Depression and The Chinese Herbal Formula: Xiao Yao San

Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed for a period of two weeks or more. It may lead to emotional and physical disharmonies and can decrease a person’s ability to function with everyday work.  

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include the following:

  • Feeling sad or low mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

In Chinese Medicine depression refers to any obstruction resulting from stagnation. Emotional stress such as frustration and anger may cause the liver (qi) energy to stagnate. This stagnation may remain dormant internally and after a long period of time may turn into heat.  Initially symptoms may show as an excessive pattern however, over time they turn into more deficient symptoms. The digestive systems functioning may be inhibited such as loss of appetite, which may result in lack of nourishment to other parts of the body causing further symptoms to arise. Xiao Yao San herbal formula releases constraint and encourages the free flow of liver energy allowing for open-mindedness and a free spirit to develop.

Many clinical studies and randomized clinical research studies are reporting the effectiveness of Xiao Yao San in the treatment of mental and emotional health. In the research article entitled Chinese Herbal Formula Xiao Yao San for Treatment of Depression: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials, researchers found that Xiao Yao San can be effective in the treatment of depression with less adverse effects compared to different categories of antidepressants such as Amitriptyline, Venlafaxine and Fluoxetine.

The combination of Xiao Yao San and antidepressants may have shorter onset time compared to using antidepressants alone. The mechanism may be due to the regulation of serotonin, cortisol, brain derived neurotropic factor and interleukin levels. Biochemically Xiao Yao San reversed CIS induced decreases in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and increases in tyroxine hydroxylase (TrkB), and neurotrophin 3 (NT-3) in the frontal cortex, and the hippocampal CA subregion1.  Xiao Yao San herbal formula prevents the decrease of BDNF which is a useful marker for clinical response or improvement of depressive symptoms.


If you are interested Chinese herbal formulas for balancing of mental and emotional health, you can book a free 15 minute consult by calling 604-873-9355 or sending an email to




  1. Zhang Y, Han M, Liu Z, Wang J, Qingyong H, Liu J. Chinese Herbal Formula Xiao Yao San for Treatment of    Depression: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials.


  1. Li YJ, Luo HC, Qian RQ. Effect of Danzhi Xiaoyao powder on neuro-immuno-endocrine system in patients with depression. Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine

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