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Latest Edit: Iva Lloyd, ND 2014-07-24 (EDT)


Causes Food Reactions, Infections, Stress, Prescription Medications
See Also Digestive Conditions, Constipation
Books Books on Digestive and Liver Conditions
Articles Articles on Digestive Conditions

Diarrhea refers to loose, watery stools. This condition can occur acutely or chronically.

Naturopathic Assessment

Causal Factors

In order to stimulate the innate ability of the body to heal the causes of disease must be identified and addressed. With diarrhea the causes are variable and include a number of factors. A detailed assessment is required to determine which factors are contributing to diarrhea.


  • Dietary factors. There are many ways that food can cause or aggravate diarrhea including:
  • If food is spoiled or has gone bad the natural response of the body is to eliminate the food as quickly as possible, often resulting in diarrhea.
  • Processed foods, fatty foods, and poor chewing make food harder to digest. Poorly digested food can stimulate diarrhea or constipation, depending on the circumstances.[1]
  • Gluten intolerance can cause chronic diarrhea and nutrient malabsorption.[2]



  • Infections including bacterial and parasitic commonly result in diarrhea. especially if the infection was the result of food or water contamination.
Article Traveler's Diarrhea: Prevention and Treatment, NDNR , 2011 January

Medical Interventions

  • Medications Many drugs are known to cause or aggravate diarrhea including:
  • Chemotherapy: Irinotecan/CPT 11 can cause severe diarrhea. Tarceva/erlotinib and 5-FU can also cause diarrhea.[3]
  • Surgery
  • Digestive surgery can cause dumping syndrome, post cholecystectomy syndrome, or short gut syndrome. Weight loss surgery (bariatric surgery), gall bladder surgery, and operations to remove tumors from the digestive system are some of the surgeries that commonly have diarrhea as a side effect.[4]
  • Supplements
  • When there are molecules in the intestines that the body can't absorb, the molecules can pull in water and cause diarrhea. This can occur from excessive doses of many supplements or medications, particularly so with vitamin C or magnesium.[1]

Common Questions

Some important questions to ask include the following:[5]

  • When did it start?
  • How many bowel movements are you having per day?
  • What is the consistency?
  • Is there any blood in the stool?
  • How much?
  • What is the colour?
  • Are you experiencing any pain with the diarrhea?
  • Do you have a fever?
  • Do you have any vomiting?
  • Have you been traveling?
  • Have you handled any dogs, cats, or turtles?
  • Are there others around you with similar symptoms?
  • Do your sexual practices include anal sex?
  • Have you recently been treated with antibiotics?
  • Are you taking any medications?
  • Have you recently eaten raw or undercooked poultry, shellfish, or beef? Any unpasteurized milk?
  • How many times have you urinated in the last 24 hours?
  • Are you feeling thirsty?
  • Do you have dry mouth or dry eyes?

Diagnostic Testing

The diagnosis of diarrhea is based on a thorough case taking. For diarrhea that is profuse, that follows recent travel or that does not resolve on its own within a couple of days the following testing may be indicated:

  • Stool tests can diagnose infections with bacteria, yeast, or parasites as well as assess for malabsorption, imbalances in healthy colon bacteria (dysbiosis), insufficient digestive enzymes, insufficient bile, or gluten intolerance.
  • If you develop develop profuse, foul smelling diarrhea after taking oral antibiotics, being hospitalized, or having surgery: consult a doctor regarding ruling out infection with Clostridium dificile.
  • Blood tests can screen for gluten intolerance. However, stool tests and endoscopy are more accurate. Other blood tests that may be indicated include a CBC.

Related Symptoms and Conditions

Diarrhea is a common symptom associated with other diseases including:


  • Digestive fluids help to regulate bowel movements. These secretions include digestive enzymes, stomach acid, and bile. Insufficient production or uncoordinated release of digestive fluids can cause diarrhea.

Naturopathic Treatment

The goal of naturopathic treatment is to support and work in tandem with the healing power of the body and to address the causal factors of disease with individual treatment strategies. Diarrhea can be both an acute and chronic disease. In severe or chronic cases fluid and electrolyte replacement maybe required.

It is always advisable to work with a naturopathic doctor before engaging in any treatment plan.


Lifestyle recommendations include:

  • To promote function and release of digestive enzymes and secretions:
  • Eat slowly, smell food aromas, and chew thoroughly.
  • During acute diarrhea episodes, the BRAT diet may be indicated. This includes bananas, rice, applesauce and toast.
  • Nourishing vegetable, meat, or bone broths can provide easily absorbed nourishment.
  • Steamed vegetables are easy to digest and can help replace the electrolytes lost as a result of diarrhea.

Naturopathic Therapies

Naturopathic Therapies for diarrhea include:

  • Herbs and spices that can assist with diarrhea include: sweet basil, cinnamon bark, clove, garlic, fresh and dried ginger, nutmeg, marjoram, black and white pepper
  • Fruits such as fig, guava leaf, guava, olive, persimmon, pineapple, sour plum, lotus, crab apple, lychee.
  • Nuts and seeds such as chestnut, chive seed, sunflower seed.
  • Vegetables, Roots, Nuts & Gourds such as carrot, leek, radish leaf, taro leaf.
  • Grains such as barley, Job's tears, white rice, glutinous rice, whole wheat.
  • Legumes such as hyacinth bean, string (green) bean, adzuki bean, mung bean, yellow soybean.
  • Meats such as ham, chicken.
  • Eggs: chicken eggs, chicken egg white, chicken egg yolks.
  • Other foods such as malt, tofu, cuttlebone.


Reviewed by Iva Lloyd, BScH, RPE, ND [1]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Field M (2003 Apr) Intestinal ion transport and the pathophysiology of diarrhea J Clin Invest; Vol111(7):931-43 PMID: 12671039.
  2. Holtmeier W, Caspary WF (2006 Mar) Celiac disease Orphanet J Rare Dis; Vol1:3 PMID: 16722573.
  3. Maroun JA, Anthony LB, Blais N, Burkes R, Dowden SD, Dranitsaris G, Samson B, Shah A, Thirlwell MP, Vincent MD, Wong R ( 2007 February) Prevention and management of chemotherapy-induced diarrhea in patients with colorectal cancer: a consensus statement by the Canadian Working Group on Chemotherapy-Induced Diarrhea Curr Oncol; Vol14(1): 13–20 PMCID: PMC1891194.
  4. Gendre JP (1989 Dec) Diarrhea after digestive surgery [French] Rev Prat; Vol39(29):2607-9 PMID: 2602893.
  5. Dains JE, Baumann LC, Sceibel P (2007) Advanced Health Assessment and Clinical Diagnosis in Primary Care 3rd ed Mosby.
  6. Lu Henry (1986) Chinese System of Food Cures, prevention and remedies Sterling Publishing Co. New York.
  7. Hershoff Asa (2000) Homeopathic Remedies, A Quick and Easy Guide to Common Disorders and their Homeopathic Treatments, Avery Publishing Group, New York
  8. Ullman Robert, Reichenberg-Ullman Judyth (1997) Homeopathic Self-Care, the quick and easy guide for the whole family. Prima Publishing