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These Herbal Formulas and Ingredients Can Help Improve Your Mental Health

Anxiety and depression share the same attribute – genetics. Try herbal remedies as they have a modulating effect on symptoms of these mental health conditions.

Woman sitting next to her bed with her face in her hands

Anxiety and depression are two of the most notable mental health disorders. While the conditions affect people differently, it can disrupt their ability to function daily.  

The National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019 shows that depression affects 2.3% or approximately half a million Malaysian adults. In addition, a whopping 424,000 Malaysian children have also been diagnosed with a mental health condition.  

Clinical modalities can help a person to maintain better control over their symptoms. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) may address body constitution imbalances that provoke the onset of anxiety or depression. 

Read on to learn about these disorders and the supportive role TCM plays in improving mental health, helping people live their best life. 

How Do Anxiety Disorders Transpire?

Man eating a bowl of noodles in a spicy broth
Regular consumption of stimulating foods may contribute to anxiety onset. 

Anxiety disorders are especially common and affect more men than women. A person may develop anxiety if: 

  • They’re shy or tend to avoid unfamiliar people, places or environments 
  • They’ve previously experienced a traumatic or stressful event during early childhood or adulthood 
  • There’s a family history of anxiety or other mental health conditions 
  • They’ve been diagnosed with thyroid gland disorders or heart arrhythmias 

TCM relates anxiety onset to body constitution imbalances.

Staying up late, unhealthy eating, and a frequent consumption of fried, pungent or spicy food will disrupt the yinyang (passive energy-active energy) balance. It can also cause Qi (vital life force) Stagnation, Blood Stasis, and Deficiencies, which can contribute to anxiety,” explains Eu Yan Sang TCM Physician Ignatius Ooi Yong Chin.

Factors Associated with Depression Onset 

Like anxiety, depression is common and may affect anyone. However, certain factors may put a person at a slightly higher risk of the condition. These include: 

  • Genetics 
  • Pessimism 
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Being easily overwhelmed by stress 
  • Continuous exposure to abuse, neglect, violence, and poverty 
  • Depletion of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine in the central nervous system 

In TCM, Qi Stagnation is believed to be the culprit behind the onset of depression. It starts in the Liver, but can also affect the Heart, Spleen, and Kidneys. Liver Qi Stagnation will impair the Spleen’s ability to absorb, process, and distribute nutrients to all parts of the body.

Consequently, the Heart will be malnourished. Imbalances of yinyangqi, and blood in the organ systems will also occur, causing depression.

Herbs That Address the Symptoms and Effects of Anxiety 

Anxiety impairs a person’s cognitive abilities – thinking, problem-solving, decision-making – and induces brain fog. Fun fact: Brain fog is also a symptom of long COVID

Real Health Medical’s Senior Physician Brandon Yew attributes brain fog onset to internal imbalances.

“Poor blood and qi circulation can lead to the accumulation and formation of pathogens like phlegm, Dampness, Qi Stagnation, and Blood Stasis within the meridian channels. As a result, nutrient distribution to the orifices of the brain and head may be impeded.” 

To calm an anxious mind and remedy symptoms of the condition, a person may choose to use herbs like: 

  • Ashwagandha: Helps anxiety by lowering cortisol levels. It’s generally available as an extract or capsule, or in powder form.  
  • Lily bulbs (bai he, 百合): Calms the Spirit and lessens irritability. It may be used alongside longan fruit (gui yuan, 桂圆) to suppress mild anxiety. Combining the herb with lotus seeds (lian zi, 莲子), Glehnia roots (bei sha shen, 北沙参), jujube seeds (suan zao ren, 酸枣仁), biota seeds (bai zi ren, 柏子仁), and poria mushroom (fu ling, 茯苓) benefits people who have a combination of anxiety, excitement, and fear. 
  • Kava: Contains a component called kavalactones, which has demonstrated the ability to treat generalised anxiety across multiple trials. The component increases the availability of dopamine in the brain and brain sensitivity to a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It also reduces noradrenaline levels in a person’s body. Subsequently, these changes encourage relaxation and well-being. 

Herbal formulas can be used to tackle these imbalances. Examples of these are:  

  • Di Tan Tang (涤痰汤)
  • Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang (补中益气汤) 
  • Er Long Zuo Ci Wan (耳聋左慈丸) 
  • Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang (羌活胜湿汤) 
  • Tong Qiao Huo Xue Tang (通窍活血汤) 
  • Yi Qi Cong Ming Tang (益气聪明汤) 

Cordyceps (dong chong xia cao, 冬虫夏草) may also help with brain fog by enhancing brain function. 

Herbs That Address the Symptoms and Effects of Depression

Chaga mushrooms on the bark of a tree
Chaga mushrooms are useful in relieving depression.

Depression can blunt a person’s memory, focus, cognitive flexibility, and executive functioning. Cognitive flexibility describes the ability to adapt goals and strategies to situational changes. Executive functioning refers to taking the steps to accomplish a specific goal. 

The antioxidant, anti-neuroinflammatory, and neuroprotective properties of medicinal mushrooms can be useful in managing the condition. A few mushrooms that can be considered include: 

  • Chaga: Depression is linked to chronic inflammation. Studies show that the mushroom’s extract can avert the production of cytokines, a type of inflammatory protein. Thus, chaga mushrooms may help alleviate a mental health condition. 
  • Cordyceps: TCM believes that cordyceps can benefit the Kidney and Lung organ systems. As depression correlates to the Kidneys, consumption of the fungi can keep symptoms of the condition at bay.  
  • Lingzhi: Contains a compound called triterpene. Animal studies have found that the compound can ease depression and symptoms of anxiety and promote good sleep. TCM practitioners often prescribe the mushroom to invigorate qi and induce a calming effect on the mind. 

Herbal ingredients can reduce fatigue and increase energy and concentration by improving a person’s body constitution. Astragalus (huang qi, 黄芪), for example, can boost qi, nourish blood, and strengthen the Spleen. Ginseng (ren shen, 人参) too, has a fortifying effect on qi.  

Traditional remedies can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health. However, it’s advisable to first seek consultation with a TCM practitioner. Doing so ensures you reap maximum benefits from herbal medicine and avoids potential contraindications.

References

  1. Ministry of Health Malaysia. 2019. National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019. [online] [Accessed 12 September 2022] 
  2. Cleveland Clinic. Anxiety Disorders. [online] [Accessed 12 September 2022] 
  3. All Things Health. 2022. 5 Herbs That Can Help You Manage Anxiety Disorders. [online] [Accessed 12 September 2022]
  4. All Things Health. 2022. Genius Tips For How To Improve Focus. [online] [Accessed 12 September 2022]
  5. American Psychiatric Association. What is Depression? [online] [Accessed 12 September 2022] 
  6. All Things Health. 2022. Discover 6 Medicinal Mushrooms for Depression. [online] [Accessed 12 September 2022]
  7. 2021. Ashwagandha for anxiety: is it proven to help? [online] [Accessed 12 September 2022] 
  8. ResearchGate. 2019. Lily bulbs (Bai He), A super food and A herbal remedy. [online] [Accessed 12 September 2022]
  9. Alcohol and Drug Foundation. 2018. Therapeutic potential of Kava as a treatment for generalised anxiety disorder. [online] [Accessed 12 September 2022]
  10. All Things Health. Bash Brain Fog And Improve Memory With These Easy Tips. [online] [Accessed 12 September 2022]

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