The Health Benefits of Xiao Yao Wan

A Supplement Used for Depression, Pain, Weight Loss

In This Article

a mortar and pestle with ground herbs

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Xiao yao wan is a blend of herbs used to treat a range of medical ailments. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the formula is most often used to enhance mood and reduce stress. Also known as xiao yao san or "free and easy wanderer," xiao yao wan is available in dietary supplement form.

Health Benefits

Although xiao yao wan has a long history of use in China, there's a lack of English-language studies testing the health effects of these formulas. Additionally, studies that support a particular health benefit may have investigated a blend of xiao yao wan that is different than the one that you buy.

There are eight ingredients contained in the blend often studied in research projects. Proportions of each ingredient may vary.

Herbs Found in Xiao Yao Wan

  • Bupleurum
  • Dong Quai 
  • White peony root
  • White atractylodes rhizome
  • Poria
  • Peppermint
  • Ginger root 
  • Licorice root

A variation on xiao yao wan called jia wei xiao yao san contains the basic formula with the addition of peony bark and gardenia fruit.

The combination of herbs is said to address a variety of conditions, such as: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Infertility
  • Migraine
  • Menstrual pain
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Weight loss

In addition, xiao yao wan is thought to alleviate pain, ease stress, balance hormones, and improve your mood.

The modified formula, jia wei xiao yao san, is said to be cooling and is used for hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, and infertility.

Stress

A large review of studies investigated the role of xiao yao wan on stress. Twenty-six randomized trials (involving 1837 patients) were included. Researchers found that when the herbal blend was combined with antidepressants it was effective for the management of stress than antidepressants alone. But study authors also noted that most of the research was of poor quality. They added that higher-quality studies need to be performed in order to confirm the benefit.

Other studies have used rodents to understand the role of the herbal blend and stress. In a study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2013, tests on rats suggest that xiao yao wan may guard against stress-related changes in biochemistry.

Digestive Benefits

Xiao yao wan is used by some consumers to stimulate the digestive system and treat digestion-related health troubles, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Xiao yao wan also 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.

Investigators analyzed available studies on the use of xiao yao wan in the 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 study published in Phytotherapy Research in 2010, researchers found that jia wei 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).

Liver Qi Stagnation

Lastly, in traditional Chinese medicine, xiao yao wan is used for conditions involving "liver qi stagnation." When liver qi is stagnant, the blood is affected, creating a variety of issues, many of which may relate to the female reproductive system. Liver qi stagnation is sometimes said to be a contributing factor in mood swings, pain, irritability, constipation, abdominal pain, PMS, and irregular menstrual periods. 

There are certain foods that may help to treat the condition including chicken, coconut meat, dates, or tofu. There is a lack of scientific evidence supporting the use of xiao yao wan to treat the symptoms of liver qi stagnation.

Possible Side Effects

People with certain conditions, like heartburn, may need to avoid xiao yao wan. Some practitioners advise avoiding xiao yao wan if have heavy menstrual periods or suggest avoiding it during menstruation. Pregnant women shouldn't take xiao yao wan.

If you're considering taking xiao yao wan, you should consult your health care provider to weigh the pros and cons and discuss whether it's appropriate for you. Xiao yao wan may interact with certain medications, like drugs that suppress the immune system.

If possible, bring the bottle of supplement pills with you when you visit your healthcare provider. Some (but not all) include the amount of each ingredient included in the herbal blend. This may help your healthcare provider determine if the treatment is safe for you.

Selection, Preparation & Storage

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

Ingredient labels and supplement facts labels may be provided on the bottle that you buy, but this is not always the case. Some include a list of ingredients, but not specific amounts (called a "proprietary blend") and others may list ingredients with amounts listed in Chinese. This may make it difficult to find a blend that is safe and effective for you.

It's also important to note that, due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of any product may differ from what is specified on the product label. In some cases, the product may have doses different from the specified amount for each herb.

In laboratory analysis, 10 batches of xiao yao wan were found to contain different amounts of the eight active ingredients. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. 

While consumers face risks when purchasing any dietary supplement, these risks may be of greater magnitude when you are purchasing traditional Chinese medicine products with a variety of ingredients in varying doses.

Remember that it is not legal to market a dietary supplement product as a treatment or cure for a specific disease, or to alleviate the symptoms of a disease.

When choosing a supplement, it's best to look for products that have been certified by ConsumerLabs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International. These organizations don't guarantee that a product is safe or effective, but they do provide a certain level of testing for quality.

A Word From Verywell

It's too soon to recommend xiao yao wan as a treatment for any health condition. If you're experiencing symptoms, it's crucial that you consult your doctor rather reaching for an herbal supplement. If you take prescription drugs, don't stop taking them without talking to your doctor.

If you are interested in exploring the benefits of Chinese herbs when looking at your treatment options, it's best to consult a licensed TCM practitioner. In TCM, practitioners recommend customized formulas based on a person's specific needs and symptoms.

Be sure to tell your doctor that you are consulting a TCM practitioner and discuss any herbs that are suggested before you take them to avoid adverse effects and drug interactions. Also, discuss the risks that may be involved in multi-ingredient Chinese herbal products.

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