Xiao Yao Wan: An Herbal Depression-Fighter?

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In traditional Chinese medicine, some people rely on an herbal formula known as xiao yao wan for help in enhancing mood, reducing stress, and addressing a number of common health conditions. Also referred to as xiaoyaosan, xiao yao wan contains a variety of herbs and is available in dietary supplement form.

Benefits of Xiao Yao Wan

Although xiao yao wan has a long history of use in China (especially in treatment of disorders affecting mental health), relatively few scientific studies have tested the health effects of this herbal formula.

Still, there's some evidence that xiao yao wan may aid in the treatment of certain health conditions. Here's a look at some key findings from recent research on the potential health benefits of xiao yao wan:

1) Depression

Preliminary research suggests that xiao yao wan may have antidepressant-like effects. In a study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2013, for example, tests on rats revealed that xiao yao wan may help fight depression by protecting against stress-related changes in biochemistry.

2) Indigestion

Xiao yao wan shows promise as a treatment for functional dyspepsia (a condition marked by indigestion), according to a report published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 2009.

For the report, investigators analyzed the available studies on the use of xiao yao wan in treatment of functional dyspepsia. Sizing up findings from the 14 studies that met the report's criteria, the investigators found that xiao yao wan may help reduce functional dyspepsia symptoms without causing serious side effects.

However, the report's authors caution that evidence for xiao yao wan's indigestion-fighting effects "remains weak," largely due to flaws in the reviewed studies.

In a more recent study (published in Phytotherapy Research in 2010), researchers found that xiao yao wan may be beneficial in the treatment of functional dyspepsia.

In a clinical trial involving 20 patients, the researchers observed that xiao yao wan may help improve functional dyspepsia symptoms and regulate gastric motility (movements that promote digestion by helping food pass through the stomach and into the small intestines).

Herbs Found in Xiao Yao Wan

The following herbs are found in xiao yao wan:

  • Radix bupleuri
  • Angelica sinensis (dong quai)
  • Radix paeoniae alba
  • Rhizoma atractylodis macrocephalae
  • Poria
  • Herba menthae (peppermint)
  • Rhizoma zingiberis recens (ginger
  • Radix glycyrrhizae (licorice)

Uses for Xiao Yao Wan

Xiao yao wan is said to promote healing from the following health problems: anxiety, depression, headaches, migraines, menstrual pain, and premenstrual syndrome. In addition, xiao yao wan is thought to alleviate pain and enhance mood.

Xiao yao wan is also sometimes used to stimulate the digestive system and treat digestion-related health troubles, such as indigestion.

Where to Find It

You can purchase dietary supplements containing xiao yao wan online, as well as in many natural-foods stores and stores specializing in herbal remedies.


While long-term studies testing the health effects of xiao yao wan are currently lacking, some practitioners advise that this formula should be avoided by women who are pregnant or who tend to experience heavy bleeding during menstruation.

Xiao yao wan supplements haven't been tested for safety.  It's important to note that, due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. While consumers face such risks when purchasing any dietary supplement, these risks may be of greater magnitude in the purchase of traditional Chinese medicine products containing a variety of herbs in varying doses.

In addition, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get tips on using supplements here, but if you're considering the use of xiao yao wan, talk with your primary care provider first.

Alternatives to Xiao Yao Wan

Due to the lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend xiao yao wan for any health condition. Several other natural remedies (including St. John's wort, fish oil, and SAMe) may be helpful in managing depression. However, it should be noted that self-treating depression with xiao yao wan (or any other type of alternative medicine) may have harmful consequences. If you're experiencing symptoms of depression (such as difficulty concentrating, decreased energy, and persistent feelings of sadness), it's crucial to consult a mental-health professional.


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Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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