The past few months have been trying times for everyone, filled with stress and anxiety for many. We interviewed Dr. Anna Hsieh Gold, one of the Bay Area’s most sought after practitioners of TCM and the creator of Dr. Anna Gold (formerly Arcana) herbal tinctures, to learn more about her best-selling BALANCE formula and why it can be such a sanity saver during times like this.
Read on for her thoughts, and you can also watch her describe how the formula works in this video with Anna and Dara in the Bach Flower garden outside our SF studio.
Ayla: We are thrilled that you created DEFEND at just the right time. The other tincture that we think is so helpful during the time of COVID-19 is BALANCE: among all the stress-relieving supplements out there, it just seems to operate at a different level. What makes it work so well for so many people?
This formula was made 800 years ago; it wasn’t very popular when it was first introduced, but it’s so necessary now! The world that we live in — this high cortisol, nervous-system-overload world — creates a particular pattern, a modern-day stress syndrome, that this formula addresses really well.
The base of BALANCE is a formula that addresses liver chi stagnation. In TCM, liver chi stagnation is very closely tied to the nervous system. During times of high stress, the liver is not able to generate the flow it needs through body due to pent-up worrying, overthinking or depressed, irritable moods.
Ayla: Tell us more about liver chi stagnation.
ANNA GOLD: Imagine your body as a landscape, with rivers and forests and lots of natural beauty and variety. Now, imagine a pile of rocks or leaves blocking a river: that’s like liver chi stagnation. You often see this in the body as tight shoulders, or a tight jaw. It means energy isn’t flowing as it should, and there’s a consequence to that blockage. Over time, chronically, this leads to a deficiency in what we call “liver blood.” Liver blood is what nourishes the sinews and the female fertility cycle; this is why cycles get all messed up when people are stressed.
I have some clients who are Olympic weightlifters, for example, and if you imagine those bodies, they have big muscles, but the connective tissue is very tight. Think about a guitar string that’s wound up really tightly: at a certain point, it’ll snap. If you smooth the emotional and physical components of the liver simultaneously — the chi and the blood — it softens your body and your mood. Things feel smoother. Things feel easier. You feel better able to go with the flow.
Liver chi stagnation also taxes the stomach and dysregulates the digestive system. When you’re nervous or in fight-or-flight, your heart rate, your breathing, and your blood pressure all go up. You’re in survival mode. But your body needs to relax to digest food.
So I also added other herbs to the formula, ones that have been shown to calm the nerves and support neurotransmitters that alleviate nervous tension and anxiety: lemon balm, for example. Which I love because it also helps with digestion. I also included ashwagandha: I love Ayurvedic herbs, and there are a lot of them that don’t exist in TCM. There’s lots of research on how ashwagandha regulates cortisol, helps with concentration, and helps with blood sugar levels — so it soothes nerves that way, too.
Ayla: Can both men and women use BALANCE? As shorthand, we often think of it as a tonic for hormonally-related mood swings.
ANNA GOLD: Yes, it is absolutely something for both men and women. This is a major difference between Eastern and Western medicine. Western medicine is diagnosed through pathology (e.g., PMS), and then you prescribe something for that. Chinese Medicine is diagnosed through syndromes; it’s pattern-based, and it’s about how everything balances and works together. BALANCE is designed to address liver chi stagnation with blood deficiency and heat. That’s how we’d look at it in TCM: we wouldn’t think, “Oh, this is for PMS, it’s not for a guy.”
Ayla: Do you think BALANCE addresses stress or anxiety, or both? And how?
ANNA GOLD: The base formula has actually been shown to address stress, anxiety, and depression. All three are related to liver chi stagnation. In TCM, we don’t necessarily look at it in terms of stress vs. anxiety vs. depression — this goes back to the pathology vs syndrome approach.
Here’s how we think about it. When liver chi is stagnant, the classic pattern is that it becomes anger. When liver chi is stuck and things aren’t flowing, it also depletes liver blood. If that’s depleted, it can’t send blood to the heart and the heart chi doesn’t flow as well, either.
When people become stressed, especially these days, it develops into anxiety because the liver chi stagnation becomes “deficiency heat.” When it’s heat, that then rises (because it has to go somewhere), and it then expresses itself in the upper part of the body where the heart is. And then you see shortness of breath, you see panic.
In TCM, depression is almost thought of as long-term anxiety that holds itself in and then becomes depression. It’s thought of as anger turned towards oneself. There are a lot of studies that show the BALANCE base formula can be very supportive for this; my favorite was published in Nature magazine, which looked at the neurotransmitter mechanisms involved in the formula. It inhibits certain pathways in the hippocampus that are related to both depression and anxiety, which is pretty great.
About Anna: a Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Licensed Acupuncturist, and Fellow of the American Board of Oriental Reproductive Medicine — with additional advanced degrees (in Traditional Oriental Medicine and Constitutional Facial Acupuncture), years of practice, and thousands of happy clients — Anna Gold is one of the most sought-after acupuncturists in the Bay Area, known not only for her skill in treating challenges ranging from infertility to asthma, but also for her partnership in treating skin conditions with Kristina Holey. Prior to her career in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Anna was an instructor at Jivamukti Yoga in New York. And before studying yoga, Anna graduated with a Bachelor's degree in Comparative Literature from Berkeley, where she also completed all the prerequisites for medical school.
Any topic discussed in this article is not intended as medical advice. If you have a medical concern, please check with your doctor.