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Liver Fibrosis, Muscle Cramps and More: How Bai Shao and Gan Cao are Used in Chinese Medicine

Chinese medicine relies on therapies rooted, sometimes literally, in natural practices. This includes modalities like acupuncture and herbal therapies, both of which are effective in an impressive range of medical conditions. Their ability to balance the body’s function and encourage self-healing (or self-regulation) means eastern medicine has a strong track record of efficacy and safety – as long as treatment is administered by a licensed Houston practitioner.

Two prominent botanicals in Chinese herbal therapy are Bai Shao and Gan Cao. Together, they are used in a variety of conditions, many of them connected to liver, spleen or muscle health.

Here, we’ll review Bai Shao and Gan Cao, and how these two valuable herbs can be used for medicinal purposes.

What are Bai Shao and Gan Cao?

Bai Shao and Gan Cao are Chinese names for herbs you may already be familiar with. Here’s a closer look at each:

  • Bai Shao – Bai Shao refers to white peony, the root of which is typically used in Chinese medicine. Scientifically termed Paeonia lactiflora, white peony is native to East Asia and also a popular option for gardens in the U.S.

Bai Shao root is prized for its pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s used as a treatment aid in a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, arthritis (including rheumatoid arthritis), kidney disease and liver disease, among others. A pair of medical studies also show that white peony root contains phytoestrogens – compounds that are chemically similar to estrogen and are treated by the body as such.

Eastern practitioners use Bai Shao as a form of liver support, as white peony can help regulate hepatic function and prevent liver-centered imbalances.

  • Gan Cao – Gan Cao is the Chinese term for licorice root, another herb that’s been widely used in medicine for thousands of years. Native to East Asia and South Europe, licorice root was first used medicinally in ancient Egypt, but was also popular among Chinese, Greek, and Middle East practitioners.

Today, Gan Cao is still used to treat a variety of ailments, including acid reflux, heartburn, peptic ulcers, some upper respiratory conditions, and conditions that affect the liver or kidneys (such as diabetes). Careful dosing is important with Gan Cao, though, because the active compounds in licorice root – glycyrrhizin – can produce adverse effects if too much builds up in the body.

Gan Cao is nourishing to the spleen by boosting metabolism and improving nutrient uptake. As such, it’s frequently used in formulas intended to support better spleen function and to protect it from imbalances present in the liver or other organs.

How Bai Shao and Gan Cao Are Used in Chinese medicine

Among Chinese medicine practitioners, Bai Shao and Gan Cao are frequently used together in herbal formulas. When combined together, the herbal mixture is referred to as Shao Yao Gan Coa tang.

When a patient is prescribed a course of Shao Yao Gan Cao tang, it’s taken as a supplement. The Houston practitioner determines proper dosing and treatment duration, so any risks are minimized.

Although Shao Yao Gan Cao tang has applications beyond liver and spleen conditions, it is a frontline choice for Chinese medicine practitioners when encountering dysfunction with either organ.

Liver, Spleen and Muscles – a Few Applications of Bai Shao and Gan Cao

According to eastern medicine practitioners, the liver and spleen are closely connected organs. When one is out of balance, it tends to cause disharmony in the other organ. This isn’t a surprise, as western physicians have also noted that liver problems can become issues with other organs, such as the heart and kidneys (hepatorenal syndrome, for example).

Shao Yao Gan Cao tang is known to restore balance between the liver and spleen, nourishing both organs while preventing the liver from causing cascading, adverse effects in other organs.

Liver and spleen imbalances can manifest with a staggering array of symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal cramps and constipation
  • Hand cramps
  • Lower back and leg spasms
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Shoulder pain
  • Headaches
  • Sciatic pain
  • Limb hypertonicity

In addition to maintaining liver and spleen balance, Shao Yao Gan Cao tang can help with a number of other conditions, including:

  • Liver fibrosis – Liver fibrosis is characterized by a progressive buildup of connective tissue in and around the liver. It tends to progress to the point where cirrhosis (liver scarring) occurs, which can lead to liver failure and the need for a transplant.

Bai Shao, in particular, can help people suffering from liver cirrhosis. The active compound in Bai Shao – glycyrrhizin – is associated with several effects that can improve liver function. A 2009 study published in Chinese Medicine identified several of these mechanisms. Glycyrrhizin reduces the presence and activity of ALT (alanine transaminase) and AST (aspartate transferase), two enzymes associated with liver damage. Glycyrrhizin also inhibits the expression of some protein complexes associated with inflammation and autoimmune problems. Further, glycyrrhizin can reduce the chances of developing hepatocarcinoma in patients with hepatitis C-included cirrhosis.

  • Muscle cramps – Shao Yao Gan Cao tang has traditionally been used to treat muscle cramps and spasms, as well. Although there can be several root causes behind muscle cramps, a common reason for them is due to insufficient blood flow. In other words, there isn’t enough bodily fluid reaching the muscles and delivering nutrients to them. This manifests as pain and cramps.

A 2003 study published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine used Shao Yao Gan Cao tang supplementation to treat patients experiencing muscle cramps following hemodialysis. It was a small study – only five patients – but following four weeks of supplementation, all five patients responded positively to treatment, with two patients experiencing complete relief from muscle pain.

The study also cited an animal study that looked at the relationship between Shao Yao Gan Cao tang supplementation and skeletal muscle contractions in rats. That animal study found that rats who received supplements experienced fewer muscle contractions when stimulated.

With Therapies Like Shao Yao Gan Cao Tang, Chinese Medicine Practitioners Have Valuable Herbal Treatment Tools

For millennia, human civilization has relied on plant-based substances to treat almost every ailment known to man. Chinese medicine merely formalizes this practice, as there is incontrovertible evidence that herbal formulas can play a major role in supporting whole-body health.

Shao Yao Gan Cao tang, a combination of Bai Shao and Gan Cao, is one among many prominent examples. For people suffering from liver or spleen problems, though, it’s a powerful formula that can provide significant relief when properly administered by a licensed Houston practitioner.