Treating Depression with Chinese Herbs

Summary: Depression is a mood disorder, which is also known as clinical depression or major depressive disorder. It produces a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It can affect how you feel or behave in a certain situation. Further, it creates a feeling that life is not worth living. To make it complicated, it is difficult to come out of depression. However, do not get discouraged, there are holistic ways to make your body produce more happy hormones: serotonin, GABA, and dopamine to make us happy and healthy.

Symptoms of Clinical Depression

Typically, if you have depression, you may experience multiple episodes of depression. During these episodes, symptoms happen almost all day and nearly every day. The major symptoms include the feeling of sadness, tearfulness, worthlessness, troubled thinking, and hopelessness. Outbursts of anger, irritability, and frustration can happen over even small matters. You may feel that you have lost interest or pleasure in normal daily activities, including sex, sports, or hobbies. Sleep disturbances, insomnia, or too much sleeping are also common. Some experience reduced appetite and weight loss, while some will have increased cravings for junk food resulting in weight gain. Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal temptations, unexplained physical problems, etc., can be common. The problems can affect day-to-day activities and relationships with others. According to recent studies in Pharmacological research 2019, 20% of the population worldwide has developed depression even though we have so many medications to treat depression.

Causes of Depression

There is no single cause for depression and many factors can result in increased risk for a person to get into depression. Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse makes you more vulnerable to depression in your later life. The chance of depression is higher as one gets older and factors like loneliness and lack of social support can contribute to chronic depression. Certain medications like corticosteroids can induce depression. Specific situations like conflicts, death or a loss, serious illnesses, insomnia, surgery, etc., may pose as risk factors. It is observed that a family history of depression or being female can increase the risk of depression. In conclusion, any life event, which leads to a chemical imbalance and depletes your relaxing hormones such as serotonin, dopamine, and endorphin can lead to depression and anxiety. In this electronic world, depression has three major characters: high prevalence, high recurrence, and high disability. Even in China, from 1990 to 2017, the depression rate jumped 24.7%.

The Mechanism of Depression:

1. Imbalance of the immune system leads to inflammation of neurons. The nervous system becomes hyper or hypoactive, which is associated with anxiety and depression.
2. Dysfunction of your hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal gland (stress coping system). Long-term chronic stress or severe trauma, such as a car accident can lead to the dysfunction of the stress coping system.
3. Insomnia can lead to an imbalance of your nervous system, which will be in fight or flight condition constantly. If nurses work in ER for more than 5 years, they are very likely to develop depression. If you do not sleep well or sleep at the right time, you will not be happy.
4. Leaky Gut can lead to malabsorption of vitamins and minerals, which can influence your nervous and immune system function.
5. Insufficient production of serotonin, GABA, and dopamine due to sedentary life and poor circulation. Physical exercises for 20 min will help people produce more endorphin and serotonin.

Why can Chinese Herbs help depression?

The ancient healing system of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is a holistic medicine that focuses on the integrity of your body and environmental effects to maintain the balance of your body. As per TCM, depression results from a deficiency and blockage of vital energy. This defect can be caused by the dysfunction of several physiological systems of the body and its elements. The healing principle focuses on strengthening the vital energy, facilitating the energy flow, correcting imbalances of other physiologic systems, and removal of dampness and phlegm. Herbs for depression are very safe and are targeting your digestive system, nervous system, and immune system.

Research Evidence

An article published in Pharmacological Research 2019 explains how individual ingredients such as Saponins, flavonoids, Alkalods, L-theanine, Quercetin, and Resveratrol in the plants can help cope with depression by reducing stress. Dr. Xing, Hang et al. did interesting research on a simple formula called Zhi Zi Hou Pu Tang, which contains three herbs: Zhi Zi (Gardeniae), Hou Pu (Magnokiae Officinalis), Zhi Shi (bitter orange). Researchers created a rat model with chronic unpredictable mild stress. Bodyweight, sucrose intake, forced swimming test, serotonin, dopamine, and tryptophan were measured after the rats experienced the stress for a short period of time. Comparing the group with depression, the rats, which were given the Chinese herbal formula, had decreased immobility during the forced swimming test, increased sucrose intake and body weight. Furthermore, a stress-induced decrease of newborn immature and mature neurons in the memory center Hippocampus was improved after taking the herbal formula for a few weeks. When people are depressed, they do not have the motivation to do anything, which makes their depression even worse. Herbs and acupuncture can help break the vicious cycle and reset the balance of neurotransmitter.

In another study published in Frontiers In Pharmacology 2021, Dr. Bai, Yongtao et al. used a new research technique called network pharmacology to detect the same formula which has multi-component and multi-targeting. The result is very encouraging, there are 31 active compounds in the alcohol extracts of this small formula, which showed an antioxidative, antitumor, and antidepressant effect. Those compounds not only can increase serotonin, dopamine in medium and high dosage, but also can turn on the good gene to fight the depression and increase the production of the brain deprived nerve growth factor (BDNF). This helps the regeneration of nerves even in the central nervous system of rats with depression induced by the injection of chemicals.

Combining medication and Chinese herbs, people with chronic depression can balance their neurotransmitters in their brain and lower the dosage of their medications. In some cases, they may stop the medications with good sleep, better digestion, and regular cardiovascular exercises.