Depression and its definition in conventional psychiatry:

Mood disorders are classified into several divisions among these is depression that is identified as unipolar depression (depression without a manic phase).


Within the nomenclature of unipolar depression there are 3 different types, with different degrees of severity.

Major Depressive Disorder: is characterized by symptoms of sadness, apathy, irritability, insomnia, irregular appetite or absence, weight loss, fatigue, lack of concentration, feelings of guilt and thoughts of death.

Dysthymic disorder: is characterized by a chronic pattern of milder depression symptoms, with less intensity than in major depressive disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder: It is more common in females and is related to seasonal change, symptoms include low energy, weight gain, and craving for sweets.

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is referred to as an episode of clinical depression that can last for more than 2 weeks without complications from recent grief, substance abuse or other medical conditions.

(MDD) has varying degrees of severity and Traditional Chinese Medicine is appropriate when the severity of the symptoms is moderate or mild. Patients experiencing symptoms such as suicidal thoughts and exhibiting other forms that threaten one’s own physical well-being should be referred to for appropriate care.


Patients suffering from depression should be treated in a holistic manner, that is, due attention should be given to lifestyle, diet, drug use, mental hygiene (healthy attitudes when dealing with life events). Professional counseling is appropriate in such situations, rather than delegating depression to only a biochemical imbalance to be corrected with pharmacological agents.

Episodes of MDD can be exacerbated and potentiated by various medical conditions including diseases of the endocrine system (especially thyroid, and adrenal dysfunction), cancer, infectious diseases (HIV, Hepatitis), strokes, among other pathologies.

Regular use of alcohol or other illicit substances may also promote mood swings, and are considered depressions induced by mood-altering substances.

An accurate diagnosis is imperative for an effective treatment plan, so it is important to identify, treat and eliminate any underlying biological causes.

Conventional treatment:
Several types of drugs belonging to different classes of medications are used to treat depression. There are 3 main types of antidepressant drugs:

• Tricyclic antidepressants
• Serotonergic antidepressants
• And monoamine oxidase inhibitor antidepressants.

Some studies have been done to demonstrate efficacy of conventional pharmacological therapy and show that some indicators such as social and occupational insertion improve. But alongside the beneficial effects that pharmacological therapy can offer, there are also the potential side effects and toxicity that are associated with antidepressant medication.

Depression and Traditional Chinese Medicine:
In Traditional Chinese Medicine depression is a condition characterized by isolation, feeling of emptiness, insomnia, irritability and restlessness.

The causes and mechanisms of depression are associated with liver viscera. Essentially all patients with depression exhibit signs and symptoms of liver deficiency whether or not there are other pathological mechanisms in the expression of the disease.

Main function of the liver is to regulate the Chi in its function of flowing and unloading or releasing itself. Once Chi is blocked or does not flow, the goal of treatment will be to normalize the fluidity of Chi through regaining the liver’s ability to regulate this fluidity necessary for the proper functioning of our body.

Liver deficiency can have many causes. One of the most obvious causes is unfulfilled desires. All desires are a subjective experience of a movement of Chi (energy) toward something we want or distance ourselves from, something we do not want. When such desires are not satisfied the chi of the liver becomes blocked and all its fluid functions cease to function properly causing deficiency in Liver Chi and consequently stagnation.

There are other causes that can induce liver deficiency, such as blood deficiency, inadequate diet, poor exercise, anger and old age, etc.

The Western patient often presents a symptomatological picture with another 2 or 3 patterns of symptoms that involve other organs and excesses such as Heat. In view of the complexity of the expression of symptoms, the treatment should be individualized in order to correct the imbalance more effectively.

Depression Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine:
Acupuncture is an excellent method to make Chi flow in the body, so it is an excellent therapy to use in conjunction with herbal medicine and other possible techniques to help a more effective recovery.

Herbal Medicine play an important role in the treatment of depression to improve vitality and especially in the case of phytochemical support for weaning of conventional drugs.

Important aspects to connsider in herbal treatment:
• Nervous system tonics are the type of plants essential for the treatment of depression, plants such as Hipericum perforatum, Turnera, Scutelaria lateriflora, Schizandra, Bacopa monieri.
• Patients with anxiety should take anxiolytic plants such as valerian, Passiflora incarnata.
• Depressive patients with low vitality may take adaptogenic plants. Ginseng, eleutherococcus may have an antidepressant effect but care should be taken if there are anxiety symptoms and in this case it will be contraindicated.
• Other tonics like Rhodiola, Withania are known for their antidepressant and tonic properties of the nervous system.

Any advice in this article does not replace consultation with a qualified therapist. It is important that there is a complete assessment of the patient due to the inherent complexity of depression. Self medication is not advised.

Article written by Sérgio Caroço, ND, BSc (honors) TCM: Acupuncture.

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