Jaundice according to Chinese Medicine

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Jaundice 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 jaundice 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 jaundice is often associated with fever, vomiting and feeling of heaviness in the pattern “Damp-Heat in the Liver”. As you will see below, we have in record two patterns that can cause jaundice.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of jaundice we’ve identified two 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 jaundice.

The two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause jaundice

In Chinese Medicine jaundice is a symptom for 2 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

Damp-Heat in the Liver

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

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Yellow coating

Tongue color: Red

This pattern is caused by excessive Heat in the Liver and Dampness due to Spleen Deficiency. Dampness can cause the formation of Phlegm.  Patients often have a feeling of fullness. It is often caused by bad diet and lifestyle, hot and damp environment and emotional stress such as anger.

In addition to jaundice, other symptoms associated with Damp-Heat in the Liver include fever, vomiting and feeling of heaviness.

Damp-Heat in the Liver is often treated with Long Dan Xie Gan Tang, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Chinese Gentian - Long Dan Cao - as a key herb). Long Dan Xie Gan Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that clear heat from the organs", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Heat and Fire from the Liver and Gallbladder".

Read more about Damp-Heat in the Liver here

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

Damp-Heat in the Gallbladder

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

In addition to jaundice, other symptoms associated with Damp-Heat in the Gallbladder include fever, dizziness and feeling of heaviness.

Damp-Heat in the Gallbladder is often treated with Yin Chen Hao Tang, a herbal formula made of 3 herbs (including Virgate Wormwood - Yin Chen - as a key herb). Yin Chen Hao Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that clear heat and expel dampness", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears heat".

Read more about Damp-Heat in the Gallbladder here

Two herbal formulas that might help with jaundice

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 jaundice?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Heat in the Liver' of which jaundice is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Damp-Heat In The Liver include fever, vomiting and feeling of heaviness.

Read more about Long Dan Xie Gan Tang here

Yin Chen Hao Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Key actions: Clears heat. Resolves dampness. Reduces jaundice.

Why might Yin Chen Hao Tang help with jaundice?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Heat in the Gallbladder' of which jaundice is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Damp-Heat In The Gallbladder include fever, dizziness and feeling of heaviness.

Read more about Yin Chen Hao Tang here

Acupuncture points used for jaundice

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat jaundice

Why might Virgate Wormwood (Yin Chen) help with jaundice?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat jaundice and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat jaundice as a symptom (such as Yin Chen Hao Tang for instance).

Virgate Wormwood is a Cool herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Gallbladder, the Liver, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Drains Damp and clears Heat, especially from the Liver and Gallbladder. Eliminates Heat and relieves the Exterior. Relieve Jaundice.

Read more about Virgate Wormwood here

Why might Chinese Gentian (Long Dan Cao) help with jaundice?

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

Chinese Gentian is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Gallbladder, the Heart, the Large intestine, the Liver and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Expels Damp-Heat especially in the Liver and Gallbladder Meridians. Clears Liver-Fire. Clears Liver-Wind.

Read more about Chinese Gentian here

Why might Rhubarb (Da Huang) help with jaundice?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat jaundice and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat jaundice as a symptom (such as Yin Chen Hao Tang for instance).

Rhubarb is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Spleen, the Stomach, the Large intestine, the Liver and the Pericardium.

Its main actions are: Drains Excess Heat and eliminates Dampness, especially when in the Bright Yang stage according to the Six Stages Theory. Cools the Blood and stops bleeding. Invigorates Blood, breaks up Stasis and relieves pain. Clears Heat and toxins from Excess. Applied topically for Hot sores and Blood Stasis.

Read more about Rhubarb here

Why might Baikal Skullcap Root (Huang Qin) help with jaundice?

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

Baikal Skullcap Roots is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Gallbladder, the Heart, the Large intestine, the Lung, the Small intestine and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Expels Heat and Dampness. Clears Upper Burner Heat, especially of the Lung. Clears Heat and stops reckless movement of Blood. Clears pathogenic Heat which is upsetting the fetus. Cools the Liver, reducing Liver Yang rising syndrome.

Read more about Baikal Skullcap Roots here

Why might Cape Jasmine Fruit (Zhi Zi) help with jaundice?

Because Cape Jasmine Fruit is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat jaundice as a symptom, like Yin Chen Hao Tang or Long Dan Xie Gan Tang for instance.

Cape Jasmine Fruits is a Cold herb that tastes Bitter. It targets the Gallbladder, the Heart, the Lung and the Sanjiao.

Its main actions are: Clears Heat and calms spirit. Drains Damp-Heat affecting the Liver and Gallbladder. Clears Heat in the Blood and stops bleeding. Anti-inflammatory.

Read more about Cape Jasmine Fruits here