Loss of appetite according to Chinese Medicine

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Loss of appetite 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 loss of appetite 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 loss of appetite is often associated with loose stools, nausea and irritability in the pattern “Obstruction Of the Spleen By Dampness with Liver Qi Stagnation”. As you will see below, we have in record five patterns that can cause loss of appetite.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of loss of appetite 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 loss of appetite.

The five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause loss of appetite

In Chinese Medicine loss of appetite 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 Spleen is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Spleen in Chinese Medicine

Obstruction Of the Spleen By Dampness with Liver Qi Stagnation

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

In addition to loss of appetite, other symptoms associated with Obstruction Of the Spleen By Dampness with Liver Qi Stagnation include loose stools, nausea and irritability.

Obstruction Of the Spleen By Dampness with Liver Qi Stagnation is often treated with Ping Wei San, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Black Atractylodes Rhizomes - Cang Zhu - as a key herb). Ping Wei San belongs to the category of "formulas that transform dampness and harmonize stomach", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Dampness".

Read more about Obstruction Of the Spleen By Dampness with Liver Qi Stagnation here

Dried Ginger (Gan Jiang) is the king ingredient for Li Zhong Wan, a formula used for Greater Yin stage

Greater Yin stage

Pulse type(s): Deep (Chen), Slow (Chi), Weak (Ruo)

In addition to loss of appetite, other symptoms associated with Greater Yin stage include vomiting, diarrhea and tiredness.

Greater Yin stage is often treated with Li Zhong Wan, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Dried Ginger - Gan Jiang - as a key herb). Li Zhong Wan belongs to the category of "formulas that warm the middle and dispel cold", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms the Middle Burner".

Read more about Greater Yin stage here

Bupleurum Roots (Chai Hu) is the king ingredient for Xiao Chai Hu Tang, a formula used for Lesser Yang stage

Lesser Yang stage

Pulse type(s): Wiry (Xian), Fine (Xi)

In addition to loss of appetite, other symptoms associated with Lesser Yang stage include irritability, dry throat and blurred vision.

Lesser Yang stage is often treated with Xiao Chai Hu Tang, a herbal formula made of 7 herbs (including Bupleurum Roots - Chai Hu - as a key herb). Xiao Chai Hu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that harmonize lesser yang-warp disorders", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Treats the Lesser Yang Channels (Gallbladder and Triple Warmer)".

Read more about Lesser Yang stage here

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

Lung Yang Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Slow (Chi), Slowed-down (Huan), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to loss of appetite, other symptoms associated with Lung Yang Deficiency include fatigue, cold limbs and shortness of breath.

Lung Yang Deficiency is often treated with Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang, a herbal formula made of 2 herbs (including Dried Ginger - Gan Jiang - as a key herb). Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that warm interior cold", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Warms the Lungs".

Read more about Lung Yang Deficiency here

Ginseng (Ren Shen) is the king ingredient for Si Jun Zi Tang, a formula used for Qi Deficiency

Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu), Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

Qi Deficiency simply means lack of Qi. It includes the lack of Original Qi, Nutritive Qi, Defensive Qi or the Qi that resides in Organs or Channels. It mainly manifests itself in a weakened function of Organs and a declining ability of the body to resist diseases.

In addition to loss of appetite, other symptoms associated with Qi Deficiency include fatigue, loose stools and dizziness.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Qi Deficiency is associated with health issues such as Abnormal Uterine Bleeding or Heavy Menstruation.

Qi Deficiency is often treated with Si Jun Zi Tang, a herbal formula made of 4 herbs (including Ginseng - Ren Shen - as a key herb). Si Jun Zi Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that tonify qi", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Tonifies Qi".

Read more about Qi Deficiency here

Five herbal formulas that might help with loss of appetite

Ping Wei San

Source date: 1051 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Dries Dampness. Improves the Spleen's transportive function. Promotes the movement of Qi. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Why might Ping Wei San help with loss of appetite?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Obstruction Of the Spleen By Dampness with Liver Qi Stagnation' of which loss of appetite is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Obstruction Of The Spleen By Dampness With Liver Qi Stagnation include loose stools, nausea and irritability.

Read more about Ping Wei San here

Li Zhong Wan

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Warms the Middle Burner. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach.

Why might Li Zhong Wan help with loss of appetite?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Greater Yin stage' of which loss of appetite is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Greater Yin Stage include vomiting, diarrhea and tiredness.

Read more about Li Zhong Wan here

Xiao Chai Hu Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Treats the Lesser Yang Channels (Gallbladder and Triple Warmer). Regulates the Liver and Spleen functions. Addresses combined Yin-Yang symptoms of External and Internal, Excess and Deficiency, and Hot and Cold.

Why might Xiao Chai Hu Tang help with loss of appetite?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Lesser Yang stage' of which loss of appetite is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Lesser Yang Stage include irritability, dry throat and blurred vision.

Read more about Xiao Chai Hu Tang here

Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 2 herbs

Key actions: Warms the Lungs. Strengthens the Stomach.

Why might Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang help with loss of appetite?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Lung Yang Deficiency' of which loss of appetite is a symptom.

Other symptoms characteristic of Lung Yang Deficiency include fatigue, cold limbs and shortness of breath.

Read more about Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang here

Si Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach.

Why might Si Jun Zi Tang help with loss of appetite?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Qi Deficiency' of which loss of appetite is a symptom.

According to Chinese Medicine, Qi Deficiency can contribute to many health issues, including Abnormal Uterine Bleeding.

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang here

Acupuncture points used for loss of appetite

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat loss of appetite

Why might Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with loss of appetite?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat loss of appetite as a symptom, like Gan Cao Gan Jiang Tang or Ping Wei 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

Why might Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with loss of appetite?

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat loss of appetite as a symptom, like Wu Pi Yin or Ling Gui Zhu Gan Tang for instance.

Poria-Cocos Mushrooms is a Neutral herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart, the Kidney and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Encourages urination and drains Dampness. Tonic to the Spleen/Stomach. Assists the Heart and calms the Spirit.

Read more about Poria-Cocos Mushrooms here

Why might Atractylodes Rhizome (Bai Zhu) help with loss of appetite?

Because Atractylodes Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat loss of appetite as a symptom, like Wen Qi Hua Shi Tang or Yue Ju Wan for instance.

Atractylodes Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Spleen Qi. Fortifies the Spleen Yang and dispels Damp through urination. Tonifies Qi and stops sweating. Calms restless fetus when due to Deficiency of Spleen Qi.

Read more about Atractylodes Rhizomes here

Why might Ginseng (Ren Shen) help with loss of appetite?

Because Ginseng is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat loss of appetite as a symptom, like Si Jun Zi Tang or Liu Jun Zi Tang for instance.

Ginseng is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Lung.

Its main actions are: Very strongly tonifies the Qi. Tonifies the Lungs and Spleen. Assists the body in the secretion of Fluids and stops thirst. Strengthens the Heart and calms the Shen (mind/spirit).

Read more about Ginseng here

Why might Dong Quai (Dang Gui) help with loss of appetite?

Because Dong Quai is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat loss of appetite as a symptom, like Xiao Yao San or Wen Jing Tang for instance.

Dong Quai is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent and Sweet. It targets the Spleen, the Heart and the Liver.

Its main actions are: Tonifies the Blood. Lubricates the Intestines. Relieve constipation. Promotes circulation and dispels Bi Pain. Reduce Dysmenorrhea and help with irregular menstruation.

Read more about Dong Quai here