It amazes me how little communication goes on between the East and West when it comes to medicinal remedies. Despite the fact that China is often praised for having a long history of medicine, few Westerners actually incorporate Chinese herbs into their life. One of these often-overlooked herbs is Atractylodes.
What Is Atractylodes?
Atractylodes is a plant with a spikey flower that somewhat resembles thistles. It is native to East Asia and has a long history of medicinal use in China and Korea. Traditionally, the roots are dried and used to make medicinal teas. It is found in many herbal remedies, including the famous Chinese remedy Shen-Ling-Bai-Zhu-San, which is a combination of 10 herbs used to treat gastrointestinal health.
Black vs. White Atractylodes
Confusingly, Atractylodes is known by numerous names depending on the species. The main ones you will see sold medicinally are black Atractylodes and white Atractylodes.
Black Atractylodes, also called Cāng zhú, is usually from the Atractylodes lancea species, chinensis or japonica species.
By contrast, white Atractylodes is usually from the Atractylodes macrocephala species. It is also known as bái zhú.
In ancient times, there was no distinction between the types of Atractylodes. They were all referred to as zhú. (1) Both black and white Atractylodes have health benefits, so I wouldn’t worry too much about which one you get. However, there is some evidence that black Atractylodes is more potent. (2)
Other Names for Atractylodes
- Cāng zhú (for black Atractylodes)
- Bái zhú (for white Atractylodes)
- Shen Ling Bai Zhu San (an herbal formulation containing Atractylodes)
- You ji bai zhu
What Is Shen Ling Bai Zhu San?
Shen Ling Bai Zhu San (SLBZS) is an herbal formula which was used to treat a weak spleen, liver or stomach. It’s use goes back as far back as the Song Dynasty in China (970-1279AD). The formula consists of Atractylodes and 9 other herbs.
- Poria cocos (a mushroom)
- Dioscorea Batatas (Chinese yam)
- Dolichos lablab (Hyacinth bean)
- Coix lacryma-jobi (adlay millet)
- Nelumbo nucifera (Indian lotus)
- Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch (Chinese licorice)
- Platycodon grandiflorum (Balloon flower)
- Amomum xanthioides(plant related to ginger)
These are found in a ratio of 5 : 5 : 5 : 5 : 4 : 3 : 3 : 3 : 2 : 2. In modern times, researchers have studied the formulation and found that it indeed does have numerous health benefits. Here we’ll focus just on the benefits of Atractylodes . (3, 4, 5)
Health Benefits of Atractylodes
The main health benefits of Atractylodes are that is anti-inflammatory, supports digestive health, fights cancer, is rich in antioxidants and treats arthritis, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease. (6) Below is more information on the more well-researched Atractylodes benefits.
The main component of Atractylodes is called atractylon. Various studies have found that it has potent anti-inflammatory effects. The compound inhibits nitric oxide and prostaglandin E production, which are important in signaling inflammation. Other compounds as well as antioxidants in Atractylodes also exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. (7, 8)
Balancing Gut Flora
Scientists are only recently starting to understand the importance of gut flora to our overall health. Research shows that gut dysbiosis (which occurs when levels and types of bacteria in the gut become unbalanced) is linked to anxiety, depression, obesity, autism, and more. (9, 10, 11). Promising research shows that Atractylodes helps balance gut flora. One study found that the plant increased levels of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium (considered “healthy) bacteria and decreases levels of Enterobacter (a “bad” bacteria). (12) Another study found similar results: the levels of helpful gut bacteria increased and harmful bacteria decreased, thus reducing intestinal inflammation. (13)
Treating IBS and IBD
For a long time, irritable bowel syndrome and irritable bowel disease were dismissed as being caused by stress. Today, researchers now realize that IBS and IBD (as well as many other gut disorders) are linked to unbalanced gut flora and inflammation. Because Atractylodes helps both balance gut flora and reduces inflammation, it is no surprise that it is helpful in treating IBS and IBD.
Studies have also found that Atractylodes helps IBS and IBD by improving motility (the intestinal contractions which are vital for bowel health), protecting intestinal epithelial cells from damage and improving intestinal hypersensitivity. (14, 15, 16, 17, 18)
A study published in the journal Molecules found that the compound atractylone found in the Atractylodes plant had strong anti-tumor properties in liver cells. Another study published in the journal Planta Medica found that atractylone inhibited growth of leukemia cells and was toxic to certain other cancer cells as well.
Atractylodes is known to have natural antibacterial properties. Modern studies support these benefits, such as a study which found that Atractylodes inhibited Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria. (19)
Sesquiterpenes are natural compounds which have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and anti-tumor properties. They also have the potential to treat cardiovascular diseases and help calm the nervous system. Research shows that Atractylodes contains 8 different types of sesquiterpenes. These compounds also deliver oxygen to cells, which may be why Atractylodes is said to improve emergency levels. (20, 21, 22, 23)
How to Use Atractylodes
The most common way to use Atractylodes medicinally is to consume dried root powder. It is usually mixed with water and drunk. The root has a very bitter, unpleasant taste though so you might consider putting the powder into capsules to swallow instead. It’s also possible to find Atractylodes root tinctures.
Where to Buy Atractylodes
You can sometimes find Atractylodes root sold in Chinese pharmacies. If you don’t have one of these nearby, these are good brands of Atractylodes which you can buy online. Here are some of the best brands of Atractylodes.
Dr. Shen’s Stomach Curing
- Formulated for upset stomach, nausea and indigestion.
- Contains Jobs tears seed, kudzu root, saussurea root, magnolia bark, patchouli herb, angelica root, atractylodes, medicated leaven, poria fungus, trichosanthes root, rice sprouts, chrysanthemum flower, gastrodia rhizome, red tangerine peel and mint.
White Atractylodes Powder
- 1lb of bulk white Atractylodes powder
- 100% pure
Nuherbs Organic Atractylodes Root
- 1lb of bulk dried white Atractylodes root
- Precut into slices
- Certified organic
Herbal Dr. Net Cinnamon and Atractylodes Decoction
- Powdered tea formula
- Contains: Cinnamomum cassia, Paeonia lactiflora, Zizyphus jujuba, Zingiber officinale, Glycyrrhiza glabra, Atractylodes macrocephala, Aconitum carmichaelii
- 2oz and 4oz bottles available
- 681mg of atractylodes root extract per serving