Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has been one of the most useful tools I’ve used over the year to manage and gradually improve my insomnia and adrenal fatigue. Below I share some basic introductory concepts (to those who are new to TCM) and my experiences with variety of herbal formulas.
Navigating the basics principles of Qi flow, Yin/Yang, seeing organs and energy systems and understanding their interaction is substantially less complex than navigating the Western medicine with all of its biochemistry of hormones, neurotransmitters, and physicochemical processes that occur within our bodies.
In short, TCM refers to insomnia as ‘shen disturbance;’ gut issues fall under the spleen (energy system comprised of all digestion organs) deficiency; adrenal fatigue is either kidney Yin, Yang or a combo if the two deficiency.
One of the most important things to understand while educating yourself on TCM topics is that Chinese medicine has a different understanding of the bodily organs and assigns to them much broader function than Western anatomy. For example, TCM concept of `kidney is considered to be the home of the `ancestral chi’ (inherent constitution) and the source of yin and yang for the entire body. Also, the TCM ‘kidney’ include the kidney-urinary system, endocrine systems and especially the adrenal glands.
Having a wider understanding of the organ TCM then skillfully uses specific herbal formulas, dietary adjustments and acupuncture to target and ‘tonify’ those organ systems and restore balance.
I made a lot of mistakes while self-educating myself about TCM. When I got tired I paid money to a few consultants but none of them painted the whole picture for me and prescribed incomplete herbal protocols. Most of the formulas made me worse. Only through numerous trial and errors I’ve come to a couple of formulas that seem to work for me.
With deep, chronic deficiencies it becomes very difficult to find the right balance with herbs. It takes a great deal of experimentation and patience.
Below is a list of my experience and review of some of these formulas and single herbs. Please note that the Chinese (pin yin) names are always the same but the English translation can vary from formula to formula and from manufacturer.
He Shou Wu (Prepared To-Fi root) – was probably the first herb I tried. It is one of the most widely used herbs in TCM and is famous for its kidney yin tonifying as well as general anti-aging properties. It helped a lot with those inner chills I had been experimenting at night and lower back pain. It made me more relaxed and better equipped to handle stress but unfortunately it did not help much with insomnia. By that time my condition progressed way beyond kidney yin deficiency (early stage of adrenal fatigue.)
Cordyceps – this wonder mushroom was the next remedy I extensively researched for my condition. Prized for its adaptogenic qualities this is usually a go to herbal supplement with adrenal fatigue. I took it for two good weeks and was very hopeful but eventually I crashed and made things worse. My body was too fragile and not ready to be stimulated in such a way.
Reishi – another ‘wonder’ mushroom in TCM famous for its calming th emind and heart qualities. Chinese call it the spiritual mushroom. I took it for a couple of weeks, felt nice and calm but I it also gave me this strange fatigue and it seemed to make my sleep worse over all. Just did not jive with me.
Astragalus – one of the best qi tonics and initially gave me a slight boost but few days later seemed to make things worse: irregular heart beat, shortness of breath, fatigue, heat at night. My body was not ready for it. I later took other formulas containing astragalus and neither of them worked out for me.
Licorice root – took it as it is suppose to help adrenals but it would give me immediate fatigue. I tried it a few different times to confirm my suspicion and it never failed – it is on my avoid list.
Bupleurum and Peony (Jia Wei Xiao Yao San) – I started taking it at a time when I had very little appetite, insanely fatigued, no taste in food, things felt really stagnating. This formula really got things going for me. Made me calmer (sedated and spaced out); my bowels became regular, appetite slowly returned and I felt various things moving inside of me again. Took it for two months but stopped as I felt it was contributing to these inner chills which were preventing me from falling asleep. Looks like even this formula turned out to be too cooling for my spleen system. I am guessing the culprits are two heat clearing herbs: Gardenia fruit (Zhi Zi) and Moutan Root Bark (Mu Dan Pi).
Bupleurum and Cyperus (Chai Hu Shu Gan San) – another great formula to help liver and digestion. Initially it made me too chilled right during that 10-11pm window and I couldn’t fall asleep but once I removed my amalgam fillings and added zinc into my daily supplement routine my body started responding wonderfully to this formula. Added bonus is that small doses are just as effective, three caps a day spaced out between meal is more than enough.
Codonopsis & Zizyphus (Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan) – one of the most popular formulas for insomnia with adrenal fatigue (kidney yin deficiency) and seemed like it was helpful for second part of the night and was very relaxing but too cold for me – inner chills and overall just feeling cold on this formula alone. I think zizyphus is great but there is something about codonopsis, it always backfires eventually with some heat patterns, fatigue and heart issues.
Codonopsis & Astragalus (Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang) – You can probably guess already – initial boost and then crash boom bang. First day nothing, second day more energy and more perky but then third day bad fatigue in the legs, irregular heart beat. Had to stop.
Codonopsis and Longan – another popular formula for spleen deficiency patterns and insomnia. Effect was very similar to Codonopsis & Astragalus – total fail.
Bupleurum & Dragon Bone – I figured I’d try this one because bupleurum is great for liver heat, the rest of the herbs are nice shen tonics but Icouldn’t quite tell how it’s effecting me, I was taking it with other formulas, was hot at night, just didn’t jive well.
Rehmannia Six – this is one of those premier formulas for early stages of adrenal fatigue (yin deficiency) but I found out about it too late because it makes me cold. My spleen feels cold too when taking this formula on its own. Gives me these inner chills before falling asleep.
Buddha’s Yang by Dragon Herbs – good but took it in small doses as I felt I could easily overheat as well. Even when combined with Rehmannia Six I couldn’t find the right balance and my gut was causing more issues.
Rehmannia Eight – stable, perhaps a bit more energy but nothing more for my insomnia or gut issues. If anything it probably made my heat issues and insomnia worse.
Coptis Purge Fire by Health Concerns (HC) – this was horrible but I still took it based on some advice from a practitioner I was working with. He thought it was liver heat. The formula made me very warm for three hours after taking each dose and I had terrible time sleeping. Ultimately, it did nothing for me, perhaps made things worse.
The Great Yin (Da Bu Yin) – this came after I finished Coptis Purge Fire (again, next bad advice). Started feeling chilled the same day when taking this formula (without any others) – way too cold for spleen.
Return to Youth / Rejuvenation Pill (Huan Shao Dan or Lycium Formula) – seemed promising as my TCM guys thought I had Yang deficiency. I took two bottles of it and it seemed like gave me a bit more energy but did nothing for sleep or digestion. I quit when suspected SIBO and trying to avoid certain sugars that can feed that bacteria. This formula did not cause much trouble for me, other than perhaps some added sense of heaviness and tinnitus, which still points to the fact that I’m not ready for it as it exacerbates the yin deficiency.
Poria Five (Wu Ling San) – this is one of the best formulas I’ve tried. I bought it because I read it warms the spleen and circulates qi and fluids. Was very surprised by effect – I drank less water and ran to toilet to urinate less. I mean when I go I pee like a fireman’s horse but I don’t run to pee every hour or two. I hardly have to get up to urinate at night if I don’t drink too much tea before bed. This formula works well for me (taking in smaller doses) or at least doesn’t cause any trouble. I also heard it can be taken with gelatin to nourish the yin at the same time because gelatin is very nourishing and has no cloying effect that something like Rehmannia or He Shou Wu would.
Te Xiao Zao Ren An Mian Pian – works great for deeper sleep periods if I’m able to fall asleep. Very mild but I like Dragon Herbs LIGHTS OUT better as it is more potent.
Lights Out by Dragon Herbs (similar to Te Xiao Zao Ren An Mian Pian plus L-Theanine) – works great, gives me deeper sleep during first part of the night (if not prevented by inner chills). This formula is one of the few that works without any issues for me.
Deer Antler – only took small doses for three days – felt a bit of tension in back of my head, almost hypertension type feeling.
Jiang Ya Pian – got this in hopes it would help with heat at night. Normally liver cooling herbs help me sleep better but eventually cause bad fatigue. Exactly what happened here – for a day or two felt pretty good, more energy and more perky but then developed fatigue. Probably because it cools the spleen too much at the same time.
Xiang Sha Liu Jun Zi Pian (OptDigest by DragonHerbs) – this is my latest discovery. I got this in hopes to find another Spleen tonic without Astragalus. Initially started feeling more energy, like there’s more volume and warmth to my spleen. At the same time I was feeling a bit more amped up and it was preventing me from falling asleep. I also felt too warm and restless at night. I had to quit after a few days. Later I learned that the biggest culprit could be Pinellia (Rhizoma Pinelliae Preparata) which is a stimulant very similar to Ephedra. Also, TCM books caution against its use for people with insomnia due to heart channel blood deficiency.
Wen Dan Pian – Bought this because I was suspecting “disharmony between gallbladder and stomach and the resulting phlegm heat” but it did not work for me. Only took one dose, had a rough night (not sure if that is what caused it but felt even more hot) and didn’t touch it again.