Obesity according to Chinese Medicine

Obesity 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 obesity 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 obesity is often associated with overweight, fatigue and nausea in the pattern “Damp-Phlegm”. As you will see below, we have in record three patterns that can cause obesity.

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

The three "patterns of disharmony" that can cause obesity

In Chinese Medicine obesity is a symptom for 3 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes (Ban Xia) is the king ingredient for Er Chen Tang, a formula used for Damp-Phlegm

Damp-Phlegm

Pulse type(s): Slippery (Hua)

In addition to obesity, other symptoms associated with Damp-Phlegm include overweight, fatigue and nausea.

Damp-Phlegm is often treated with Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula made of 5 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Er Chen Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm".

Read more about Damp-Phlegm here

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

Spleen Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu)

Tongue color: Pale

Spleen Qi Deficiency is one of the most commonly seen TCM pattern. It is caused by unhealthy diet such as fat raw or cold food, bad eating habit, emotional stress or damp environment. It is the central pattern to all other Spleen disharmonies, because many other Deficiency patterns derive from it.

In addition to obesity, other symptoms associated with Spleen Qi Deficiency include overweight, poor appetite and fatigue.

Spleen 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 Spleen Qi Deficiency here

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

Spleen and Lung Qi Deficiency

Pulse type(s): Empty (Xu)

In addition to obesity, other symptoms associated with Spleen and Lung Qi Deficiency include poor appetite, loose stools and lassitude.

Spleen and Lung 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 Spleen and Lung Qi Deficiency here

Five herbal formulas that might help with obesity

Er Chen Tang

Source date: 1148 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Dries Damp and dispels Phlegm. Regulates Qi and harmonizes the Middle Burner (Stomach and Spleen).

Why might Er Chen Tang help with obesity?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Phlegm' of which obesity is a symptom.

Read more about Er Chen Tang here

Liu Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1107

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi. Strengthens the Spleen and Stomach. Clears Phlegm and mucus. Promotes appetite.

Why might Liu Jun Zi Tang help with obesity?

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

Read more about Liu Jun Zi 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 obesity?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Spleen and Lung Qi Deficiency' of which obesity is a symptom.

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang here

Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang

Source date: 1675 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Spleen and Stomach Qi. Removes Dampness. Moves Qi. Alleviates pain.

Why might Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang help with obesity?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Phlegm' of which obesity is a symptom.

Read more about Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Tang here

Shen Qi Wan

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies and warms Kidney Yang.

Why might Shen Qi Wan help with obesity?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern 'Damp-Phlegm' of which obesity is a symptom.

Read more about Shen Qi Wan here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat obesity

Why might Crow-Dipper Rhizome (Ban Xia) help with obesity?

Because it is a key herb in Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern 'Damp-Phlegm' (a pattern with obesity as a symptom)

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Drains Dampness and reduces Phlegm. Reverses the flow of Rebellious Qi. Reduces hardenings and relieves distention.

Read more about Crow-Dipper Rhizomes here

Why might Tangerine Peel (Chen Pi) help with obesity?

Because it is a key herb in Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern 'Damp-Phlegm' (a pattern with obesity as a symptom)

Tangerine Peel is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Lung and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Warms the Spleen and regulates the Middle Burner Qi. Dries Dampness and disperses Phlegm from the Lungs and Middle Burner. Reduces the potential for Stagnation caused by tonifying herbs.

Read more about Tangerine Peel here

Why might Poria-Cocos Mushroom (Fu Ling) help with obesity?

Because it is a key herb in Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern 'Damp-Phlegm' (a pattern with obesity as a symptom)

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

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 Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with obesity?

Because it is a key herb in Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern 'Damp-Phlegm' (a pattern with obesity as a symptom)

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

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 Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang) help with obesity?

Because it is a key herb in Er Chen Tang, a herbal formula indicated to treat the pattern 'Damp-Phlegm' (a pattern with obesity as a symptom)

Fresh Ginger is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold. Warms and circulates Qi in the Middle Burner. Calms a restless fetus and treats morning sickness. Treats seafood poisoning.

Read more about Fresh Ginger here