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What is Atractylodes?

Atractylodes, also known as Cangzhu, is a common herb used in traditional Chinese medicine. It comes from the dried rhizomes of plants in the genus Atractylodes and is a key ingredient in many Chinese herbal formulas and supplements.

There are two main species of Atractylodes used medicinally:

  • Atractylodes macrocephala - known as white atractylodes or baizhu
  • Atractylodes lancea - known as black atractylodes or cangzhu

In supplements, you typically find the black atractylodes variety (A. lancea). This species has a stronger therapeutic action and is favoured for its digestive benefits.

What Are the Benefits?

Atractylodes has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine to treat digestive issues like bloating, diarrhoea and nausea. The rhizomes are rich in atractylosides and other active compounds that have gastrointestinal protective effects.

Some of atractylodes' main benefits include:

  • Improves digestion and relieves gastrointestinal issues like bloating, nausea and stomach pain
  • Reduces diarrhoea associated with conditions like IBS
  • Settles upset stomach caused by illness, chemotherapy or seasickness
  • Alleviates loss of appetite and food stagnation
  • Dries dampness and reduces phlegm production
  • Anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects to ease gastrointestinal infections
  • Antioxidant and neuroprotective properties in the brain

Through these digestive and anti-inflammatory actions, atractylodes helps create the optimal environment for nutrition absorption and gut health.

How Does Atractylodes Work?

Research shows atractylodes works mainly by regulating gastrointestinal function and reducing inflammation in the gut.

The active compounds protect the stomach lining and intestines while improving motility and enzyme secretions. This creates better digestion, reduces gut irritants and alleviates gastrointestinal distress.

Atractylodes also eliminates dampness and dries mucus secretions caused by pathogens or allergens. Less mucus and moisture in the intestines decreases bloating while also inhibiting bacterial overgrowth.

Additionally, the herb exhibits antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory activities. Atractylodes may protect gut tissue, remove harmful microbes and ease inflammation - all of which underly chronic digestive issues when left unchecked.

Through these combined mechanisms, atractylodes creates positive changes in the structure and function of the GI system. This brings relief for acute issues while promoting long-term balance.

In Chinese medicine, atractylodes is typically prepared as a decoction or added to herbal formulas. But when taking atractylodes supplements, the average recommended dosage is:

  • Powdered herb: 2-6 grams per day
  • Capsules: 500-1,500mg once or twice daily
  • Tincture: 2-4mL three times daily

The dosage can vary based on the individual and the severity of symptoms. For mild cases, start with lower doses like 500mg daily. Increase slowly over several weeks if needed to improve results.

Atractylodes is well-tolerated by most people, especially when high quality. Mild digestive upset may occur if exceeding the maximum recommended amounts.

For best effects, take this herb consistently for a minimum of 4-6 weeks. This allows its gastrointestinal actions to accumulate over time. After this initial period, dosage can be reduced to the minimum effective amount.

What Are the Side Effects?

In typical doses, atractylodes has a low risk of side effects or interactions in most people. But a small number may experience:

  • Mild digestive upset like diarrhoea, cramps or nausea
  • Allergic reactions in sensitive individuals - discontinue use
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Rashes or itchy skin

Due to its drying effects, atractylodes should be used cautiously if you already have symptoms of deficiency, like dry stools or skin. Those with spleen deficiency should also take care, as it may worsen appetite or digestion issues.

Atractylodes may amplify the effects of certain pharmaceuticals changed by the liver. Consult your health practitioner before using atractylodes supplements if you take any medications. Discontinue use if any unpleasant reactions occur.

Overall this herb has an excellent safety profile, especially when good quality preparations are used at moderate dosages. As with any new supplement, start low and slowly increase as tolerated.

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