Growing at high altitudes in the cold and damp mountain ranges of China, Korea, and Japan, Angelica sinensis has been used as herbal medicine for a millennium.
Commonly known as dong quai or female ginseng, it is a handsome perennial plant that features purplish stems with branched clusters of small, white, fragrant flowers. Beneath the soil line, dong quai produces thick, gnarled, yellowish roots that are harvested and dried and made into tablets, extracts, and powders.
Dong quai is a mainstay in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and for good reason. A member of the celery family, dong quai root contains more than 70 compounds that exert an anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antioxidant, cardio protective, and neuro protective effect.
Although the scientific literature on dong quai is slowly catching up to a thousand years of therapeutic use, let’s take a look at the proven ways that dong quai is a boon to good health:
1. Dong Quai Strengthens Bones
As we age, our bones gradually and progressively decline in composition, structure, and functioning. When we are young, bones are constantly regenerating, a process called remodeling, which removes older bone and replaces it with new bone. Bones also undergo resorption, whereby tissues in the bones are broken down to release minerals, like calcium, into the blood.
Older adults see this process shift toward more resorption and less remodeling, which translates to greater overall bone loss, less bone mineral density, and reductions in bone formation. Ultimately, it leads to the development of osteoporosis, a disease that causes bones to become frail and increases the risk of bone breaks and fractures.
In an in vitro study published in 2002, dong quai exerted a bone reformation effect on human bone cells. Using dong quai extract on osteoblast precursor cells (an essential component involved in bone formation), the herb stimulated bone remodeling by enhancing protein secretion and collagen synthesis of bone tissue.
While exercising, eating a diet rich in calcium, and ensuring you receive your daily dose of vitamin D will help keep bones strong, supplementing with dong quai may further help reduce the risk of osteoporosis and brittle bones.
2. Dong Quai May Improve Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is defined as a cluster of conditions: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels, and excess fat around the abdomen. When these factors of metabolic syndrome occur together, the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes is vastly increased.
The polysaccharides in dong quai root have shown to improve the conditions surrounding metabolic syndrome, according to a 2016 animal study. To reproduce metabolic syndrome, mice were fed a high fat diet which induced fatty liver disease and high blood sugar levels. Supplementing the diet with dong quai was shown to reduce blood glucose and insulin resistance.
In another animal study, published in 2015, dong quai extract regulated blood sugar and insulin levels in pre-diabetic and diabetic mice. This herb also helped to reduce body weight, lowered cholesterol, and improved impaired liver and pancreatic tissues. These effects taken together led the researchers to conclude that dong quai is a promising option in the prevention and treatment of diabetes.
3. Dong Quai Curbs Inflammation
The common denominator of many kinds of conditions and diseases – from asthma and eczema to dementia and cancer – is chronic inflammation. Even the physical signs of aging are rooted in inflammation.
Combined with Sophora flavescens, another Asian herb, dong quai had a profound impact on several pro-inflammatory enzymes. In the 2012 study, both herbs together helped to regulate and supress the major players in inflammation, including NF-?B – considered to be the holy grail of inflammation – as well as COX-2, iNOS, TNF-?, and IL-1?.
4. Dong Quai As An Anti-Depressant
Dong quai has the capacity to alleviate the symptoms of depression, according to an animal study published in 2016. Utilizing the chronic unpredictable mild stress model in rats to induce depression for five weeks, researchers then fed the animals dong quai extract diluted in their water. Dong quai had a positive effect on their behaviors; they exhibited more mobility and curiosity as compared with their depressed state. A positive control group that received Prozac displayed similar behaviors.
The researchers concluded that dong quai exerts an anti-depressant effect by activating the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) pathway, proteins that are required for energy, learning, memory, and mental health.
5. Dong Quai Is Gastroprotective
Our digestive tract is covered in a layer of mucous that protects against acids in the stomach. When the volume of stomach acid is increased, or when the mucous layer is diminished, it leads to chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. If left untreated, small tears in the stomach and small intestine will develop, known as peptic ulcers.
The polysaccharides in dong quai have an anti-ulcer effect, as evidenced by an animal study published in 2000. In it, rats were dosed with ethanol to induce gastrointestinal damage. When given dong quai extract, it prevented damage to the mucous layer altogether, lasting a minimum of 12 hours after treatment. Because dong quai is such a potent anti-inflammatory, it also prevented gastric lesions from occurring in the first place when the rats were pre-treated with the herb and then dosed with ethanol.
6. Dong Quai As A Treatment For Ischemic Stroke
Ischemic stroke is caused by lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Interruptions lasting more than a few minutes prompt the death of brain cells, an irreversible condition that can cause significant impairments in vision, speech, and body movement.
Having one stroke raises the likelihood of having a second one by around 23%. Patients are frequently prescribed blood thinners and aspirin to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Dong quai offers a potential alternative treatment for ischemic stroke. It promotes blood circulation, decreases blood pressure, and dilates the blood vessels. It prevents atherosclerosis in large and small arteries by staunching the build-up of fats on the artery walls. It tamps down on pro-inflammatory cells that spike after a stroke, which helps reduce further damage to the brain. Dong quai also neutralizes free radicals produced post-stroke, providing antioxidant activity that repairs DNA, restores mitochondrial function, and prevents cell death.
7. Dong Quai Possesses Anti-Cancer Properties
Several studies have shown that dong quai has an anti-tumor effect on human cancer cells. The herb displayed the capacity to supress the growth of malignant brain tumor cells without damaging healthy surrounding tissues, according to a 2005 study. It had a similar effect on cervical cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.
8. Dong Quai Boosts The Immune System
Dong quai also shows the potential to boost the immune system. In a 2006 study, dong quai increased the production of interleukin-2, a protein and signalling molecule that regulates white blood cells that respond to infection. It also boosted the production of interferon gamma, another protein that is critical to adaptive immunity against viral and bacterial infections.
9. Dong Quai For Women’s Health
The reason dong quai is also referred to as female ginseng is because of its long history of use for female reproductive problems in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It has been prescribed by herbalists for painful menstruation, symptoms of menopause, irregular periods, and premenstrual syndrome.
Unfortunately the science is lacking in this area, but there are a few indications that dong quai may be uniquely beneficial for women’s health.
A broad analysis of dong quai by the European Medicines Agency noted that it has anti-spasmodic properties and is able to supress muscle spasms and cramping in the pelvic region. It may help improve mood and hot flashes in menopausal women by acting on serotonin receptors in the brain. In regulating menstruation, dong quai was significantly effective in 39% of patients, somewhat effective for 54%, and ineffective for 4%.
How To Use Dong Quai Root:
Dong quai supplements are available in various preparations. Whichever form you choose, be sure to store dong quai in a cool, dry place to ensure its phytochemicals remain intact. Below are various forms of dong quai which you can buy from Amazon.
Dong Quai Capsules are frequently taken as a daily supplement to alleviate premenstrual syndrome, hot flashes, and to regulate hormones and mood.
Dong Quai Root Powder can be steeped in hot water or blended with your favorite tea.