This traditional Chinese herb has been used for many years in parts of Asia to treat a wide variety of medical complaints ranging from acne and athlete’s foot to erectile dysfunction and premature aging. Unfortunately, there are some very serious potential side effects linked to the use of the herb.
If you have never heard of the herb and have no idea what it can do for your body, please read on.
What is Fo-ti?
Fo-ti which is scientifically known as Polygonum mutiflorum is a climbing plant native to China and other parts of Asia including Japan and Taiwan. Also known as climbing knotweed, the plant is a staple of Chinese medicine where it has long been valued to treat a host of conditions.
It is probably best known as an anti-aging tonic with the ability to extend life. In fact there is a legendary story about a Chinese herbalist called Chung Yun who lived to the ripe old age of 256 by using the herb every day.
Another tale tells of a sick man named Mr. He whose hair turned from gray to black after regularly eating the herb. This is the reason that in China, the herb is often called ‘He shou wu’ which translates in English as black-haired Mr. He. Of course, such exaggerations make for great stories but there are plenty of other reasons to believe that the herb can benefit your health in many different ways.
Fo-Ti in Traditional Chinese Medicine
As with many complex Chinese herbal preparations, fo-ti is often combined with various other herbs but is sometimes taken on its own. There are two types of fo-ti popular in traditional Chinese medicine. White fo-ti is the unprocessed form while red fo-ti is cooked with rice wine and soybean juice.
Traditional Chinese herbalists use fo-ti for a range of issues. It is a popular remedy for constipation and other digestive conditions. It is also commonly used to treat skin complaints like eczema, acne, athlete’s foot and minor wounds. It is still believed to extend longevity and combat many of the signs of aging such as wrinkles and gray hair. Many people also use it for erectile dysfunction.
Other uses of fo-ti in Chinese medicine include muscular pain, headaches, diabetes, infertility and high blood pressure. It should however be noted that there is little in the way of modern scientific research to confirm any of these uses.
Many topical skin products like lotions, ointments and creams have fo-ti as an ingredient. It is also found in some shampoo products which purport to prevent hair loss and reverse graying.
Health Benefits of Fo-ti
Although fo-ti is not among the best-known herbal remedy in the West, there has been some promising research into its medicinal uses. Studies suggest that many of the anti-aging claims have a basis in reality. Fo-ti contains a type of alkaloid with the ability to rejuvenate the brain cells, endocrine glands and nerves.
Studies also demonstrate that it can stimulate the adrenal gland and help to detoxify your body. These rejuvenating effects can boost energy, sexual appetite, the skin and the hair.
1) Heart Health
Fo-ti may help benefit the health of your heart in a variety of different ways. The herb contains proteins called lectins which attach themselves to carbohydrates in the body’s cells. These lectins can have a beneficial effect on the level of fat contained in the bloodstream. They help block the build-up of plaque in the arteries and prevent heart disease from developing.
Fo-ti root can also reduce cholesterol levels which reduces the risk of heart disease as well as preventing the arteries from hardening which is a major risk factor for stroke and heart attack.
Fo-ti has gained a reputation in China for being a natural cure for aging. Of course, aging is inevitable but many claim that this herb can slow down that process and also help prolong your life.
While there is little evidence that people who use it live longer, fo-ti does have antioxidant properties that may help protect cells from damage and neutralize the ill effects of free radicals. There are also several studies that suggest fo-ti might help combat some of the symptoms of dementia which we look at in more detail below.
3) For Brain Health
Early studies have demonstrated that fo-ti may be able to play an important part in cognitive health. The antioxidant properties contained in the herb may exert a powerful protective effect on the brain and also aid focus and learning.
Research into the Benefits of Fo-ti
Although at an early stage, there is some promising evidence that the anti-aging reputation gained by fo-ti is justified. While it is unlikely to help you live for over 200 years, a review published in 2015 suggests that it might have neuro-protective abilities. (1)
The research has showed that fo-ti has powerful antioxidant properties which may protect against brain degeneration caused by serious illnesses like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. As well as these neuro-protective effects, research conducted on animals shows that fo-ti may also help improve memory and learning.
The review of the studies also suggests that the herb contains certain chemical compounds which can help reduce cholesterol levels, treat inflammation and even prevent cancer.
Another study which was published in 2003 found that fo-ti possessed high estrogen activities which took the researchers by surprise. If this is the case, then fo-ti may be of interest as an alternative source of estrogen for post-menopausal women who typically rely on hormone replacement therapy. (2)
While this research demonstrates the potential of fo-ti, there is a need to exercise caution. Some of the active compounds contained in the herb known as anthraquinones can potentially cause serious damage to the liver.
These compounds are responsible for the laxative effects of fo-ti but according to the National Library for Medicine, they can also cause serious organ harm. There are several reports of people experiencing acute damage to the liver after taking the herb. The majority recovered fully after they stopped taking fo-ti but unfortunately, a few have died as a result. (3)
How to use Fo-ti
Fo-ti is available in many health food stores and readily available online. It can be found in various forms including capsules, tinctures and powders. The dried root can also be used to make a herbal infusion or tea which should be simmered gently for up to 20 minutes to extract all the health benefits.
There is no specific recommended dose because of the lack of scientific research so make sure that you ask for expert advice and read the label carefully.
As with most herbal supplement, you should exercise caution before taking fo-ti. If you are concerned about taking it, make sure that you speak with your doctor beforehand.
- Reported side effects from using fo-ti include abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. It might also reduce potassium levels leading to muscle weakness and other symptoms.
- There have been reports of people suffering acute liver damage from taking fo-ti.
- Certain people may experience an adverse skin reaction.
- Pregnant women should not take fo-ti nor should women who are breastfeeding.
- Because fo-ti has an estrogen type effect, people with certain medical histories should avoid it. This includes people who have had breast, uterine, ovarian or prostate cancers.