Loose Stool

What Causes It? What Should I Do About It?

Guava. Victor Shupletsov/EyeEm/Getty

A common characteristic of diarrhea, loose stools may have a number of causes. For instance, the passage of loose stools often signals a bacterial infection of the gastrointestinal tract.

Digestive issues such as lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance are also common causes of loose stools.

In some cases, loose stools can occur as a side effect of antibiotic medications.

In addition, loose stools may be caused by excessive consumption of certain substances, such as caffeine, sugar, and alcohol.

For instance, high intake of fructose (a sugar found in fruit, honey, and many soft drinks and candies) is often linked to diarrhea.

For some individuals, use of herbal remedies (such as senna) or medications (such as antacids containing magnesium hydroxide) may lead to the passage of loose stools.

In general, loose stools contain more fluid and electrolytes than solid stools. Due to this higher content of fluid and electrolytes, frequently experiencing loose stools may result in dehydration.

Many natural remedies are used to fight diarrhea and treat loose stools. Here's a look at the research behind some of these remedies:

1) Herbs

Several herbs show promise as a natural approach to treating loose stools. In a report published in The Natural Products Journal in 2012, for example, researchers reviewed 19 previously published studies and found that herbal remedies such as carob, tormentil, and guava may alleviate symptoms of diarrhea.

Additionally, a preliminary study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2010 determined that compounds found in herbs such as chamomile, ginger, and milk thistle may inhibit the growth of bacteria known to cause diarrhea.

2) Probiotics

Some research suggests that probiotics may help relieve diarrhea. This research includes a report published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology in 2011, which involved the analysis of a number of previously published clinical trials testing the effects of probiotics on patients with diarrhea.

This analysis revealed that probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus GG may be of significant benefit in the treatment of diarrhea.

3) Traditional Chinese Medicine 

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), loose stools accompanied by symptoms such as abdominal bloating, lack of energy, and poor appetite may indicate a pattern of illness called "spleen qi deficiency." Typically caused by factors such as stress and poor diet, according to practitioners of TCM, spleen qi deficiency may result in a range of issues with digestion.

To treat spleen qi deficiency, TCM practitioners often recommend consuming foods with warming properties (including ginger, garlic, and cinnamon). Alternative therapies such as acupuncture are also commonly used in TCM.

4) Ayurveda

According to the principles of ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India), loose tools may result from an imbalance of pitta (i.e., one of the three doshas). It's said that pitta types tend to take on too much stress, which can negatively impact the digestive system.

Go here to find your dosha type, and here to learn about which foods to eat and which foods to avoid in order to address a pitta balance and treat loose stools.

First Steps

While natural remedies may help treat loose stools in certain situations, it's important to take caution when using such remedies.

In some cases, loose stools may stem from an underlying health condition. These conditions may include:

  • bile salt deficiency
  • celiac disease
  • inflammatory bowel disease (such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis)
  • pancreatic insufficiency

In order to rule out any underlying issues possibly causing loose stools, make sure to consult your physician (rather than attempting to self-treat with natural remedies).

It's also important to seek medical attention if you experience loose stools accompanied by symptoms like severe pain in the abdomen or rectum, a fever of 102 degrees or higher, stools containing blood or pus, and/or stools that are black and tarry.

SEE ALSO:  Floating Stool | Green Stool | Dark or Bright Red Stool | Mucus in Stool | Pellet-Shaped Stool | More Poop Colors Explained


Cwikla C, Schmidt K, Matthias A, Bone KM, Lehmann R, Tiralongo E. "Investigations into the antibacterial activities of phytotherapeutics against Helicobacter pylori and Campylobacter jejuni." Phytother Res. 2010 May;24(5):649-56.

Guandalini S. "Probiotics for prevention and treatment of diarrhea." J Clin Gastroenterol. 2011 Nov;45 Suppl:S149-53.

Hood K, Nuttall J, Gillespie D, Shepherd V, Wood F, Duncan D, Stanton H, Espinasse A, Wootton M, Acharjya A, Allen S, Bayer A, Carter B, Cohen D, Francis N, Howe R, Mantzourani E, Thomas-Jones E, Toghill A, Butler CC. "Probiotics for Antibiotic-Associated Diarrhoea (PAAD): a prospective observational study of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea (including Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhoea) in care homes." Health Technol Assess. 2014 Oct;18(63):1-84.

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. "Common Causes of Chronic Diarrhea." Adapted from IFFGD publication #150 by W. Grant Thompson, MD, FRCPC, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. December 4, 2015.

Rosenfeldt V, Michaelsen KF, Jakobsen M, Larsen CN, Møller PL, Tvede M, Weyrehter H, Valerius NH, Paerregaard A. "Effect of probiotic Lactobacillus strains on acute diarrhea in a cohort of nonhospitalized children attending day-care centers." Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2002 May;21(5):417-9.

Zahra Asgari, Beatrice J. Selwyn, Helena Vonville and Herbert L. DuPont. "A Systematic Review of the Evidence for Use of Herbal Medicine for the Treatment of Acute Diarrhea." The Natural Products Journal, Volume 2, Number 1, March 2012, pp. 1-8(8).

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using any alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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