Diarrhoea (including from Gastroenteritis)

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Diarrhoea, by definition, means a loosely formed stool and, as there are many people who routinely do not form a firm stool but would not be described as having diarrhoea, it needs to be clarified that, for diarrhoea to be seen as a condition, that there needs to be a significantly increased frequency, i.e. going more than 3 times a day.

The recommendations in this article are entirely suitable for a person to use for themselves or for their child however, if there are other issues that need attention and you know that you need further help, there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist to support you, there's some suggestions on how you might go about finding such a person here

Diarrhoea in Children

A normal, healthy child will get multiple infections in any given year. Many infections in their respiratory systems and many infections in their gut. A virus is by far the most common cause, meaning an antibiotic would be worse than useless but, in any case, in good health, the condition will resolve itself in 48 hours and nothing needs to be done aside from keeping them warm, well-hydrated and well-rested.

When frequent diarrhoea persists for more than 2 days, or when the child is having very loose bowel motions on a regular basis, or perhaps has other symptoms such as bloating or gut discomfort, there is likely to be an underlying issue that needs further attention. More about that below.


Diarrhoea in Adults

By the time they have fought through all their immune battles of childhood to become an adult, it usually takes a lot more for a virus or bacteria to get through the defences and to start producing symptoms such as diarrhoea. If anything, a more common cause of acute diarrhoea in adults is some kind of food poisoning.

Again, a condition that is able to largely resolve itself within 48 hours should not be treated with anything but fluids and rest. The body is clearing itself out for a good reason and it isn't wise to try to take any herbs or special foods to try to reduce the diarrhoea.

However, if there is still a marked increase in the frequency of bowel motions after a couple of days, or if frequent, loose bowel motions are happening all the time along with such symptoms as bloating, fatigue or abdominal pain, then a deeper level of care and attention is required, as discussed below under 'treating the cause'


First-Aid for Diarrhoea

The following are some tried and true methods to help with diarrhoea in its acute state or when there are no major underlying issues that need to be dealt with...

Babies under 3 months old

Keep them warm and dry and keep nursing them. It is very safe to give a little baby a small dose of a herbal tea. The mother can drink the whole cup and give their baby just half a tsp at a time of any one or a combination of Chamomile, Fennel, Catnip or Agrimony. Make the tea in a dose of 2 heaped tsps. per cup of water, steeped for 10 minutes.

If the condition was bad and ongoing, and these herbs were available to her, the mother might like to drink the 'gut healing tea' as described below. Half a tsp of this can also be safely given to the baby 2 or 3 times a day as well.

Once or twice a day, massage their belly with a little olive oil to which you have added a few drops of lavender oil. It is no fun having a sore tummy, the massage will ease, comfort and help the healing along.

If the problem keeps happening, consider the possibility that they have some food intolerance and that some investigations are in order as described and linked further below.

Babies from 3 months to 1 year old

When the diarrhoea is going on for more than a few days, all the above recommendations may be helpful except the dose you can safely give the baby is now much higher, i.e. at least 2 tsps. of any of the teas will get them reaching a therapeutic threshold and they can safely take more if they want it.

Consider avoiding all dairy products yourself if you are still nursing your baby or, if they are already eating dairy, to take them out of their diet for at least a week to see how they go and to see what happens when you reintroduce them. This method, called 'elimination and challenge' is written up in more detail here The next major culprit, after dairy-causing diarrhoea, is gluten, the method to challenge this is written up here

Given that they may have some dysbiosis, as discussed below, it may also now be beneficial to give the baby a probiotic on a daily basis to help them build up a better microbiome in their gut. There are many good probiotics that are now readily available.

Children from 1 year up

All the above recommendations still apply, with the difference that you might now start using doses of the herbal teas measured in a third or a half of a cup, even more if they want it.

Babies get diarrhoea for next to no reason. Even a minor cold in their nose will give them a runny bowel the next day. Children over 1 year old have had some time to start developing their immunity and their gut flora, so chronic diarrhoea may need a deeper look at things like food intolerance or dysbiosis as discussed further on.

It also could be appropriate to give them a course of the gut-healing tea, albeit at a much lower dose than the full-strength level recommended for adults there. Please use common sense, if they are very small, use a tenth of the dosage, whereas if they are merely pint-sized go up to a quarter, and so forth.

If you can get them used to it, both Chamomile and small amounts of Ginger can go a long way to help relax and heal the gut of a child who is prone to diarrhoea for reasons of higher than ideal levels of nervous tension. Why you might suspect this would be from seeing a pattern of their getting diarrhoea before or around stressful or exciting events. Chamomile is a great friend to children for many reasons and can give much support to gut health and the nerves. More about it here

Ginger is obviously a powerful tasting remedy, but a little goes a long way and if they are in charge of how much they take then they are likely to get used to it a lot faster, especially if they can feel how quickly it eases griping and discomfort in their gut. Some ideas on how to make and use Ginger are written up here



As everyone else will tell you too, the main 'first-aid' issue with diarrhoea is to maintain good fluids. The reason that infectious diarrhoea in children can be so lethal in some parts of the world is the rapid dehydration that it can cause. This is most dangerous with under-5s, Children over 5 years-old are much less likely to be at severe risk of dehydration, unless they are vomiting as well as getting chronic diarrhoea.

However, many people, and this includes children, can instinctively feel like they want to drink less when they see themselves making very loose stools, they feel like they want to 'dry out' and so stop drinking even when they are losing a great deal of fluids. Drinking more water, in any form, can only help.

Problems with losing essential salts and electrolytes can become a major issue after just 2 days. There are, of course, electrolyte replacement preparations that are widely available and that should be used when needed but, if for any reason a person needs to make their own, the following is a recipe that is widely used around the world that will safely ensure rehydration if consumed in a day.

Rehydration Formula

1 litre fresh water
1/4 level tsp of salt
1/4 level tsp of baking soda
1 freshly squeezed lemon
1-2 tsps of honey to taste



Many folk-traditions of medicine highly rate apples as being able to help with diarrhoea. The reason is that they are very high in pectin, a substance that adds bulk to the stool whilst having a soothing action on the gut. Cooked apples can be particularly helpful, and if the person is fond of Cinnamon, a pinch or two of his can be added to the apples to improve their action on soothing and healing an inflamed gut. More about Cinnamon here

Plantago husks

Plantago husks are also known as Psyllium hulls. I differentiate them here because we want the coarse husks. These are usually readily obtainable and are preferred to the ground psyllium powder, which is what is sometimes available commercially.

Plantago is a most unusual herbal medicine in that it can be used for both constipation and diarrhoea. It has a gentle, bulking effect on the stool that can be of much help in creating a steadier wave of 'peristalsis' i.e. the muscular contractions of the small and large bowel that propel food and wastes forwards.

I would not recommend Plantago in the first few days of any outbreak of diarrhoea but certainly for a chronic condition, the use of 2 or more tsps a day may help to re-stabilise the bowel. More about it here

Gut Healing Tea

Raspberry leaf 40gms
Yarrow leaf 30gms
Agrimony leaf 30gms
Calendula flower 20gms

This would make 120gms, enough for a week's treatment at a full-strength adult dose. More or less could be prepared of the tea according to how long it was going to be used for, or the strength of dose that was needed.

For chronic diarrhoea, to help heal the gut, a full-strength dose would be to take approximately 15-17 gms of the tea and to infuse it into 1 litre of freshly boiled water. Cover and allow to steep for a good 12 to 15 minutes before straining and using during the day in divided doses.

If the person preferred to make a smaller amount more frequently than just once a day they could use, for example, 6 or 7 grams in a large cup, three times a day. It is no problem whatsoever to add honey if preferred, especially for a child. Likewise, it is ok to sip the tea hot or to allow it to cool to room temperature to drink more easily, whatever is preferred.

Much smaller amounts might be used for a child or for a less severe condition, but these are very safe herbs to use for any age and do not be shy to give a reasonable amount to get at sure effect of the Raspberry leaf, a herb famed for its use in helping diarrhoea in children and adults, more on it here, Yarrow leaf, the great 'wound' herb that can help heal a damaged gut, more about it here, Agrimony, for its toning, strengthening action on the gut, more here, and the lovely Calendula which, like Yarrow, can do much to help heal any damage to the delicate gut lining, more here


Treating the Cause

Diarrhoea is usually a self-limiting symptom. Meaning that it is happening because the body has decided there is something in the system, usually a microbial infection or a poison, that it wants to get rid of, so it turns on a mechanism that ensures everything gets cleaned out as quickly as possible (which is likely to include vomiting if there is anything in the upper digestive system at the time).

When the 'all-clear' has been given, the body will be ready to accept food again in the normal way. Until that point, it is likely to rapidly evacuate the bowel of any substance that comes into it and this is when diarrhoea can become chronic because, if the body is registering that all is not well, it will not allow material to stay overlong in the gut.

So, what are the main reasons that the system continues to act as if it had an emergency to clear-out, even when an acute infection or poisonous food has been dealt with long ago?


A major cause of ongoing diarrhoea is a chronic infection in the gut. Things like Salmonella, Listeria and Botulism cannot remain in the gut in any quantity. Even in miniscule amounts, the immune system will regard them as the life-threatening organisms that they are and will not rest until they are completely removed.

However, there are many other kinds of micro-organism that can take up lodging in the gut and remain there without an all-out war against them. They still cause inflammation, bloating and a mild level of reactivity that includes loose and frequent stools, but they are not enough of a threat to cause a full-on battle with a subsequent total and high-speed evacuation from the bowel.

It is also a frequently observed pattern in both children and adults who have had a course of antibiotics, sometimes many months ago, whereupon their bowel has never been right since. With such a history it must be considered as likely that some less than ideal microbial life has grown back from when the usual gut flora was stripped away by the antibiotics.

A patient, consistent and holistic approach is needed to cure dysbiosis. It must use agents that can effectively remove the unhealthy organisms, and the two herbs Wormwood and Garlic excel at this, and it also must carefully rebuild a healthy micro-biome of healthy bacterial flora within the gut. This subject is discussed in practical depth in the article on dysbiosis here

Food Intolerance

If there is any history of eczema or asthma, then food allergy or intolerance is highly likely to be an issue and in any case, it certainly needs to be considered, because both food allergy and food intolerance are a leading cause of chronic diarrhoea in children and adults.

Children with undiagnosed food allergy or intolerance are also likely to have problems with their immune health, i.e. they will be prone to getting infections and will have trouble getting over them.

Adults with food allergies and intolerances often get loose stools but may only get bloating and discomfort rather than much increased frequency. They are also likely to have other health issues alongside, such as lowered mood, skin problems, headaches, joint pain etc.

The general subject of allergy and intolerance, and the important matter of how to go about determining if it actually is a problem, is discussed in depth here


Especially if there is blood in the stools, marked weight loss, fevers or other troubling symptoms, it may be important to visit with a specialist in the gut, a Gastroenterologist, to rule out the really worrying causes of chronic diarrhoea, such as cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease or diverticulosis.

However, far too many people, presenting with chronic diarrhoea to their GP or Gastroenterologist end up being told that they have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), when their problem is actually a dysbiosis or a food intolerance, and these matters have not even been considered, let alone ruled out.

IBS really is a thing though, and if it is the underlying issue, then there is much that can be done to help, so long as the person is ready to adopt a patient, try and see approach. IBS is a big subject, it is written about in its own in-depth article found here

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you without seeing you in my clinic.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd