Irritability according to Chinese Medicine

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Irritability can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like irritability here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here irritability is often associated with dizziness, depression and insomnia in the pattern “Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause irritability.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of irritability we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat irritability.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause irritability

In Chinese Medicine irritability is a symptom for 5 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

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

Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian)

Tongue color: Red points on the sides

This pattern develops from Liver Qi Stagnation, which creates excessive amount of Heat and then turn into Liver Fire. The Heat is more intense here.

In addition to irritability, other symptoms associated with Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire include dizziness, depression and insomnia.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire is associated with health issues such as Menstrual Cramps or Spontaneous Flow Of Breast Milk.

Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire is often treated with Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Mudan Peony Bark - Mu Dan Pi - as a key herb). Dan Zhi Xiao Yao San belongs to the category of "formulas that clear liver-heat", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Liver Fire from Stagnant Liver Qi".

Read more about Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire here

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

Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Fire

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to irritability, other symptoms associated with Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Fire include dizziness, tinnitus and red face.

Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Fire is often treated with Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Saiga Antelope's Horns - Ling Yang Jiao - as a key herb). Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that pacify and extinguish internal wind", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Cools the Liver".

Read more about Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Fire here

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

Rebellious Liver Qi invading the Stomach

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to irritability, other symptoms associated with Rebellious Liver Qi invading the Stomach include frequent sighing, belching and epigastric distension.

Rebellious Liver Qi invading the Stomach is often treated with Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Inula Flowers - Xuan Fu Hua - as a key herb). Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang belongs to the category of "formulas for a rebellious qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Regulates the downward flow of Stomach Qi".

Read more about Rebellious Liver Qi invading the Stomach here

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

Kidney Yin Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Empty (Xu), Floating (Fu)

Tongue coating: Complete absence of coating

Tongue color: Red

Tongue shape: Cracked

Kidney Yin Deficiency causes false Heat symptoms, such as night sweats, thirst and five palm heat. These signs are from a depletion of Body Fluids and Essence. It can be caused by prolonged overwork, excessive sexual activity, chronic long term illnesses, consumption of Body Fluids by Heat, prolonged blood loss, overdosage of Kidney Yang tonics herbs, smoking and Kidney depleting foods such as coffee, alcohol, sugar, and fruit juices.

In addition to irritability, other symptoms associated with Kidney Yin Deficiency include dizziness, tinnitus and scanty periods.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Kidney Yin Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Menopausal Syndrome, Prolonged Periods or Irregular Menstruation.

Kidney Yin Deficiency is often treated with Liu Wei Di Huang Wan, a herbal formula made of 6 herbs (including Prepared Rehmannia - Shu Di huang - as a key herb). Liu Wei Di Huang Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that nourish yin and tonify", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Nutritive tonic for the Liver and Kidney Yin Essence (nourishes the parasympathetic nervous system)".

Read more about Kidney Yin Deficiency here

Talc (Hua Shi) is the king ingredient for Liu Yi San, a formula used for Summer Heat

Summer Heat

Pulse type(s): Rapid (Shu), Soggy (Ru)

Tongue coating: Yellow coating

In addition to irritability, other symptoms associated with Summer Heat include fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

Summer Heat is often treated with Liu Yi San, a herbal formula made of 2 herbs (including Talc - Hua Shi - as a key herb). Liu Yi San belongs to the category of "formulas that dispel summer-heat and facilitate resolution of dampness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Summer-Heat".

Read more about Summer Heat here

Five herbal formulas that might help with irritability

Long Dan Xie Gan Tang

Source date: 1682 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Clears Heat and Fire from the Liver and Gallbladder. Clears and drains Damp-Heat from the Lower Burner.

Why might Long Dan Xie Gan Tang help with irritability?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire' of which irritability is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Stagnant Liver-Qi turning into Fire can contribute to many health issues, including Menstrual Cramps.

Read more about Long Dan Xie Gan Tang here

Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang

Source date: Qing dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Cools the Liver. Extinguishes Wind. Increases Fluids. Relaxes the sinews.

Why might Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang help with irritability?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Liver Wind agitating Internally due to Liver Fire' of which irritability is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Liver Wind Agitating Internally Due To Liver Fire include dizziness, tinnitus and red face.

Read more about Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang here

Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Regulates the downward flow of Stomach Qi. Expectorant, treats hiccups.

Why might Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang help with irritability?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Rebellious Liver Qi invading the Stomach' of which irritability is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Rebellious Liver Qi Invading The Stomach include frequent sighing, belching and epigastric distension.

Read more about Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang here

Liang Di Tang

Source date: 1826 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Nourishes Yin. Cools Blood. Stop bleeding.

Why might Liang Di Tang help with irritability?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Kidney Yin Deficiency' of which irritability is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Kidney Yin Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Irregular Menstruation.

Read more about Liang Di Tang here

Liu Yi San

Source date: 1172 AD

Number of ingredients: 2 herbs

Key actions: Clears Summer-Heat. Drains Dampness. Supplements Qi.

Why might Liu Yi San help with irritability?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Summer Heat' of which irritability is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Summer Heat include fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

Read more about Liu Yi San here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat irritability

Why might Host-Wood Poria (Fu Shen) help with irritability?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat irritability and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat irritability as a symptom (such as Ling Jiao Gou Teng Tang for instance).

Host-Wood Poria is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Heart.

Its main actions are: Calms the Mind (Shen) and promote urination.

Read more about Host-Wood Poria here

Why might Akebia Stem (Mu Tong) help with irritability?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat irritability and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat irritability as a symptom (such as Long Dan Xie Gan Tang for instance).

Akebia Stems is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Heart, the Lung and the Small intestine.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination and clears Heat. Clears Heat and inflammation of the Heart. Promotes lactation. Moves and smoothes the flow of Blood. Used for painful obstruction associated with either Dampness, Blood Stagnation, Wind or Heat.

Read more about Akebia Stems here

Why might Donkey-Hide Gelatin (E Jiao) help with irritability?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat irritability and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat irritability as a symptom (such as Liang Di Tang for instance).

Donkey-Hide Gelatin is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Kidney, the Liver and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies and nourishes Blood. Stops bleeding. Moistens and lubricates Yin.

Read more about Donkey-Hide Gelatin here

Why might Hematite (Dai Zhe Shi) help with irritability?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat irritability and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat irritability as a symptom (such as Xuan Fu Dai Zhe Tang for instance).

Hematite is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Stomach, the Heart, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Calms the Liver, anchors uprising Yang and clears Liver Fire. Moves Qi downward. Cools the Blood, stops bleeding.

Read more about Hematite here

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with irritability?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat irritability as a symptom, like Long Dan Xie Gan Tang or Liu Yi San for instance.

Liquorice is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Basal Qi and nourishes the Spleen Qi. Clears Heat and dispels toxicity. Moistens the Lungsexpel phlegm and stop coughing. Relieves spasms and alleviates pain. Harmonizes and moderates the effects of other herbs.

Read more about Liquorice here