Obesity according to Chinese Medicine

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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 dizziness, overweight and scanty periods in the pattern “Phlegm”. As you will see below, we have in record five 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 five "patterns of disharmony" that can cause obesity

In Chinese Medicine obesity 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.

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

Phlegm

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

Tongue coating: Sticky coating, Thick coating

Tongue shape: Swollen

The concept of Phlegm is much wider and important in Chinese Medicine than in the West. Broadly speaking, Phlegm is a substance produced when the body fails to handle Body Fluids properly.

In addition to obesity, other symptoms associated with Phlegm include dizziness, overweight and scanty periods.

From a Western Medicine standpoint Phlegm is associated with health issues such as Low Breast Milk Supply, Late Menstruation or Scanty Menstruation.

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 Phlegm 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

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

Spleen Qi Sinking

Pulse type(s): Weak (Ruo)

Tongue color: Pale

The causes and symptoms of Spleen Qi Sinking is quite similar to the ones of Spleen Qi Deficiency. It happens more to people who have unhealthy diet and eating habits, emotional stress, damp living environment or these have to stand up long hours.

In addition to obesity, other symptoms associated with Spleen Qi Sinking include overweight, poor appetite and loose stools.

Spleen Qi Sinking is often treated with Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, a herbal formula made of 10 herbs (including Milkvetch Roots - Huang Qi - as a key herb). Bu Zhong Yi Qi 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 of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner)".

Read more about Spleen Qi Sinking here

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

Five herbal formulas that might help with obesity

Wu Ling San

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Key actions: Promotes urination,. Warms the Yang. Strengthens the Spleen. Promotes Qi transformation function. Drains Dampness. Clears edema.

Why might Wu Ling San help with obesity?

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

According to Chinese Medicine, Phlegm can contribute to many health issues, including Scanty Menstruation.

Read more about Wu Ling San 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.

Other symptoms characteristic of Spleen And Lung Qi Deficiency include poor appetite, loose stools and lassitude.

Read more about Si Jun Zi Tang here

Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang

Source date: 1247

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Key actions: Tonifies Qi of the Spleen and Stomach (Middle Burner). Raises the Yang. Detoxifies. Lifts what has sunken.

Why might Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang help with obesity?

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

Other symptoms characteristic of Spleen Qi Sinking include overweight, poor appetite and loose stools.

Read more about Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang here

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.

Other symptoms characteristic of Damp-Phlegm include overweight, fatigue and nausea.

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.

Other symptoms characteristic of Spleen Qi Deficiency include overweight, poor appetite and fatigue.

Read more about Liu Jun Zi Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat obesity

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

Because Poria-Cocos Mushroom is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat obesity as a symptom, like Wu Ling San or Si Jun Zi 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 Liquorice (Gan Cao) help with obesity?

Because Liquorice is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat obesity as a symptom, like Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang or Si Jun Zi Tang 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 Tangerine Peel (Chen Pi) help with obesity?

Because Tangerine Peel is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat obesity as a symptom, like Er Chen Tang or Liu Jun Zi Tang for instance.

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

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 Atractylodes Rhizome (Bai Zhu) help with obesity?

Because Atractylodes Rhizome is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat obesity as a symptom, like Wan Dai 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 Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang) help with obesity?

Because Fresh Ginger is an ingredient in several formulas indicated to treat obesity as a symptom, like Er Chen Tang or Ban Xia Hou Pu Tang for instance.

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

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