Depression according to Chinese Medicine

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In Chinese Medicine, depression can be associated with five so-called "patterns of disharmony". Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted. It is not equivalent to the Western concept of "disease", as a matter of fact here depression can be caused by five different patterns.

To understand whether someone's depression might be caused by a given pattern, one needs to look for signs and symptoms associated with the pattern beyond what one might typically experience from depression alone. For instance when depression is caused by the pattern Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat, patients also experience symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, dizziness or vertigo, dream disturbed sleep with strange or unusual dreams and palpitations. Similarly, patients with Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat typically exhibit slippery (Hua) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a tongue with yellow coating.

We've listed below a description of the five patterns associated with depression so that you can start to get an understanding of the various possibilities according to Chinese Medicine.

Once identified, patterns are often treated using herbal formulas. Drinking herbal infusions is the most common remedy in Chinese Medicine, together with acupuncture. Here we detail below four formulas that can help treat the various patterns associated with depression, depending on which pattern fits your profile.

The five "patterns of disharmony" associated with depression

The Bladder is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Bladder in Chinese Medicine

Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat

Depression might be due to Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, dizziness or vertigo, dream disturbed sleep with strange or unusual dreams and palpitations. Similarly, patients with Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat typically exhibit slippery (Hua) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a tongue with yellow coating.

Read more about Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat here

Atractylodes Rhizomes (Bai Zhu) is the key herb for Yue Ju Wan, a formula used for Qi Stagnation

Qi Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Normal (light red)

Recommended herbal formula: Yue Ju Wan

Symptoms: Belching Vomiting Acid reflux Indigestion Poor appetite Fixed pain in the hypochondria Mild coughing with copious sputum Stifling sensation in the chest and abdomen

Depression might be due to Qi Stagnation if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as stifling sensation in the chest and abdomen, fixed pain in the hypochondria, belching and vomiting. Similarly, patients with Qi Stagnation typically exhibit wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a normal (light red) tongue with thin white coating.

Read more about Qi Stagnation here

The Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Heart and Spleen Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Fine (Xi)

Tongue coating: Thin white coating

Tongue color: Pale

Recommended herbal formula: Gui Pi Tang

Symptoms: Fatigue Anxiety Insomnia Menorrhagia Palpitations Forgetfulness Poor appetite Pale complexion Abnormal uterine bleeding

Depression might be due to Heart and Spleen Deficiency if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as forgetfulness, palpitations, insomnia and fatigue. Similarly, patients with Heart and Spleen Deficiency typically exhibit fine (Xi) pulses as well as a pale tongue with thin white coating.

Read more about Heart and Spleen Deficiency here

The Pericardium is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Pericardium in Chinese Medicine

Pericardium Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Knotted (Jie), Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Bluish-Purple

Recommended herbal formula: Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Symptoms: Chest pain Purple lips Palpitations Purple nails Painful period Hypochondriac pain Shortness of breath Dark clots in menstrual blood Feeling of oppression of the chest

Depression might be due to Pericardium Blood Stagnation if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as chest pain, hypochondriac pain, palpitations and painful period. Similarly, patients with Pericardium Blood Stagnation typically exhibit knotted (Jie) or wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a bluish-purple tongue.

Read more about Pericardium Blood Stagnation here

The Stomach is a so-called "Fu" Organ. Learn more about the Stomach in Chinese Medicine

Stomach Blood Stagnation

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Bluish-Purple

Recommended herbal formula: Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Symptoms: Nausea Vomiting Epigastric pain Vomiting of blood

Depression might be due to Stomach Blood Stagnation if the condition is paired with typical pattern symptoms such as epigastric pain, nausea, vomiting and vomiting of blood. Similarly, patients with Stomach Blood Stagnation typically exhibit wiry (Xian) pulses as well as a bluish-purple tongue.

Read more about Stomach Blood Stagnation here

The four herbal formulas that might help with depression

Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Key actions: Invigorates the Blood. Dispels blood Stagnation. Spreads the Liver Qi. Unblocks the channels.

Why might Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang help with depression?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help with the patterns Pericardium Blood Stagnation and Stomach Blood Stagnation which are sometimes associated with depression. If any of these patterns look like something you might suffer from, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang here

Wen Dan Tang

Source date: 1174 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Clears Hot-Phlegm. Clears Gallbladder heat. Regulates Qi. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Why might Wen Dan Tang help with depression?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat, a pattern sometimes associated with depression. If it looks like you might suffer from Qi Stagnation in Gallbladder and Stomach with Phlegm Heat, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Wen Dan Tang here

Yue Ju Wan

Source date: 1481 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Promotes the movement of Qi. Releases all types of Stagnation (Qi, Blood, Phlegm, Fire, Food and Dampness).

Why might Yue Ju Wan help with depression?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Qi Stagnation, a pattern sometimes associated with depression. If it looks like you might suffer from Qi Stagnation, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Yue Ju Wan here

Gui Pi Tang

Source date: 1529 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies and nourish Qi and Blood. Tonifies Heart and Spleen.

Why might Gui Pi Tang help with depression?

Because it is a formula often recommended to help treat Heart and Spleen Deficiency, a pattern sometimes associated with depression. If it looks like you might suffer from Heart and Spleen Deficiency, this formula might help (although please seek confirmation with a professional practitioner beforehand).

Read more about Gui Pi Tang here