The Possible Benefits of Xiao Yao Wan

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In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), some people rely on an herbal formula known as xiao yao wan for help in enhancing mood, reducing stress, and addressing a number of health conditions. Also known as xiao yao san or "free and easy wanderer", xiao yao wan contains a variety of herbs and is available in dietary supplement form.

Herbs Found in Xiao Yao Wan

The following herbs are ingredients 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.

Why Do People Use Xiao Yao Wan?

Xiao yao wan is said to address a variety of conditions, such as: 

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

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

In TCM, xiao yao wan is used for conditions involving "liver qi stagnation", which is sometimes said to be a contributing factor in mood swings, pain, irritability, constipation, abdominal pain, PMS, and irregular menstrual periods. 

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

The Benefits of Xiao Yao Wan

Although xiao yao wan and jia wei xiao yao wan have a long history of use in China (especially in the treatment of disorders affecting mental health), there's a lack of English-language studies testing the health effects of these formulas.

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

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.

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 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).

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.

Possible Side Effects and Safety

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). People with certain conditions, like heartburn, may need to avoid the formula. You can get additional tips on using supplements here.

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.

It's 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 a laboratory analysis, for instance, ten 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 such 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.

The Takeaway

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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Article Sources

  • Gao XX, Cui J, Zheng XY, Li ZY, Choi YH, Zhou YZ, Tian JS, Xing J, Tan XJ, Du GH, Qin XM. An investigation of the antidepressant action of xiaoyaosan in rats using ultra performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry combined with metabonomics. Phytother Res. 2013 Jul;27(7):1074-85.
  • Qin F, Huang X, Ren P. Chinese herbal medicine modified xiaoyao san for functional dyspepsia: meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2009 Aug;24(8):1320-5.
  • Qu Y, Gan HQ, Mei QB, Liu L. Study on the effect of Jia-Wei-Xiao-Yao-San decoction on patients with functional dyspepsia. Phytother Res. 2010 Feb;24(2):245-8.