Finding A Guiding Herb Makes Easier to Find the Most Efficient Formula ⑫ 人蔘 Ren Shen

△Ren Shen has been recognized as a Qi tonifying herb. But it is more accurate to understand that Ren Shen can heal thirst with other herbs. imageⓒAdobeStock_norikko

Ren Shen Should Be Used To Treat Indigestion From Overeating.

Ren Shen Helps Digestion Rather Then Tonifying Qi

By Hyunchang Cho, L.Ac., Ph.D (


 Ren Shen

Symptom Indicator Score+++

Frequency of Use ++


Main Symptoms

①Indigestion from overeating with discomfort in the upper stomach region


Possible Symptoms

②Low appetite is common.

③Pain in the upper stomach region can also appear.


  1. Pharmacological Hypothesis of Ren Shen

(1) Ren Shen seems to treat indigestion, low appetite, pain in the upper stomach, or vomiting due to diminished digestive function from decreased secretion of digestive juice in the upper digestive system (stomach, duodenum, pancreas, and small intestine). Such symptoms are generally caused by a weak stomach (duodenum, pancreas, and small intestine), such as weakness of digestive function, secretion of digestive juice, and muscle movement. When Ren Shen’s symptoms of weight loss due to low appetite, weakened stamina, low immunity, and such are present, Ren Shen can increase of intake of food to remedy such symptoms.


(2) Ren Shen replenishes oral fluids (saliva) to help alleviate thirst when used with Shi Gao, Chai Hu, Mai Men Dong, and Gua Lou Gen.

Ren Shen seems to mainly treat indigestion and low appetite due to decreased secretion of digestive juice in the upper part of the digestive system, including the stomach, small and large intestines, and pancreas. Ren Shen can also treat pain in the upper stomach and vomiting.

Decreased digestive function and resulting poor food intake can lead to weight loss, stamina, and immunity. If the right Ren Shen formula is administered in such cases, the upper digestive function will be restored, and therefore digestive function, stamina, and immunity will also become stronger.

Indigestion is mainly caused by 1) a decrease in digestive juice secretion and 2) autonomic dysfunction. Ren Shen’s indigestion is caused by a decrease in digestive juice secretion. In clinical practice, we can first consider Ren Shen when the patient complains of chronic loss of appetite and weak stomach functions worsened by overeating.

Indigestion due to autonomic dysfunction – mainly vagus nerve dysfunction – seems to be caused by decreased movement of smooth muscles in the GI tract. It is like a temporary traffic jam in the digestive tract from intaking too much food, and such food stagnation causes temporarily halts the movement of smooth muscles in the digestive system. This indigestion is treatable with aromatic or Qi regulating herbs such as Zhi Shi, Hou Po, and Bai Zhu. We can consider these herbs when the patient has normal appetite and digestive functions and complains of temporary and sudden indigestion due to overeating. We can also consider Qi regulating herbs when indigestion is mainly caused by stress rather than overeating because, generally, stress is more closely related to vagus nerve dysfunction.  

Other causes of indigestion include a decrease in temperature of the deep digestive tract (Gan Jiang, Sheng Jiang, Shu Jiao, and such) and a decline in functions of certain digestive enzymes (Shan Zha, Shen Qu, Mai Ya, and such). In Shang Han Lun and Jin Kui Yao Lue, indigestion was usually treated with Ren Shen, whereas for non-classical formulas, Qi regulating herbs such as Hou Po and Zhi Shi was more popular for treating indigestion.

Ren Shen also helps alleviate thirst by replenishing fluids in the mouth and throat. But it is more accurate to understand that Ren Shen can heal thirst only when used in combination with other herbs such as Shi Gao, Chai Hu, and Mai Men Dong. 

Ren Shen has long been known as a Qi tonifying herb because Ren Shen can increase food intake and replenish body fluids. Various studies on other therapeutic effects of Ren Shen have been made. But we are clinicians rather than researchers, so our foremost aim is to acquire the necessary skills to use Ren Shen properly in clinical practice. We need to know the clinical tips that will help us recognize Ren Shen patterns in patients.

It’s very simple. When patients complain of indigestion from overeating a little (indicative of weak stomach function), we can consider Ren Shen our first choice. There are many theories on the beneficial effects of Ren Shen, but not all of them are always useful for us clinicians.