What Is Fo-Ti?

Can fo-ti help prevent grey hair safely?

Fo-ti (Polygonum multiflorum) is an herb native to China and other parts of Asia. Historically, the roots of the herb have been used to make medicine.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), fo-ti has been used for various health ailments. It is also thought to be beneficial for anti-aging.

Although fo-ti is thought to cause few side effects, using it may lead to liver damage (hepatotoxicity). Therefore, it is important to consult a healthcare provider about its use.

This article will explore many potential uses of fo-ti, as well as information regarding side effects, interactions, precautions, and dosing.

Dietary supplements are not regulated like drugs in the United States, meaning the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. When possible, choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as USP, ConsumerLabs, or NSF. 

However, even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. Therefore, it is important to talk to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and check in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications.

Supplement Facts

  • Active ingredient(s): Quinones, stilbenes, flavonoids, phospholipids
  • Alternate name(s): Shou Wu Pian, He Shou Pian, Chinese knotweed, Polygonum multiflorum
  • Legal status: Legal and sold over-the-counter (OTC) in the United States
  • Suggested dose: There are no general dosing guidelines for fo-ti.
  • Safety considerations: Side effects of fo-ti include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and liver damage.

Uses of Fo-Ti

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian, pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease. 

Fo-ti has been used for centuries in TCM. And while it has many reported uses, many of these are not well-supported by scientific evidence. Much of the evidence surrounding fo-ti is anecdotal.

Although some preliminary laboratory and animal research suggests that fo-ti may have certain beneficial effects, there's currently a lack of clinical trials to support these findings.

Below is a look at some of the research on fo-ti and its uses.


Fo-ti has been researched for its potential role in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, both of which are typically diagnosed in the aging population.

According to preliminary research, active components in fo-ti are thought to have neuroprotective and antioxidant effects that may help slow the progression of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Other active ingredients in fo-ti are thought to enhance learning and memory.

Unfortunately, these claims only come from animal and lab studies. Human trials need to be performed to confirm the potential role of fo-ti in treating Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.


Some research suggests that fo-ti may have anti-inflammatory properties.

Lab and animal studies have shown its ability to activate specific cell signaling pathways that block inflammation. One study on mice found that it reduced the severity of edema (swelling).

Once again, though, human trials should be performed to confirm that fo-ti can, indeed, fight inflammation.

Fo-ti / Polygonum multiflorum root dried

Badagnani/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0


Fo-ti may have antioxidant effects that may benefit people with hyperlipidemia (high blood fat levels).

Active ingredients in fo-ti, specifically antioxidants, may decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. Researchers believe fo-ti could also help increase high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or "good cholesterol."

As with other potential uses of fo-ti, the research surrounding its use for hyperlipidemia is only preliminary. Human trials should be completed.

Other Uses

There may be other claimed uses of fo-ti in traditional Chinese medicine. However, the issue remains that more well-designed research is needed to support these claims.

What Are the Side Effects of Fo-Ti?

Fo-ti may cause some side effects. These side effects can range from mild to severe.

Common Side Effects

When taking fo-ti, you may experience common side effects like:

Side effects should subside once you stop taking fo-ti, but consult with a healthcare provider if they do not. To best avoid side effects, use fo-ti only as directed.

Severe Side Effects

Liver damage has been reported following the use of fo-ti. 

Researchers looked at 450 case reports of liver damage associated with fo-ti use in a review. It concluded that fo-ti might cause liver damage or mostly reversible toxicity. However, of the 450 case reports, two people died.

While this correlation is cause for concern, the review failed to show that fo-ti was isolated as the cause of liver damage.

Long-term use of fo-ti has also been linked to kidney toxicity in rare cases.

As there is still much to learn regarding the safety of fo-ti, it would be best to only use the herb short-term and under the guidance of a healthcare provider.


Some people may need to take precautions or avoid using fo-ti altogether.

It is unknown if fo-ti is safe for children or pregnant or breastfeeding people. Due to the uncertainty, it is recommended that these populations avoid it.

According to lab research, fo-ti may possess estrogen activity. People with estrogen-driven cancers and certain hormonal imbalances should consult a healthcare provider to learn whether fo-ti is safe.

Due to the risk of liver damage, people with liver disease may also need to avoid using fo-ti.

Speak with your healthcare provider to learn if fo-ti is safe for you,

Dosage: How Much Fo-Ti Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs. 

There is insufficient scientific data to provide a safe recommended dose for fo-ti.

Lab and animal studies have used a wide range of doses, but these have not been evaluated in humans. Until better research is available, generalized fo-ti dosage recommendations cannot be made.

The appropriate dose for you may depend on your age, gender, and medical history. Speak to your healthcare provider to get personalized advice.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Fo-Ti?

You may be more likely to experience side effects if you take too much fo-ti.

While fo-ti overdose has not been reported, toxicity is possible. In particular, liver toxicity has occurred in some who have used fo-ti.

Liver toxicity may occur anywhere from days to weeks after taking fo-ti. Typically, symptoms of liver damage will disappear shortly after stopping fo-ti.

Signs of liver toxicity caused by fo-ti usage include:

If you think you may have liver damage caused by fo-ti, seek medical attention.


Fo-ti may interact adversely with various medications, herbs, and supplements.

Though reports of this interaction are scarce, fo-ti may interact with warfarin and other blood-thinning medications.

Other interactions with certain drugs and herbs have been reported, but only anecdotally,

There is no substantial evidence to prove that fo-ti interacts with common medications like digoxin, stimulant laxatives, or diabetes drugs. However, there is no strong evidence to disprove these claims either. More research is needed to learn more about fo-ti's interactions.

You must carefully read the ingredient list and nutrition facts panel of any supplement to understand which ingredients and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review your fo-ti supplement label with your healthcare provider to learn of other potential interactions.

How to Store Fo-Ti

To prolong shelf-life, fo-ti supplements should be stored in a cool, dry place. They should also be kept out of direct sunlight. Protect the supplements from exposure to extremely hot or cold temperatures. Typically, fo-ti supplements should not be refrigerated.

Be sure to keep your supplements out of reach of any small children or pets in the house.

You should discard fo-ti supplements once they reach the expiration date listed on the supplement label or package.

Similar Supplements

Regarding supplements, it can be challenging to choose the right one. This is because many supplements claim to work in similar ways.

Supplements researched for similar uses include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: From babies to older adults, omega-3 fatty acids have long been linked to better brain health. In one study, healthy older adults who took omega-3 fatty acid supplements for 26 weeks had better recall and overall positive effects on memory than those who took a placebo.
  • Zinc: Zinc is a trace mineral shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. According to one review, zinc plays a role in the immune response, which includes inflammation. It is thought to protect tissues from injury during the inflammatory process.
  • Green tea: Green tea contains flavonoids, phytonutrients, and antioxidants that may benefit those with high cholesterol. A systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that green tea supplementation might significantly reduce total cholesterol and LDL "bad" cholesterol levels in the blood.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does fo-ti act like estrogen?

    Fo-ti may act like estrogen in your body. However, this has not been well-supported by science.

    According to an older lab study, fo-ti extract was found to have high estrogen activity. For reference, the researchers found that fo-ti had about 1/300th of the estrogen activity of estradiol (a form of estrogen).

  • Does fo-ti slow aging?

    According to folklore, fo-ti may slow the rate of aging.

    As great as this sounds, this claim has not been backed up by solid evidence.

    Some researchers believe that active components of fo-ti may help treat Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, both commonly associated with older age. Human trials have yet to be conducted to support this.

  • Is fo-ti safe?

    Fo-ti is thought to be safe for short-term use for most people. However, long-term use has not been studied in humans, and some people should avoid using it altogether.

    Side effects like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea have been reported, as well as liver damage.

    There is not enough research to know that fo-ti is safe for children or pregnant or breastfeeding people. These populations are recommended to avoid the herb.

Sources of Fo-Ti & What to Look For

Knowing what to look for when choosing a new supplement or herbal remedy is important. Fo-ti comes in many forms and should be used under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

Food Sources of Fo-Ti

As an herb, fo-ti is not naturally found in foods.

However, it may be used to make a tonic or hot tea. You can find fo-ti extract, powder, or loose-leaf tea in drinkable form.

If you prefer capsules, there are plenty of other supplement options.

Fo-Ti Supplements

Fo-ti is available in its raw form as a root. You can also find it in powder, extract, tea, and capsule form.

Although fo-ti is mainly consumed by mouth, some people use it topically. This is done by applying fo-ti extract directly to the skin.

Fo-ti may also be combined with other herbs in classical TCM formulas. However, beware that the safety and effectiveness of fo-ti, when combined with other herbs or compounds, is not well-documented.

Natural fo-ti supplements are vegan and gluten-free, but check the label to confirm it fits your diet. Some capsules may be made out of gelatin, made from cows or pigs.

In the United States, many dietary supplements are largely unregulated and not tested for safety. This means that the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label.

If you choose to buy fo-ti or any other supplement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you look for supplements that have been vetted and approved by third-party agencies, like NSF Internation, U.S. Pharmacopeia, and ConsumerLab.com.

A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness. Still, it does assure that the product was manufactured correctly, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of known contaminants.


Fo-ti is an herb that has been used in TCM for centuries. It has been studied for its purported anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties. Although fo-ti may have some possible health benefits, it is not without adverse side effects, including the potential for liver damage.

If you're thinking of trying fo-to, it's essential that you speak with your healthcare provider first.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Polygonum multiflorum. In: LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2012.

  2. Bounda GA, Feng YU. Review of clinical studies of polygonum multiflorum thunb. and its isolated bioactive compoundsPharmacognosy Res. 2015;7(3):225-236. doi:10.4103/0974-8490.157957

  3. Lin L, Ni B, Lin H, et al. Traditional usages, botany, phytochemistry, pharmacology and toxicology of polygonum multiflorum thunb.: a reviewJ Ethnopharmacol. 2015;159:158-183. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2014.11.009

  4. Lei X, Chen J, Ren J, et al. Liver damage associated with polygonum multiflorum thunb.: a systematic review of case reports and case series. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:459749. doi:10.1155/2015/459749

  5. Oerter Klein K, Janfaza M, Wong JA, et al. Estrogen bioactivity in fo-ti and other herbs used for their estrogen-like effects as determined by a recombinant cell bioassayJ Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003;88(9):4077-4079. doi:10.1210/jc.2003-030349

  6. Külzow N, Witte AV, Kerti L, et al. Impact of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on memory functions in healthy older adultsJ Alzheimers Dis. 2016;51(3):713-725. doi:10.3233/JAD-150886

  7. Jarosz M, Olbert M, Wyszogrodzka G, et al. Antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of zinc. zinc-dependent NF-κB signalingInflammopharmacology. 2017;25(1):11-24. doi:10.1007/s10787-017-0309-4

  8. Xu R, Yang K, Li S, et al. Effect of green tea consumption on blood lipids: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trialsNutr J. 2020;19(1):48. doi:10.1186/s12937-020-00557-5

  9. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary supplements: what you need to know.

Additional Reading

By Brittany Lubeck, RD
Brittany Lubeck, RD, is a nutrition writer and registered dietitian with a master's degree in clinical nutrition. 

Originally written by Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong

Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.

Learn about our editorial process