Depressive disorders affect approximately 18.8 million American adults.  That’s about 9.5% of the U.S. population ages 18+.   Diagnoses included in these National Institute of Mental Health statistics include major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder.   Major depression is one of the top causes of disability in developed countries and is projected to become the second leading cause of disability worldwide by 2020.


Symptoms of depression vary.  Normal to mild depression is often healthy, because it provides you with the impetus to make changes to improve a situation that may seem unbearable.  These “blues” are a reaction to stressors like loss or change.  Feelings of doom, despair, and hopelessness paired with crying for no apparent reason, loss of appetite, loss of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, fatigue, insomnia, and difficulty concentrating are signs of a deeper depressive mood disorder.  Thoughts of suicide may also occur.  Bipolar disorder is marked by periods of mania, or intense excitement and energy that can cause a loss of sleep for days, alternating with debilitating depressive periods.  Psychotic depression is severe with symptoms including hallucinations and delusions.  People who have depression with psychotic features may hear voices or think that lyrics/persons speaking on the radio are directing messages specifically to them.

Common Treatments

Antidepressant pharmaceuticals are currently the automatic treatment plan in most of these cases, due to the cost-cutting prerogatives of many doctor’s offices and health insurance companies.  Only 30% of people on antidepressants report that they work, which is less well than placebo tests.  Effects of the most commonly prescribed and least damaging antidepressant SSRIs (e.g. Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft) include:  sexual difficulties, weight gain, sleepiness, interaction with other drugs, and hypotension.

Another popular treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, which emphasizes patient education and training through a rewards system.  CBT appeals, because it takes place in a limited time frame.  However, this approach ignores the patient’s underlying causes of depression, and has an 80% relapse rate in the long term.

In recent years, the concept of the mind-body connection has become more accepted and the focus of research has shifted in that direction.  For centuries Classical Chinese Medicine has considered emotional health’s link to the physical body and vice-versa established empirical knowledge.  Looking, listening, smelling, asking, and palpitating are the techniques CCM practitioners apply to all illnesses whether they present somatically or emotionally.  Treatment aims to heal both sides of the human condition as well.

Classical Chinese Medicine’s Take on Depression

According to CCM, the following seven emotions capture the range of human experience.  They are normal reactions to the variety and “spice of life.”  However, when any of the emotions come on suddenly/intensely or are too long lasting there are pathological consequences.  Qi is immediately disturbed.  Disease caused by the emotions arises from the interior of the body and symptoms come on more quickly than disease that enters the body from the exterior.    The seven emotions pathogenic features directly impair organ qi and affect the functions of organ qi.  Continued emotional instability has deteriorating effects.



Anger……………………….Liver, Stomach, Spleen

Worry……………………….Lungs, Large Intestine





Depression can be either a primary or a secondary wellness issue.  Primary depression has emotional disturbance as its root cause, while secondary depression usually develops due to preexisting physical disease (ex. chronic pain) or as an effect of medications.  Proper treatment of depression depends on determining the underlying source of disturbance.  Common syndrome patterns include those related to qi deficiency; qi stagnation, blood deficiency, phlegm, and deficiency of both yin and yang.

Herbal Treatments

Herbal supplements can lift depression in conjunction with other therapies, including pharmaceutical agents, while ensuring safety for the patient.  A multi-pronged approach including herbal therapies, counseling, exercise, and others patient-specific modalities are what we seek to provide at Integrative Med Solutions.  Most individuals seeking this sort of regimen are highly motivated to follow through, and limit their dependence on antidepressant drugs.  Read through information about the following formulas to get an idea of how a CCM consultation at IMS might be helpful to you or a love one.

A Popular Polygala Formula for Quieting the Heart—yuan zhi for quieting the heart; he haun and vervian to soothe emotions; gout eng, zhi zi (gardenia), damiana, white peony, dang gui, ban xia, fu ling, and chen xiang resolve dampness, phlegm, and liver qi staganation.

Physical indications that this type of herbal treatment should be applied are insomnia, palpitations, restlessness, slow pulse, and a pale tongue with white or gray coating.

Chai Hu Long Gu Mu Li Tang for the Liver—dragon bone and oystershell help calm the liver; chai hu to invigorate the liver; ginseng, ginger, pinellia, huang qin, cinnamon, rhubarb, and mu xiang balance the effects of the liver calming and liver invigorating herbs

Anger, frustration, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, rapid pulse, and redness around the edges of the tongue are signs that this herbal treatment is applicable to the depression.

Ding Xin Wan Calming Formula—biota for irritability, insomnia, and forgetfulness; enzymes to quench free radicals during stress; magnesium and taurine to calm; fu shen to quiet the spirit; bai shao; tang kuei; polygala; suan zao ren; mai men dong; dang shen; hu po

This calming formula works when there is a heart yin deficiency.  These types of depression are often anxiety-based.   Symptoms include insomnia, fast pulse, and a dry tongue.

Shen Gem for Heart Blood Deficiency—ginseng and astragalus which are among the strongest Chinese herbs for improving the spleen; longan and suan zao ren have calming effects; fu ling, white atractylodes, tang-kuei, salvia, amber, polygala, yuan zhi, ginger, licorice and cardamon treat dampness, stagnation of vital energy, blood stagnation and blood deficiency.

Symptoms indicating heart blood deficiency include pale complexion, difficulty falling asleep, withdrawal, forgetfulness, palpitations, weak pulse and a pale tongue.

Botanical medicine treatments should be given for at least three months, because the emotional imbalances they seek to uproot are long-standing patterns.  It is important to consult with your naturopathic doctor about the timing and frequency of taking botanical supplements for depression, to avoid interactions with pharmaceuticals you may be taking.  It is usually recommended that herbal medicine be taken two housr apart from other prescribed drugs.  If you or someone you know is interested in the long-term and lasting benefits of treating depression at the root of being—vital energy or qi—please contact Int Med Solutions so that you may do so safely and optimally within the outlines of your treatment plan.

Textbook of Natural Medicine by Joseph E. Pizzorno Jr. ND, Michael T. Murray ND
Blaming the Brain: The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health by Elliot Valenstein Ph. D.
“Can Chinese Herbs Help Clients with Depression?” by Andrew Gaeddert, BA, AHG
“Traditional Chinese Medicine and Psychiatric Disorders” by Kathleen Rushall
“The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America” http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml National Institute of Mental Health

2 Responses to “Botanical Medicine for the Treatment of Depression”

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