Can Chinese medicine help with depression, anxiety, insomnia and other mental health issues?
Updated: May 11
> Chinese medicine recognizes depression, anxiety and other mental disorders as physical conditions of excess, depletion, deficiency or stagnation.
>According to Chinese medicine, depletion of any of the five precious substances of Qi, Xue, Yin, Jing or Shen can cause various mental ills.
>Imbalance in any of the five major organs of Chinese medicine Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lungs or Kidneys can cause the associated emotions to dominate.
>Skillfully administered Chinese medicine treatments of acupuncture, herbs, diet and/or exercise have different impacts and significance for various mental complaints.
>If paired with psychotherapy, Chinese medicine treatment can greatly reduce the suffering of a patient.
I often wonder, how much more effective would counselling be if paired with Chinese herbal therapy, dietary changes, supplementation and acupuncture?
I think the universal average would be 50%, meaning that in some cases this would be up to 80% and in others 20%. There would be cases where Chinese medicine protocol would solve all the problems, and there would be others where it wouldn't make much difference at all.
Substance depletion is where Chinese medicine excels.
Generally speaking most mental disorders are depletion-based. What that means is that one or more of the precious substances of Qi, Xue, Yin, Jing and Shen gets depleted and fails to perform its assigned functions, causing the creation of unpleasant emotions, blockages or outbursts. The concept of substances is unique to Chinese medicine and enables it to precisely address many other current health problems which arise from their lack, and makes it that much more valuable compared to western medicine in treating chronic illness. On the other hand, Chinese medicine is helpless when it comes to acute conditions like physical trauma or need for surgery, in which western medicine excels.
The five precious substances in Chinese medicine.
Let's have a look now at Chinese medicine's list of 5 precious substances in human body:
Qi - in the Chinese medicine context of substances and for the purpose of this article I will define Qi simply as energy or strength of function. For example if Spleen Qi is deficient this means that the organ is weakened and not able to perform its function of transforming food and drink.
Xue - often mistranslated as blood only, includes also other fluids of the body like bile, lymph or intercellular fluid. In CM, when we say Xue is depleted, we mean that either the volume or quality of it is insufficient and therefore unable to properly nourish, lubricate or cool down bodily tissues.
Yin - refers simply to organic, physical structures of the body as in the tissue of the organs, bones, ligaments etc., but also fluids which are called thin Yin. Therefore Xue is also part of the Yin reservoir. When we say Liver Yin is depleted we refer to the actual physical structure being damaged, which occurs as a consequence of poor nourishment by Xue over an extended period of time.
Jing - is also called the Kidneys' essence. This is our reserve for this lifetime, inherited from our parents and whose level cannot be replenished but is easily depleted by poor lifestyle choices like: extreme sports, poor diet, lack of sleep, chronic stress, too much sex (in men), use of drugs and alcohol, exhaustive, continuous physical or intellectual work etc. The level of Jing defines our health constitution and longevity potential. It is believed to be the most valuable substance by many, as in times of crisis it can be transformed into any of the other four (Qi, Xue, Yin, Shen). Depleted Jing manifests as premature aging, greying of hair, weak bones and teeth, mental confusion, lack of concentration, dementia or impotency.
Shen - loosely translated as spirit, is the most elusive of all and refers to the psycho-emotional state of an individual. When Shen is deficient, one is depressed, has not much will to live or face challenges. On the other hand, when Shen is strong, a person can overcome many limitations like severe illness, life obstacles or a poor physical constitution. Chinese medicine has a lot to offer in the way of nourishing depleted Shen, which makes it that much easier to diagnose and treat mental problems.
The five major organs in Chinese medicine and their associated emotions.
Now, before we jump into a list of mental disorders we still have to look at CM's concept of 5 major organs and the emotions associated with each one to fully understand the point of this article.
Liver - emotion Anger - depletion of Xue or Yin of Liver will cause anger issues causing fits of rage, envy, grudges and resentment but also insomnia and impatience.
Heart - emotion Joy - as in excessive joy, over-excitement and also agitation. Depletion in this department could cause restlessness, problems sleeping, anxiety, inability to feel joy and love, panic attacks and/or sadness.
Spleen - emotion Worry - but also overthinking and overanalysing. Depletion in this element coupled with Lung depletion is the main organic frame for depression.
Lungs - emotion Sadness - but also pensiveness and grief. Depletion of Lungs will manifest as a tendency towards sadness and depression
Kidneys - emotion Fear - but also fright, stress and anxiety will be generated if Kidneys are depleted.
It also needs to be noted that the above associations work both ways eg. a depleted Liver will cause a short temper and anger, and excessive anger will damage the Liver.