contain mucilage are said to be mucilaginous. They contain a gelatinous substance that soothes irritated tissue and also adds bulk to the stool by absorbing water.
- Fenugreek seeds (They are up to 50% mucilage. Use no more than two teaspoons per dose, two to three times a day.)
- Psyllium husks
Fiber is well-known for easing constipation by softening the stool and adding bulk. Yet its water-absorbing qualities also make fiber an excellent remedy for diarrhea. By absorbing excess liquid in the colon, it slows diarrhea and brings relief to the digestive system. These high-fiber foods are good choices during bouts of diarrhea:
- Toast (whole grain, not white)
- Brown Rice (not white)
- Ground Flax Seed
- Cooked Carrots
Probiotic Supplements and Foods
The human colon is home to 100 trillion different bacteria from more than 500 species and, believe it or not, we need all these little guys to live our healthiest. Without the right balance of these bacteria, the entire digestive system is unable to function properly, and numerous health problems – from impaired immune response to hormone imbalance – can result.
A probiotic supplement supplies live bacteria to the colon in order to replenish and re-balance this vital bacterial neighborhood. Taking a daily probiotic is a good idea anyway but especially important during times of diarrhea – particularly any diarrhea or loose stool that occurs when using antibiotics.
Antibiotic-induced diarrhea is a common side effect and can occur during the course of treatment or even a week or two afterward. Along with a probiotic supplement, add a probiotic food to your diet at least every other day.
- Yogurt (preferably organic and without added colorings and sugar)
- Olives in Brine
- Miso Soup
- Kombucha Tea
Amazingly, research has shown that beneficial bacteria found in probiotics actually produce their own antibiotics, which scientists call bacteriocins and microcins. These naturally-produced antibiotics can attack and destroy viruses and other microbes that cause diarrhea.
Researchers found that people taking probiotic supplements containing Lactobacillus strains recovered from infectious diarrhea (“stomach flu”) faster than those who took no supplements.
A probiotic supplement can be very helpful in preventing or correcting these types of diarrhea as well:
- Chemotherapy-Induced Diarrhea
- Lactose Intolerance
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Other Natural Remedies for Diarrhea
The inner bark of the slippery elm tree is a traditional convalescent food given to those who are ill or weak. It’s as nutritious as oatmeal but much easier to digest. It was a common food source for both Native Americans and pioneers, and it’s completely safe, healthy, and nutritious for weaning infants.
Really, it’s a shame this nutritious food has fallen out of favor in our modern world.
When trying to stop diarrhea naturally, slippery elm is an excellent choice for both nourishing and healing the digestive system. Dr. John R. Christopher writes that slippery elm:
- draws out impurities
- disperses inflammation
- heals and strengthens
- soothes and heals irritated and inflamed surfaces
- absorbs noxious gases
- “is wonderful for checking infant diarrhea”
Pour the paste over 1 pint boiling water; stir to cook as you would oatmeal. The mixture can be flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, grated lemon, or other healthy flavorings. Adults should eat about 1 cup up to four times a day.
Alternatively, stir about a teaspoon of slippery elm bark powder into mashed bananas or applesauce.
Most of us think of charcoal as being the stuff you heat up the grill with, but activated charcoal actually has numerous health benefits. When it comes to digestive complaints, its major benefit is that it absorbs toxins and carries them out the body.
Since many types of diarrhea are caused by viruses, bacteria, or other substances, activated charcoal can bring relief by quickly ridding the body of the offending matter.
Select a high quality activated charcoal in capsule form, and take four to six 250 mg capsules every couple hours until the diarrhea abates.
Take any other medications or supplements separately from activated charcoal because it may block their absorption. Do not regularly take activated charcoal long term as it may begin to interfere with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. If you experience upset stomach or vomiting, discontinue taking the activated charcoal.
Homeopathic Remedies for Diarrhea
When choosing a homeopathic remedy for any illness, it’s essential to match the remedy to the person’s “profile.” This means that you look at the person’s overall condition. For example, ask these questions:
- Is she hot or cold?
- Is he thirsty for cold drinks or warm? Or does he not want to drink anything at all?
- Is she very irritable, clingy, or weepy?
- What time of day does the diarrhea occur?
And then you match those characteristics with the “profile” of a homeopathic remedy. Whichever remedy most closely matches the person’s individual situation is the right remedy to use.
Unlike many over-the-counter medicines that just mask symptoms, homeopathic remedies work to not only relieve symptoms, but also to support the body in healing the cause of the illness.
(For more information on homeopathy and how it works, see my “What is Homeopathy?” article.)
Arsenicum is a common remedy for food poisoning and stomach viruses (“stomach flu”). The diarrhea occurs frequently, smells offensive, and may be accompanied by vomiting. The person is in pain during the diarrhea, feels uncomfortable after, and may experience burning around the anus.
The hands and feet may be cold, and cold rooms make the person feel worse. By contrast, a warm room and warm drinks may make him feel better. The diarrhea may begin or worsen after midnight, and the person typically feels exhausted and restless at the same time.
(I successfully used Arsenicum to stop the diarrhea of two kittens we had last year. The vet could find no worms or anything else to explain why they both had diarrhea, so I turned to homeopathy. It turned out that they were sensitive to the brand of kitten food we were feeding them, but Arsenicum kept them from destroying my living room floor in the meantime.)
If diarrhea is pale in color and smells sour, Calcarea Carb is often the remedy to choose. It can be the right choice for people who are lactose intolerant or simply dislike milk.
The person desires ice cold drinks and is turned off by hot foods or drinks. Yet the person is often sweaty, especially at night. Calc Carb is often used for teething infants who have accompanying diarrhea.
When diarrhea is accompanied by sharp, cramping pains after a meal, Colocynthis is indicated. The cramping pains usually stop after the bowel is emptied.
When someone is anxiously anticipating a big event (like a blind date or speech before a large audience), those nervous butterflies in the stomach can sometimes turn into nervous diarrhea. When this happens, Gelsemium is the remedy of choice.
Diarrhea that is burning and watery calls for Mecurius. The stool may be slimy or slightly blood-stained and has a strong, offensive smell. The person may have the feeling that she “still needs to go” even afterward, and symptoms are more pronounced in the evening or at night.
Nux Vomica is the typical remedy for someone who has overindulged in food or drink. It should be used when diarrhea is caused by rich, spicy, spoiled, or tainted foods. Though the person feels relief after emptying the bowel, the diarrhea recurs after the next meal and sometimes first thing in the morning.
The characteristic symptoms that call for Podophyllum are gurgling in the abdomen and profuse, “gushing” or “squirting” diarrhea. The stool may sometimes be frothy as well.
The person often feels “all tired out” after emptying the bowel. Gently massaging the abdomen or lying on the stomach may bring relief.
Pulsatilla will help diarrhea that is caused by eating too much fruit or greasy foods.
I wish I had known about Pulsatilla when my oldest son was seven and ate an entire cantaloupe for lunch. I’ll spare you the details of his plight that evening.
When urgent diarrhea forces a person out of bed in the morning, homeopathic Sulphur should be considered. The diarrhea usually varies from watery and yellow to slimy and filled with undigested food.
When to Call a Health Care Professional
Diarrhea that persists for more than three months is considered chronic and can be a sign of a serious issue. Some possible causes include food sensitivities or intolerances, side effects of medication, IBS, an intestinal parasite, infection, or cancer. You should contact your health care professional for a diagnosis and treatment options.
Severe Acute Diarrhea
While many types of diarrhea can be safely managed at home, some symptoms require prompt medical attention. If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your health care professional right away:
- black or bloody stool
- green mucus in stool
- fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher
- severe abdominal pain
- signs of dehydration
- dry mouth
- dry skin
- little or no urination (darkly colored urine with a strong odor)
- rapid heart rate
- diarrhea that persists for more that three days, especially if none of these remedies show improvement
Remember that children and the elderly can become dehydrated much more quickly than healthy adults. Keep a close eye on the signs of dehydration, and do not hesitate to seek medical care.
Years ago, just shy of his second birthday, my second son developed rotovirus (before I had any idea what that was) and became very lethargic. He would not sip any liquid whatsoever and would barely open his eyes. I believe we could have lost him if we hadn’t taken him to the emergency room. Just a few hours on intravenous fluids brought him back to his normal happy self.
Diarrhea is not much fun to talk about and is definitely no fun to have! Yet it’s something we all face from time to time, and it’s comforting to know that foods, herbs, and homeopathic remedies offer a number of ways to stop diarrhea naturally. There’s no need to suffer when gentle help is at hand.
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This information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is intended only for educational purposes. It is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure disease. Always consult a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your healthcare routine.
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