Dong quai, also known to Traditional Chinese Medicine as dang gui, is among the most popular herbs in both China and America for treating female conditions. Chinese herbalists use dong quai to promote balance for conditions of unhealthy imbalance in the body, to restore the body's vital energy known as qi, and to nourish the blood, heart, liver and spleen.
Dong quai is believed to promote blood flow to the female reproductive organs, thus balancing menstruation. Research shows dong quai regulates uterine contractions, both stimulating and relaxing the uterus depending on how the herb is prepared. Thus, dong quai's antispasmodic properties are helpful for relieving menstrual cramps and pain. Dong quai is commonly used to treat anemia, bleeding disorders, hemorrhaging, menstrual irregularities such as amenorrhea and PMS, menopausal complaints and postpartum healing. Chinese herbalists also regard dong quai as an aphrodisiac which stimulates the reproductive organs, increases the effectiveness of ovarian and testicular hormones, and enhances fertility.
As a tonic for the blood, dong quai is helpful for women experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding or menorrhagia, as such a condition can lead to anemia. However, dong quai should not be taken during menstruation since the herb promotes blood flow and could aggravate the condition.
Research indicates dong quai promotes oxygen absorption by the liver and raises metabolism. Dong quai enhances the liver's ability to regulate glycogen production to normalize blood sugar levels, thus aiding in the treatment of diabetes. Dong quai has also been shown to relieve stagnation in the spleen, improve digestion, and treat constipation and dyspepsia, particularly among the elderly. Dong quai is even recommended for treating skin problems such as abscesses and boils.
Dong quai acts as a mild analgesic (pain-reliever), laxative, and sedative, and exhibits some antibacterial activity against vaginal infection. Dong quai has been used to relieve pain associated with angina, arthritis, gout, injury, neuralgia. Recent studies have shown dong quai reduces angina, arrhythmia, and blood cholesterol, and may prove beneficial in the treatment of atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. Dong quai's effect on circulation promotes a warming sensation which is helpful for treating ague—fever accompanied by chills or shivering— and colds.
Dong quai is rich in vitamin B3 (niacin), E, and the minerals cobalt, iron and magnesium. There is also some vitamin A present. Cobalt is a component of vitamin B12 , which may explain dong quai's beneficial effect on cases of pernicious anemia. Dong quai also contains a chemical compound that increases hair follicle activity and may help stimulate hair growth.
Researchers have yet to explain the mysterious relationship which exists between dong quai and another herb commonly used for female complaints, black cohosh. Most women benefit from taking either one or the other. Mixed together in herbal combinations where dong quai is dominant, the result is typically relief from cramping and increased menstrual flow; and where black cohosh is dominant, menstrual flow and swelling are reduced.
Pregnant women should avoid taking large doses, as dong quai contains a volatile oil which can act as a uterine stimulant. Dong quai also has a weak but apparent estrogenic effect on the body. Diabetics should also use caution when taking dong quai due to its natural sugar content.
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