Ease Chronic Joint Pain With This Sacred Herb.

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Emei mountain is home to ancient temples and has a rich diversity of martial art and medical traditions. 1655 different species of medicinal herbs grow here. One of them is Eucommia ulmoides known in Chinese as Du Zhong 杜仲. It is a powerful herb said to help with back pain and is even used to guide the effects of other herbs directly to the lower back. An anti-inflammatory formula which operates through blood moving can be directed to the lower back by adding the right proportion of du zhong to the formula.

The Legend of Du Zhong

 According to folktales, an old woman fell suddenly ill. Her son Houxiao, was a medical student and yet despite his diligent study was unable to help his mother. Houxiao asked a senior doctor for help with a prescription, yet after taking the herbs, his mother did not improve. The old doctor suggested powering her up with some sacred reishi found on a dangerous mountain cliff. Houxiao, took a hoe, his climbing gear and set out to get the mushroom of immortality for his mother.

He ascended the dangerous mountain. The cliff face was cut vertically towering into the clouds above. He grabbed onto plants which snapped and broke as he clawed his way up. Eventually he got to the immortal reishi mushrooms and placed them into a basket. He felt elated, but the way down proved more difficult than the way up. The slippery and muddy rocks gave way sending him sliding and tumbling down the cliff face. He smashed his lower back and was knocked unconscious.

When he woke up he checked for the reishi mushroom to make sure they were still there.  His heart relaxed knowing they were secure. He couldn't climb up and he couldn't go down. His lower back hurt and his legs felt weak from the injury. He clenched his teeth in pain as he leaned against a tree which was the only stability he could find on the mountain. At last he rested.

The sky quickly darkened and a crane sounded in the middle of the day. He blinked and saw an old man standing in front of a crane. Perhaps it was the traumatic brain injury, but he was seeing the Chinese god of longevity. "Grandfather help me!" he said, "I need to get back to help my mom."

The old man said, "Listen kiddo, your back is messed up. Hold up for a moment while I help you." He stretched out his arm and took a strip of bark from the tree. The bark broke yet was connected by filaments. The old man put it into his gourd, which was probably carrying booze, because magical forest men are known to love rice wine. He shook the gourd three times. This caused the liquid in the gourd to change color. He gave it to Hou Xiao who immediately felt better. Perhaps it was the du zhong, the bathtub booze, or maybe it was just the brain damage that had him tripping out and thinking that some wandering hillbilly was the god of longevity. In any case Hou Xiao made it down the mountain and gave his mother the medicine. He found the old man in the village and thanked him, asking his name. The old man said, the tree did all the heavy lifting and that people are overrated. Then he got on the back of his crane and flew away. His mother soon recovered and Houxiao remembered the du zhong tree which was responsible for her recovery.

Later in the village square he saw a woman who had a hurt lower back. 
Hou Xiao went back to the tree and stripped off more bark and brought it to her and she too recovered.

Over time people investigated duzhong, Eucommia ulmoides finding it to be good for the liver and kidney, strengthening bones and muscles, removing body waste, and in partiuclar helping with connective tissue and lower back pain. 

In American Clinical Settings

Du zhong is one of my favorite guide herbs for the lower back. For back pain  I particularly like adding extra du zhong to formulas to guide the actions of the herbs to the lumbar area. I have treated people with severe lumbar pain and have seen them make miraculous recoveries. Chris Volesky L.Ac recounts a case where he helped a patient who had hardware in his back after 4 surgeries. He was trying to enjoy retired life, he had done everything right in life, and one day his back just gave out on him. It put him into cycles of pain which devastated his life. In the podcast episode you can hear Chris recount how his patient was able to get his life back thanks in large part to the judicious use of Du Zhong.

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Mr. Deng, Mountain Man Extraordinaire 


To learn more about this incredible plant, we traveled to China to Emei Mountain to speak with Mr. Deng. He is the leading authority on the herbs of Emei mountain. He has a quick smile and a strong rural Sichuanese accent. He's the man they fly to Beijing to speak about the ecology of the Emei mountain region. Before him, his father was the most recognized authority on the botanical foods and medicines of Emei mountain. 
He taught us that eucommia has a unique quality that gives us a hint as to what it may help with in the body.

Chris Volesky L.Ac tears the leaf of Eucommia to show an interesting detail.

Chris Volesky L.Ac tears the leaf of Eucommia to show an interesting detail.

Tensile filaments

Tensile filaments

See how the bark breaks? Its connective tissue is strong.

See how the bark breaks? Its connective tissue is strong.

Prof. Zhong Shihong PhD discusses pharmacology with Chris Volesky L.Ac, Robert Underwood L.Ac, and Dr. Shani Cooper

Prof. Zhong Shihong PhD discusses pharmacology with Chris Volesky L.Ac, Robert Underwood L.Ac, and Dr. Shani Cooper


The Pharmaoclogy of Du Zhong

Eucommia contains over 112 compounds. In vitro and in vivo studies indicated that monomer compounds and extracts from Eucommia ulmoides possess wide-ranging pharmacological actions, especially in treating hypertension, hyperlipemia, diabetes, obesity, sexual dysfunction, osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease, aging, lupus-like syndrome, and immunoregulation.

In one study on mice an extract of Eucommia was demonstrated to have a cartilage‑protecting effect in rats with osteoarthritis, potentially by improving cartilage metabolism, regulating the degradation of the extracellular matrix of the articular cartilage, and inhibiting apoptosis in chondrocytes, thereby slowing down joint degeneration.

Another mouse study found that that the Du zhong cortex extract has protective effects on both stimulation of bone formation and suppression of bone resorption in lead-exposed rats, therefore, du zhong cortex extract has the potential to prevent or treat osteoporosis resulting from lead exposer.

In another animal study, eucommia demonstrated anti-osteoporotic effects against bone deteriorations and cartilage degradations and the underlying mechanism was mediated, at least partially, through the activation of androgen receptor signaling.

In a study in Taiwan. eucommia was the most commonly prescribed single herb for osteoarthritis and is frequently used within the context of the formula "Du huo ji sheng"

Du Huo Ji Sheng promotes chondrocyte proliferation which helps explain why it helps so much with osteoarthritis.

It also seems to be very effective for New Zealand White rabbits. Bunnies are cute. When given DHJS it increased their VEGF which signals new blood vessel formation, helping with the healing process. It also inhibited the programmed cell death of  chondrocytes which build cartilage.

It also appears to alleviate lumbar pain, both internally and as part of herbal combinations used as poultices.


Poultice recipe


Tian Nan Xing (Rhizoma Arisaematis) 30 g, Cao Wu (Radix Aconiti Kusenzoffii) 30 g, Xi Xin (Herba Asari) 10 g, Chuan Xiong (Rhizoma Chuanxiong) 10 g, Tao Ren (Semen Persicae) 12 g, Hong Hua (Flos Carthami) 12 g, Wu Ling Zhi (Faeces Trogopterorum) 10 g, Mo Yao (Myrrha) 12 g, Dan Shen (Radix Salviae Miltiorrhizae) 10 g, Qin Jiao (Radix Gentianae Macrophyllae) 15 g, Xiang Fu (Rhizoma Cyperi) 10 g, Di Long (Lumbricus) 10 g, Chuan Niu Xi (Radix Cyathulae) 10 g, Huang Qi (Radix Astragali) 50 g, Chuan Wu (Radix Aconiti) 30 g, Chi Shao (Radix Paeoniae Rubra) 10 g, Du Huo (Radix Angelicae Pubescentis) 10 g, Fang Feng (Radix Ledebouriellae) 10 g, Sang Ji Sheng (Ramulus Loranthi) 15 g, Du Zhong (Cortex Eucommiae) 12 g, Yan Hu Suo (Rhizoma Corydalis) 15 g, Tou Gu Cao (Herba Speranskia Tuberculata) 10 g, Bing Pian (Borneolum Syntheticum) 3 g, Dang Gui (Radix Angelicae Sinensis) 10 g, Mu Gua (Fructus Chaenomelis) 10 g, Jiu Da Huang (Rhizoma Rhei) (processed with wine) 50 g, Bi Ma You (Oleum Ricinus communis) 15 mL, Feng La (Cera Flava) 20 g, Song Xiang (Colophonium) 200 g, Bo He Bing (Mentholum) 3 g, Polyisobutylene 100 g.

Du Zhong-Friend of the sedentary

For you lovely people who aren't taking 10-20k steps a day because you live in an automobile culture, you will be happy to know that you are likely developing osteoporotic bird bones at a faster rate than your cousins who live in walkable cities. Thankfully Du Zhong prevents disuse-induced osteoporosis by regulating the bone metabolism, suggesting that it could be used as an alternative therapy for the prevention of disuse-induced osteoporosis. I think this could be especially useful for the less motile among us, especially our lovely friends who use wheelchairs.


He, Xirui, et al. "Eucommia ulmoides Oliv.: ethnopharmacology, phytochemistry and pharmacology of an important traditional Chinese medicine." Journal of Ethnopharmacology 151.1 (2014): 78-92.

Lu, Hai, et al. "Effects of an aqueous extract of Eucommia on articular cartilage in a rat model of osteoarthritis of the knee." Experimental and therapeutic medicine 6.3 (2013): 684-688.

Qi, Shanshan, et al. "Du-Zhong (Eucommia ulmoides Oliv.) cortex extract alleviates Lead acetate-induced bone loss in rats." Biological trace element research 187.1 (2019): 172-180.

Zhou, Chi, et al. "Anti-osteoporotic activity of the ethanol extracts of Eucommia ulmoides in glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis male rats through the activation of androgen receptor signaling." Int J Clin Exp Med 9.2 (2016): 2148-2156.

Chen, Fang-Pey, et al. "Chinese herbal prescriptions for osteoarthritis in Taiwan: analysis of national health insurance dataset." BMC complementary and alternative medicine 14.1 (2014): 91.

Wu, Guangwen, et al. "Duhuo Jisheng Decoction promotes chondrocyte proliferation through accelerated G1/S transition in osteoarthritis." International journal of molecular medicine32.5 (2013): 1001-1010.

Zhang, Bo, et al. "A narrative review of non-operative treatment, especially traditional Chinese medicine therapy, for lumbar intervertebral disc herniation." Bioscience trends 11.4 (2017): 406-417.

Zheng, Zhao-jian, and Lian-bing Lin. "Clinical observation on acupoint sticking therapy for lumbar intervertebral disc hernination." Journal of Acupuncture and Tuina Science 11.4 (2013): 252-257.

Wu, Guangwen, et al. "Duhuo Jisheng Decoction promotes chondrocyte proliferation through accelerated G1/S transition in osteoarthritis." International journal of molecular medicine32.5 (2013): 1001-1010.

Pan, Yalei, et al. "Du-zhong (Eucommia ulmoides) prevents disuse-induced osteoporosis in hind limb suspension rats." The American journal of Chinese medicine 42.01 (2014): 143-155.




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