The Herbs Section
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Dong quai (Angelica sinensis [Latin]), also called Chinese angelica, dang gui, and tang kuei, is highly respected in traditional Asian medicine, second only to ginseng. It is commonly used to treat women’s reproductive health issues, but is also recommended to help prevent and treat some forms of cardiovascular disease.
Dong quai is one of many species of the herb angelica; other well-known species include Japanese angelica (A. acutiloba), European angelica (A. archangelica), and American angelica (A. atropurpurea). Each type of angelica is traditionally used to treat different disorders; for instance, European angelica is often used to treat inflammation, and American angelica is said to be good for indigestion.
Chinese and Japanese angelica are the varieties that have been used historically to treat women’s health disorders, and these two types of angelica have been more widely researched than any of the other species.
Dong quai roots contain phytoestrogens, which are chemicals found in plants that mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. The name dong quai means “proper order,” which is fitting considering this herb’s traditional to restore hormonal balance in women. The phytoestrogens in dong quai help regulate estrogen levels, both restraining and supplementing the body’s production of estrogen as needed.
It is used to treat a host of menstrual and menopausal symptoms, including migraine, cramps, mood fluctuations, and hot flashes. It is also said to help speed a woman’s recovery from childbirth and symptoms of low energy/chronic fatigue.
Dong quai helps relax the smooth muscles throughout the body, which makes it a potential treatment for a variety of illnesses. Not only does dong quai relax the smooth muscles of the uterus, but it also keeps the smooth muscles in the arteries dilated, helping to maintain regular blood flow and heartbeat.
Dong quai has been used to treat angina, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat. Some studies have shown that the antispasmodic, dilating effects of dong quai may help treat chronic pulmonary hypertension in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), especially when taken in combination with the drug nifedipine.
Dong quai contains phytochemicals that help boost white blood cell production and fight inflammation, and may improve liver and kidney function. It is traditionally used to treat inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, and is currently being studied for its ability to prevent or treat cancer, liver and kidney disease.
Only the root of the dong quai plant is used medicinally. It is usually dried and ground to make the teas, capsules, tablets, tinctures, and other combination products available at most health food stores. Pregnant women should not take this herb because it may encourage menstruation. Dong quai is also known to cause diarrhea in some people, so those with gastrointestinal difficulties should also avoid this medication. People that are taking blood thinners should consult a doctor before trying dong quai—it may increase the effects of these drugs.
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