There have been a number of research studies involving acupuncture for depression as well as Chinese herbs and depression. There are also some well known western herbs that have been used for the treatment of depression such as St John’s Wort and Chamomile but the skeptics and scientists are still not sure of their efficiacy. On one hand they say St John’s Wort does not do anything and on the other hand western medical practitioners warn not to take St John’s Wort as it will interfere with medications like Prozac and cause brain chemistry imbalances.
The liver controls anger
Traditional Chinese medicine has for centuries viewed the body as one interconnected unit where the physical organs and different emotional states are connected. Each major organ controls an emotion such as the liver controlls anger. This anger also included impatience, irritability and hatred. The interaction of organ and emotion goes in both directions. For example, the liver could become diseased or imbalanced which then could result in the person feeling more irritable or impatient than what they used to. A person may have moved to a new job and the work circumstances constantly made them impatient, irritable and angry which eventually led to the liver becoming diseased. In another case senario, the person may have moved away and obtained a new job with a new happier environment but the liver had become so chronically affected, that the anger and irritability remained.
Grief affects the lungs
In another example, the loss of a family member has resulted in grief. To experience grief is normal but if the grief is too intense and maintained for too long, the lungs could become diseased and weak and leave the person in a chonic depressed state. In cases like this, the prolonged grieving could have weakened the lungs and then they could come down with a chronic cough further compounding the problem.
When consulting with a Chinese medicine practitioner, questions about the past are usually asked to try find out the root cause of the current presenting problem. They might ask something like “Did anything happen six months before you started noticing your weak lungs” Chronic physical complaints can often be back tracked to have had a divorce, loss of a loved one or past financial stress trigger the presenting physical symptoms.
The chart above shows how the organs interact with each other. You probably have heard someone say, “That made me so angry, I could have had a heart attack” Sayings like this make sense according to Chinese medical thought as you can see in the chart the Liver passes on energy to the heart. If you get really angry it could dump too much energy onto the heart suddenly causing problems to the heart.
But what about Chinese herbs. Can you take something to control stress or treat depression?
I get many inquiries asking what herb or what formula can be taken to treat depresssion and unfortunately there is no simple one off herb or combination that can be recommended across the board for everyone. Emotional upset could be coming from any organ, be it though, liver imbalances are more commonly observed in clinic. Researchers have looked at the formula Xiao Yao San which is a common formula used to open free flow of stuck liver energy. It is a formula that has been used for hundreds of years to treat irritability, and the so called stress occuring before the menstrual cycle and also treats symptoms associated with pre-menstrual tension as well as period pain. There are however, many herbs and formulas that help rectify imbalances of the liver so just picking Xiao Yao San is a bit hit and miss. A Chinese herb formulation is only as good as the diagnosis of the patient and matching the formula to the symptoms.
The heart is regarded as the mind in traditional Chinese medicine.
First reading the above statement would make some skeptics laugh but thinking about it closely may reveal quite an insight to ancient chinese physician thinking. Many people have no problem is admitting that they have felt pain in the heart over the loss of a loved one or upon hearing disturbing shocking news. Modern science tells us to do intensive aerobic exercise to stimulate the heart and improve our mental well-being. Many of the Chinese herbs that are regarded to treat symptoms of the mind also treat the heart. One such herb is fu shen which can treat palpitations as well mental symptoms including insomnia. He Huan Pi is another herb that has the reputation to settle the emotions and sooth irritability. The ancients Taoists beieved that consuming Ling Zhi, commonly known as gandoderma would make you psychic and happy.
Successful treatment of depression or other serious mental-emotional problems with Chinese herbal medicine would involve diagnosis according to traditional means and herbal formulas specifically designed to the suit the individual constitution and presenting symptom picture of the patient.