My Personal Journey of Healing

Julia Chang, MSc

7. Chinese medicine's view of Depression and Insomnia


Depression, a common symptom of stress, is an indication of blocked liver energy according to Chinese medicine.  Some prescription drugs such as tranquilizers, sleeping pills, and anti-histamines are known to possibly cause depression because these medications weaken the liver.  A Chinese herb, Curcuma (Yu-Jin), is helpful for depression because it unblocks liver energy.  As a matter of fact, Yu-Jin means “gold for depression” in Chinese.  Curcuma is also helpful in stimulating energy circulation and resolving blood clots or bruises.  Curcuma works better when it is taken in conjunction with Chinese Bitters to decongest the liver.

Depression is also common among individuals who have their gallbladders removed or whose gallbladders are loaded with stones. When the gallbladder is loaded with stones, there is limited space or even no space left for bile storage.  The bile that is produced in the liver ends up getting congested in the liver causing energy blockage.  Anyone without a gallbladder is in the same situation. Bile is forced to stay and become congested in the liver leading to depression.

A good example of how depression can be caused and cured would be a 31-year old man who suffered from depression for years.  He took a lot of antibiotics as a child for his tonsillitis (most medications, including antibiotics, tend to weaken the liver).  By the time he was in school he was hyperactive and was prescribed Ritalin.  At age 25, he became very depressed and was on various anti-depressant medications for 5 years, to no avail.  At 31, he started with Chinese Bitters and Curcuma first.  When he experienced significant relief in his symptoms in only a few weeks, he decided to do the complete program of liver and gallbladder cleansing.  His depression never returned after he cleansed his liver and gallbladder.

There was also a case of a 62 year old woman.  She woke up one morning feeling very depressed.  She tried Y-Dan exercises and her depression went away.  I explained to her that her depression must have been caused by her “blocked liver energy” (to use the Chinese medicine terminology) due to blood retention in her liver.  Y-Dan exercises helped her to clear this congestion, improve her general blood circulation, and unblock her liver energy.

According to Chinese medicine, the liver works hard at night to filter the blood.  A substantial amount of blood may be retained in the liver upon waking in the morning if the liver is sluggish. Therefore, morning exercises will help get this blood moving and “activate” the liver.  It does not have to be any particular kind of exercise, so long as it involves a lot of deep breathing and stretching.  Y-Dan is an example of a low-impact morning exercise that meets these criteria.


I always needed a lot of sleep from the days of my teenage years although I had no problem falling asleep in those days.  I had too much sleep but I never felt refreshed.  Looking back, I realize that too much sleep and yet never being able to feel refreshed is an early sign of liver and spleen weakness.  As the years went by, in my late 30's, I had problems falling asleep and would wake up several times every night.  I was told that was part of the aging process.

According to Chinese medicine chronic sleep disorders are usually caused by “Yin-Yang” imbalance resulting from a weak liver, spleen, heart or kidneys.  Since these organs affect one another, they all have to be taken care of, especially the heart and the liver.  According to Chinese medicine, the liver filters all our blood through the night, especially between 1-3 am.  A weak or congested liver means that it has to struggle through the night. Poor quality sleep or even insomnia may result in more severe cases.

With my organs healthier, they are more in harmony.  I sleep well now and rarely have to get up at night even though I am over 60. Best of all I feel refreshed in the morning.  For people with sleep problems, taking the Chinese herbal tinctures Chinese Bitters in the morning and Coptis at night has been found to be very helpful in improving the quality of sleep.  For some people, taking Curcuma at night instead of Coptis may be more effective.

A 57-year old man came to see me a few years ago with sleep problem.  He took painkillers regularly for 6 years for his pain after a car accident.  He woke up every morning at around 2 am.  He had no more problem sleeping after cleansing and detoxifying his liver with Chinese Bitters and Coptis in addition to daily morning exercise.

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Disclaimer: The information found on this website is for educational purposes only and is not intended as diagnosis, treatment, or prescription. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, and should not be used to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting with a qualified medical practitioner. Prime Health Products will not be held liable for the use or misuse of herbal remedies.

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