Shared by a few similar Chinese herbal formulas, the name of Shen Ling Bai Zhu San, in other words, has about 14 resembling versions recorded in different ancient Chinese medical literature. As one of the most commonly used herbal formulas regulating all types of Qi-flowing, it is also known as Ginseng, Poria and Atractylodes Powder in English-speaking world by the main ingredients contained.
What is Shen Ling Bai Zhu San?
Among all those different versions, the most talked-about version comes from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Imperial Grace Formulary of the Tai Ping Era) published around AD 990, which is also our main focus next.
Ren Shen – Ginseng Root;
Bai Zhu – Atractylodis Macrocephalae;
Fu Ling – Poria;
Jie Geng – Balloon Flower Rhizome;
Lian Zi – Lotus Seed;
Yi Yi Ren – Seeds of Job’s Tears;
Sha Ren – Cardamon;
Shan Yao – Chinese Yam;
Bai Bian Dou – Hyacinth Bean;
Gan Cao – Licorice Root.
Having a close-up view of this prescription, it’s not hard to find that it simply adds a few extra Chinese herbs based on the Si Jun Zi Tang (Four Gentlemen Decoction), which endows it the extra functions of removing dampness, promoting the circulation of Qi, and protecting lung at the same time. Viewed as one of the best therapeutic method examples of reinforcing earth to generate metal, no wonder it is widely used for dampness stagnancy due to spleen deficiency clinically.
Benefits and indications
This prescription aims to invigorate spleen, replenish Qi, and eliminate dampness to stop diarrhea. Main usage and indications are indigestion, distention and fullness in chest, borborygmus, diarrhea, myasthenia of limbs, sallow complexion, emaciation, pale tongue with white greasy coating, and feeble moderate pulse.
Modern medicine studies also show that its main pharmacological actions cover regulating gastrointestinal motility, improving metabolism circulation, and enhancing immunity.
(1). Regulating gastrointestinal motility. Decoction in small dose excites the intestinal canal, which partly release the intestinal inhibition from adrenaline; large dose restrains the contraction of intestines and has antagonistic action to intestinal contraction caused by barium chloride and pilocarpine, which thus increases the intestines’ absorption of water and chloride ion;
(2). Improving metabolism circulation. In treatments of enteropathy due to deficiency of spleen Qi, such as Chronic Gastritis (CG), chronic colitis, and gastroduodenal ulcer, this formula boosts significantly the numerical value of creatinine, uric acid, and BUN in patients’ urine. In addition, it also improves the immunologic function and the value of blood rheology in patients.
Therefore, in diseases diagnosed by western medicine as dyspepsia, chronic gastroenteritis, appendagitis, and bronchitis, Shen Ling Bai Zhu San is also one of great options if they present symptoms and signs mentioned above.
Medical principles behind the formula
It is formulated mainly for excessive dampness due to spleen deficiency.
(1). Weakness of spleen and stomach leads to failure of containing and digestion, thus indigestion occurs;
(2). The failure of transforming water and cereal and of separating the clear from the turbid contributes to rumbling sound and diarrhea;
(3). Dampness hampering Qi movement results in distention and fullness in chest;
(4). Spleen failing to transform and transport causes shortage of production and transformation of Qi and blood;
(5). Body and skin lacking of moistening and nourishing makes for weak limbs, wasting away, and sallow complexion;
(6). Pale tongue, white greasy coating, and deficient moderate pulse all indicate excessive dampness due to spleen deficiency.
So, it should be treated with benefiting spleen and stomach supplemented by eliminating dampness to stop diarrhea.
(1). Ren Shen, Bai Zhu, and Fu Ling are the monarch drugs to benefit Qi, strengthen spleen, and remove dampness;
(2). Shan Yao and Lian Zi, the ministerial drugs, assist invigorating the spleen and benefiting vital energy, as well as stopping diarrhea;
(3). Bai Bian Dou and Yi Yi Ren, the ministerial drugs, help the monarch herbs invigorate the spleen while excreting dampness;
(4). Sha Ren is adjuvant herb to refresh spleen, harmonize stomach, promoting Qi circulation, and relieve dyspepsia;
(5). Jie Geng and Gan Cao are conductant drugs. The former is to free lung and activate Qi, dredge and regulate water passage, carry herbs upwards, and reinforce earth to generate metal; the latter invigorates the spleen and harmonize middle-jiao and reconciles all the herbs used.
In the case of loss of appetite, add Chao Mai Ya (Fried Barley Sprout, Malt), Shen Qu (Medicated Leaven), and Jiao Shan Zha (Chinese Hawthom fruit, charred);
In the case of interior cold and abdominal pain accompanied, add Gan Jiang (Dried Ginger Root) and Rou Gui (Dried Cinnamon Bark);
In the case of coughing up excessive white phlegm, add Ban Xia (Pinellia Rhizome) and Chen Pi (Tangerine Peel).
Potential side effects and contraindications
Basically this prescription is harmless if being used the correct way. Due to it contains Gan Cao, it shouldn’t use together with Hai Zao (Sargassum, Seaweed), Da Ji (Root of Beijing Euphorbia), Yuan Hua (Genkwa Flower), and Gan Sui (Kan Sui Root).
Used as over-the-counter Chinese patent medicine for deficiency, Shen Ling Bai Zhu Wan (teapills) and Pian (tablet) are similar to the powder. But make sure to use them according to the medicine operation instructions please.
A. Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang, Juan 3 (Imperial Grace Formulary of the Tai Ping Era, Volume III);
B. Chinese pharmacopoeia 2000.