Q and A: Herbal Assistance for Digestive System Problems

Health professionals answer readers' questions.

| January/February 1997

In every issue of Herbs for Health, professionals from a variety of health-care fields will answer your questions about using medicinal herbs. Herbalist Mindy Green and physician Robert Rountree responded for this issue.


An avid believer in the curative and restorative powers of herbs, I was most interested to find your magazine at a local bookstore. I have some concerns about my mother that might be addressed in your column.

A very fit 79-year-old, my mother finds herself slowed by chronic diarrhea, which she’s had for at least five years. There is no apparent physical dysfunction causing it, and she has been thoroughly examined for cancers and/or any other medical condition that might explain the symptom. At the moment, she lives on over-the-counter diarrhea medication. I would be grateful for any suggestions concerning herbal remedies for her condition. Any relevant readings you can suggest would be welcome as well.
Bridgeport, West Virginia

It eases my mind to know your mother has been thoroughly checked for cancer or other problems that might be causing the diarrhea, since this can be a symptom of many serious diseases. Many herbs are helpful against chronic diarrhea. I would start with slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) bark powder, a safe, gentle, soothing herb that also provides some bulk. The mildly astringent raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus and R. strigosus) or the slightly stronger blackberry root (R. fruticosus and R. villosus) may also prove helpful combined with the soothing marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) root, the anti-inflammatory German chamomile (Matricaria recutita), and the carminative peppermint (Mentha ¥ piperita).

Diet is also important. Food allergies may be a factor, and I believe that eating enough dietary fiber and avoiding refined foods is beneficial. The seeds of flax (Linum usitatissimum) ground to a powder and sprinkled on food would help relieve any inflammation of the mucous membrane of the colon. Acidophilus also can promote good bowel hygiene and may reduce bacteria that can cause intestinal putrefaction.
—Mindy Green

It is very rare for a person to have chronic diarrhea without any discernible cause. I assume that your mother has had routine X rays and/or colonoscopy (direct examination of the bowel wall with a fiberoptic scope), but I wonder if she has had a comprehensive digestive stool analysis. Several specialty labs around the country offer this test. One is Great Smokies Diagnostic Laboratory in Asheville, North Carolina, (704) 253-0621.
—Robert Rountree

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