Depression Medicine

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What “depression medicine” does Traditional Chinese Medicine use?

Patients suffering from emotionalproblems such as low moods, persistent tearfulness, low energy and motivation,  alternately low and angry moods, etc, can be treated using many methods according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Traditional Chinese Medicine sometimes uses herbs

Traditional Chinese Medicine sometimes uses herbs

TCM sessions could include acupuncture, herbal prescriptions made from many individual Chinese herbs, Qi Gong exercise, dietary advice and possibly Tui Na (TCM) massage. Practitioners may often combine these therapies to enhance results.

What is different about the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach?
The first thing to note is that Traditional Chinese Medicine theory characterises  emotional well-being or somewhat differently to conventional modern medicine. The term “depression” is used as a diagnosis in Western Medicine, but in TCM there is no such single, simple diagnostic term. Generally speaking TCM characterises illnesses according to common collections of symptoms, bodily and/ or emotional signs known as ‘TCM syndromes’ rather than the modern conventional medicine approach of naming each disease individually. (1)

Diet and lifestyle can be important to help patients in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Diet and lifestyle can be important to help patients in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Within the TCM tradition, emotional well-being is influenced by many many factors. The diet, lifestyle, other illnesses and life events can all contribute. In health, the patient’s Qi is said to flow smoothly, in a consistent, ordered fashion, through day and night.

Its also important to know Traditional Chinese Medicine ‘thinks’ in terms of interconnections, rather than the more recently introduced separated ‘anatomical systemic’ approach of modern medicine. Within TCM, there is a strong concept of unity, inseparability between the mind and the body. This does make sense even to modern medicine practitioners in some cases – for example, modern medicine may associate long term pain conditions such as “severe arthritis” with depression, which in TCM would be described in terms of Qi impeded from smoothly flowing, which would also influence any emotional distress.

Notes
1.Patients may hear the TCM approach called ‘Syndrome Differentiation’ by practitioners or in educational materials.

Meal photo credit: http://www.sxc.hu/profile/ilco

DISCLAIMER: NO information here is intended to be taken as medical advice – or used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Any person with any health concerns is advised instead to consult their doctor. In the case of persons seeking therapy using Traditional Chinese Medicine, this information cannot be taken as medical advice and persons are advised instead to consult a suitably qualified professional practitioner.

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a comprehensive system of medicine used in the West mainly for treatment of ‘chronic’ conditions. That is to say, of course, in an emergency, patients would call a regular ambulance but for a long standing knee problem, for example, they may well choose TCM. It uses many different treatment methods: acupuncture, herbal medicine, tui na massage, cupping, moxibustion, dietary therapy and Qi Gong. True TCM uses no modern pharmaceutical drugs and can be used alongside modern conventional medicine with a good practitioner aware of the situation. Properly trained practitioners can make a TCM diagnosis and offer TCM  for a variety of conditions. It is popularly offered for patients with gastro-intestinal problems, skin disorders, musculo-skeletal and neurological problems, gynaecological problems, male and female infertility, headaches, insomnia, stress, addictions and poor emotional states.

TCM theory is complex but a simple crystallization could be illness and/or ill-ease result from disordered Qi. TCM seeks to rebalance the disordered Qi. Qi is the ‘vital energy’, ‘motive force’ responsible for all the functioning of the body and mind. Modern theories have suggested Qi is energy of “both nutritive and cellular-organisational characteristics” (1).

The famous Yin Yang symbol denotes different types of Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine

The famous Yin Yang symbol denotes different types of Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Brief History
TCM classical medical texts date back to approximately the 2nd century, detailing diagnosis and treatment of disease and the system has been in use ever since. In 1949, the Chinese government declared it part of the national healthcare strategy. The practice became standardised through the opening of large TCM medical universities during the 1950s. Today TCM accounts for a third of all of all outpatient hospital visits in China, some 1.3 billion per year. 49.7% of doctors in health care clinics practice TCM, with 32.3% practising both orthodox medicine and TCM (2). In China, TCM students train as part of hospital teams and are refered to as TCM doctors once qualfiied, typically traiing for a minum of 5 to 7 years.

acupuncture_points

Charts of acupuncture points

In the West, although TCM had been practiced previously, interest truly flourished in the 1970’s, due to the enthusiasm of the American President Richard Nixon. A programme encouraged China’s TCM doctors to share their knowledge with their American counterparts. TCM has become increasingly established in Western cultures and is taught as an undergraduate medicine degree in some British universities. Training at university level in the UK typicaly lasts 3 to 4 years at undergraduate level and 1 to 2 yeras at masters level, with a further 1 to 2 years for doctorate level studies.  The World Health Organisation recognises TCM acupuncture for treatment of many diseases and many UK GPs now refer patients routinely to TCM practitioners (3).

Photo credits: Yin yang http://www.sxc.hu/profile/personalfx

References:
1. Gerber, R. (2001). Vibrational  Medicine. Vermont: Bear & Co.
2. Xu, J. & Yang, Y. (2009). ‘Traditional Chinese medicine in the Chinese health care system’. Health Policy. 90, p.133-139.
3. Technology Assessment Collaboration (WMHTAC). (2006). ‘Acupuncture. Mapping the evidence base and use of acupuncture. within the NHS’. [online] Available from: www.euro.who.int/HEN/HTResults?language=English&HTParentPage=47541&HTCode=acupuncture

DISCLAIMER: NO information here is intended to be taken as medical advice – or used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Any person with any health concerns is advised instead to consult their doctor. In the case of persons seeking therapy using Traditional Chinese Medicine, this information cannot be taken as medical advice and persons are advised instead to consult a suitably qualified professional practitioner.

Which Acupuncture Points Are For Depression?

Chart of acupuncture points from China

Chart of acupuncture points from China

Patients and healthcare workers who are more familiar withconventional modern  medicine sometimes ask “What are the acupuncture points for depression?”, imagining perhaps that there are a ‘family’ of points in the same way there are ‘families’ of modern anti-depressant drugs.  In typical Traditional Chinese Medicine  style, it depends on the syndrome. There isn’t a simple neat list of acupuncture points that are used every time, for everyone. This reflects the link between body and mind. Patients may have a variety of physical symptoms accompanying their emotional difficulties. Some may be what is sometimes described as  ‘sub-clinical’ symptoms within modern medicine, for example, clear urine but no significant abnormal results from urine tests. Having said this, there are common patterns seen in patients suffering from low moods, involving disruption to the Qi flowing in the  Shaoyin, Jueyin or Taiyin channels. Or perhaps more than one of those channels is affected. So some points are commonly used – tai chong, for example, might be chosen on the Jueyin channel; sanyinjiao on the Tainyin channel,  or shenmen to regulate the Shaoyin channel and so on.  But the key to which points are used is always the predominant TCM syndrome.  Ear Acupuncture is a further therapy used as an indivual treatment in the West, or it can be integrated with the treatments outlined above. Its useful to remeber if you hear or see discussions about acupucnture or TCM,  the terminology used does not mean the same thing in modern conventional medicine. So a problem with the ‘Kidney’ in TCM could refer to the Qi (energy) of the channel just as much as the Qi of organ itself – whereas in modern medicine it would mean there was something wrong with the physical tangible kidney. Not neccessarily so in TCM – and in any case, if you ever suspect there is a problem with a physical organ in modern medical terms, remember TCM practitioners cannot see inside the body, but if you see your conventional medicine practitioner they can often use modern technology to assess the interior.

Herbs can be made into decoctions, literally meaning 'soups' or 'teas'

Herbs can be made into decoctions, literally meaning 'soups' or 'teas'

Which Chinese Herbs are used ?
Similarly, there aren’t so much a list of one-at-a-time ‘anti-depressant herbs” as such, whereas  a conventional doctor might choose to prescribe one anti-depressant pill. Instead herbal formula are composed of many herbs and taken either as herbal pills/capsules, powders to make into drinkable mixtures or traditional decoctions (soups). All formulas are again understood in terms of the clinical patterns they treat.  And since many patients with ‘depression’ could have different TCM patterns, it would be difficult to use a single ‘one-size-fits-all’ herbal prescription to use for every single patient every single time.

This may seem confusing, as in many countries, TCM herbal products are often advertised and sold as pills, seemingly a sort of Chinese-style over the counter remedy. However, in a TCM clinic practice, the practitioner selling the pills will have diagnosed the TCM pattern before prescribing the pills. Traditionally, herbs were often boiled to make a liquid in which (the modern pharmacy studies would state) the active chemical compounds within the herbs become more bio-available. Since this is time consuming and can create strong odours, pills and herbal powders are popular. Powdered herbs are generally simply stirred into hot water (although it is important to always ask exactly how to take them).

What is Qi Gong?
Qi Gong is gentle exercise routinely used in China as part of  medical treatment for hundreds of conditions. It is possibly best known in the West by patients wishing to lift low energy states such as fatigue.

Phot credit: herbs http://www.sxc.hu/profile/whizzy

DISCLAIMER: No information here is intended to be taken as medical advice – or used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Any person with any health concerns is advised instead to consult their doctor. In the case of persons seeking therapy using Traditional Chinese Medicine, this information cannot be taken as medical advice and persons are advised instead to consult a suitably qualified practitioner.