Depression and Traditional Chinese Medicine

In Western medicine, depression is a symptom that there is an abnormal chemistry in the brain so physicians prescribe pharmaceutical drugs to correct the brain’s chemistry and create a sense of normalcy. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, however, depression is not viewed as a mental problem per se but more of a problem in the chest area.

Certain emotions related to loss or grief, repressed feelings, and stressful circumstances cause tightness in the chest that restricts the flow of Qi and vital fluids to the organs such as the Heart and Liver. So, what TCM refers to as Liver Qi Stagnation is identified as depression in Western medicine. When chest energy is constrained and pent up, it leads to an agitated feeling (Heat in the Heart).

The chest Qi must be moved in order to relieve stagnation of Liver Qi, which manifests as feelings of anxiety. Physically releasing Qi from the chest offers relief and this happens when a person laughs or cries. In the same way, many people report that they feel better after performing upper body exercises such as push-ups or boxing. Breathing exercises and yoga are also known to have similar calming effects.

Chinese herbal medicine is another approach used by TCM practitioners to relieve depression. Naturally, the herbs used are those that will stimulate the release of the Chest Qi such as bupleurum (chai hu). Herbs are combined to enhance their effects. For instance, the combination of bupleurum with mint is one of the best known herbal formulations to ease depression.

Herbs that nourish the heart such as mimosa bark (he huan pi) are also used as well as substances that are said to effectively calm the spirit such as amber and oyster shell. Chinese herbal medicines are very safe and their effects can be felt within a few weeks or even days of taking them. Other TCM approaches that are used to relieve depression are acupressure and acupuncture, which both work to release blocked Qi.

Most people who try Traditional Chinese Medicine to alleviate depression are those who’ve seen disappointing results from anti-depressant drugs or experienced adverse side effects. The TCM approach is also a great alternative to a lifetime of taking drugs. More importantly, TCM doesn’t just deal with specific symptoms of depression but aims to improve the overall quality of life.

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