What is Dong Quai?
Known scientifically as Angelica Sinensis, dong quai root has an extremely long history of use in parts of Asia including China, Japan, and Korea.
It has been used as a spice and a tonic but also in traditional medicine for its various therapeutic benefits.
These days, traditional practitioners of Chinese medicine still use the herb in their practice.
It is often used in combination with various other herbs to treat various complaints including poor circulation and the symptoms of menstruation like pain and cramp.
There are precious few scientific studies into the effects of dong quai but it remains popular especially in China where it is sometimes referred to as ‘female ginseng’.
It is considered to be especially useful for women who suffer from many of the unwanted symptoms of menstruation.
Plant Description and Habitat
Dong quai otherwise known as Chinese angelica thrives at very high altitudes in the cold and damp conditions offered by the mountains of Japan, China, and Korea. Dong quai is an aromatic perennial related to celery.
The plant which has smooth, purple colored stems flowers in summer when it also produces winged fruits. It has thick brown branched roots which are used to make medicine. Once the plant has reached maturity after 3 years, its root gets harvested to produce medicines in the form of powders, capsules or tablets.
Some Facts About Dong Quai
- The Chinese have been using dong quai for centuries to treat a range of conditions including PMS symptoms, balance the hormones, infertility, and libido.
- Dong quai apparently translates into English as ‘husband returns to wife’ which may hint at its potential to boost sex drive.
- The Native Americans have used dong quai while it is also a common remedy in Ayurveda for various conditions including heart disease, high blood sugar levels, and anemia.
- These days, it remains a popular remedy but has spread from Asia to other parts of the world. It is a popular remedy for menstrual cramps, menopausal symptoms, anxiety, and depression.
- It is also used for bone health, infertility and skin problems.
Medicinal Benefits of Dong Quai
Because there are so few studies into the health benefits of Dong quai, we have to largely rely on historical use and personal anecdotes.
There is, however, some laboratory evidence that suggests it contains compounds that can help relieve pain and widen blood vessels. There is also evidence that dong quai can help women by relaxing the muscles in the uterus.
The reason that dong quai is effective in treating so many conditions is largely down to the presence of a compound called coumarin. The herb also contains a variety of other beneficial compounds including phytosterols and ferulic acid.
For the Menopause
Women going through the menopause are often faced with a range of unwanted symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, and mood swings.
Some women who use dong quai suggest that it is especially helpful in relieving hot flushes.
The relief of menopausal symptoms is also one of the traditional uses of the herb in Asia, however, studies have been inconclusive and sometimes conflicting. Researchers are uncertain whether the herb acts as estrogen or actually blocks the body’s estrogen supply.
One study actually found that the herb had no benefits at all on menopausal symptoms. (1)
For Menstrual Pain
According to the traditional use of the herb, dong quai has antispasmodic properties which help relieve the painful monthly cramps experienced by women the world over. There is some evidence that dong quai works as a vasodilator.
This means that it can widen the blood vessels allowing blood to flow more freely during a woman’s monthly cycle. It might also help to stimulate and replenish the blood after a woman’s period has finished.
It is traditionally used by Asian women who suffer from irregular periods and amenorrhea or the absence of menstruation.
Essentially dong quai may help stimulate menstruation and relieve some of the painful symptoms but there is little scientific evidence that it works.
For Female Fertility
A growing number of men and women are finding it difficult to have children. Infertility is nowhere near as rare as it used to be and fertility treatment can be both painful and extremely expensive.
While there is no research proving its efficacy, dong quai has traditionally been used in Asia as part of a healthy anti-fungal diet to treat infertility in women.
With a history of use for women dating back some 5,000 years, it is little wonder that many people refer to the herb as the female ginseng.
As a Blood Tonic
Dong quai contains numerous nutrients that can nourish the body and help tone the blood. It is a rich source of many important nutrients including folic acid, biotin, nicotinic acid and vitamin B12.
Dong quai might help replenish your blood supply following injury or surgery both in terms of volume and red blood count.
It is a very popular ingredient in the majority of Chinese blood-boosting formulas. Because of its blood-boosting abilities, dong quai may help relieve fatigue and give you a much-needed boost of energy.
For Premature Ejaculation
According to one of its traditional uses, dong quai may help prolong intercourse by helping men who suffer from premature ejaculation.
Premature ejaculation is extremely common and statistics estimate that it affects around 20% of the population of the U.S.
There is a good chance that its effectiveness in treating premature ejaculation is just a marketing ploy.
I have read vague reports suggesting that ‘some men’ are helped by using a preparation including dong quai combined with other ingredients.
Unfortunately, there is no concrete evidence regarding these claims nor is there much detail regarding how much dong quai was used in these preparations.
For the Skin
Chinese women known for their youthful complexion have long valued dong quai. The herb is a powerful natural antioxidant that can help preserve your youthful appearance and prevent many of the body’s signs of aging.
It is used to diminish the appearance of blemishes, wrinkles and other nasty marks on the skin. It can also be used to detoxify the skin and improve your overall complexion.
For Heart Health
Dong quai may also be good for the heart especially when used in combination with other herbs. A recent small-scale study found that preparations made with a combination of dong quai, Asian ginseng and astralagus decreased chest pain in a group of people suffering from heart disease. (1)
Dong quai can also help improve your heart’s health by reducing cholesterol levels. High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Coronary heart disease is caused by a buildup of cholesterol and plaque in the arteries which causes them to become narrower and hardened.
One study done on animals found that mice treated with the herb for a four week period experienced a reduction in both total cholesterol and triglycerides. (2)
Another study found that rats treated with a combination of dong quai and Huang qi experienced a reduction in total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. (3)
As well as reducing cholesterol levels, research suggests that dong quai may also benefit the heart by helping reduce blood pressure. (4)
Bone Health and Strength
Dong quai may help improve bone health and strength and protect against osteoporosis. Although osteoporosis can affect both sexes at any stage of life, older women are more at risk of developing the disease. The reason for this is that menopause brings a decline in estrogen levels and estrogen plays an important role in bone formation and health.
While Dong quai is better known for its ability to treat common symptoms of the menopause like hot flashes, it can also help women of a certain age by preventing bone loss. One laboratory study found that dong quai extract helped to increase the formation of bone cells. (5) A Korean study done on animals found that bone mineral density was preserved better in rats treated with the herb. (6)
Blood Sugar Management
People with high blood sugar levels and diabetes suffer from a range of symptoms including trouble focusing, increased urination and thirst. Studies done so far have demonstrated that Angelica Sinensis may help reduce blood sugar levels and help prevent these symptoms.
One recent study published in 2015 found that mice who were treated with dong quai extracts for a month experienced a decrease in blood sugar levels. The animals also had a decrease in insulin resistance. (7)
Another more recent study published in 2016 appears to have confirmed the earlier findings.
The researchers found that when dong quai was given to rats fed a high-fat diet, the animals experienced a reduction in blood sugar. (8)
When your body suffers an infection or injury, inflammation is a normal response. It helps us to fight off infection and injury and is a normal immune response. Chronic inflammation, however, is another story. It is at the very root of the majority of diseases including serious disease like heart disease, cancer, and rheumatism.
Studies done to date suggest that dong quai may have powerful anti-inflammatory properties which may help to reduce inflammation and potentially reduce the risk of disease. One laboratory study found that extracts of dong quai helped to decrease the level of several inflammatory markers. (9).
Another study was done on rats to examine the anti-inflammatory effects of the herb. The researchers found that rats given dong quai had a significant reduction in inflammation which was caused by a spinal cord injury. (10)
Dong quai may also have a positive effect on your emotional well-being. Several studies have shown that the herb could help to naturally treat depression.
One study published in 2016 induced rats with depression by exposing them to stress. As a result, the rats showed certain signs of depression including decreased appetite and an increase in activity. The researcher found that treating the animals with dong quai led to a reduction in the behaviors associated with depression. (11) Another study found that a herbal remedy which included don quai had significant effects against depression in rats. (12)
Apart from the uses that we have detailed above, dong quai is also used for a number of other complaints including high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, allergies and constipation. It is also used by some people as an aphrodisiac which can increase both male and female libido.
How to Use Dong Quai
In China, dong quai is often delivered in the form of an injection but in the west, it is readily available in safer forms. You can find it at health stores or online in liquid extract, capsule powdered or dried form. The dried herb can be soaked in wine or boiled before being consumed.
Children should not take dong quai because of the lack of safety research. It is believed to be safe for healthy adults but the lack of research means there is no precise recommended dose. One study on menopausal women found no ill effects when dong quai was taken in 500 mg capsules 6 times a day.
Although Dong quai is considered non-toxic, there are certain safety precautions that you should be aware of.
- In very high doses, dong quai may cause a person to be more sensitive to direct sunlight which can result in skin reactions like rash and inflammation. If you suffer a reaction, stop taking dong quai immediately and avoid exposure to direct sunlight.
- Pregnant women should not take dong quai. It might cause uterine contractions increasing the possibility of miscarriage.
- Nursing mothers should also avoid using the herb because of the lack of safety data.
- People with abdominal bloating or severe diarrhea should avoid using the herb.
- The Coumarin in Dong Quai is mildly toxic to the liver and kidneys at high doses.
- Avoid using Dong Quai if you are on blood thinners.