The Health Benefits of Fo-Ti

Can Fo-Ti Help Prevent Grey Hair Safely?

Fo-ti (Polygonum multiflorum) is a plant that is native to China and also found in Japan and Taiwan. Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a blood tonic, fo-ti is known as He Shou Wu (which means "black-haired Mr. He"), referring to the legend of an older villager named Mr. He who took the herb and restored his black hair, youthful appearance, and vitality. 

side effects of fo-ti
Verywell / Emily Roberts 

Health Benefits

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), fo-ti is used as a tonic for blood deficiencies manifesting as dizziness, blurred vision, greying hair, soreness/weakness of lower back and knees, spermatorrhea and nocturnal emissions. The type of fo-ti typically used is red fo-ti, which is the root boiled in a liquid made with black beans.

Fo-ti is also used in TCM for other conditions, including:  

The unprocessed root, known as white fo-ti due to its light color, is traditionally used for constipation or is applied topically to the skin for acne, athlete's foot, or dermatitis.

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.

Possible Side Effects

Despite fo-ti's long history of use, there have been numerous cases of hepatitis reported following the use of fo-ti. In a review of 450 case reports about liver damage associated with fo-ti, researchers concluded that fo-ti "causes liver toxicity and may cause liver damage in different degrees and even lead to death; most of them are much related to long-term and overdose of drugs."

While this correlation is cause for concern, this study failed to show that fo-ti was isolated as the cause of liver damage, and the study also shows some bias.

The report's authors also stated the liver damage associated with fo-ti is reversible and that after active treatment, the majority could be cured.

Rarely, people develop an allergic skin rash after taking fo-ti. A stimulant laxative, fo-ti may cause side effects including loose stools and diarrhea.

One study tested 32 plants used for menopause in traditional Chinese medicine. They found that fo-ti had the greatest estrogenic activity. People with estrogen-related cancers of the breast, ovary, uterus, and prostate, in particular, should avoid fo-ti, as the effect of hormonal effect in humans isn't known.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women and children shouldn't use fo-ti.

Fo-ti may affect blood sugar levels, particularly in people with diabetes. It shouldn't be taken in the weeks prior to surgery. 

Fo-ti may interact adversely with medications such as digoxin, stimulant laxatives, and diabetes drugs. It can also interact with drugs that affect the liver, such as ibuprofen, warfarin, and amitriptyline. 

Supplements haven't been tested for safety and due to the fact that dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label.

Dosage and Preparation

There is not enough clinical scientific data to provide a recommended dose of fo-ti. However, the typical dose is 10 to 30 grams, decocted. According to the Natural Medicines Database, 3 to 6 grams of raw extract and/or 6 to 12 grams of the processed extract is used.

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

What to Look For

Fo-ti is available in raw form, as a powder, an extract, or in capsule form. It may also be combined with other products. The safety and effectiveness of fo-ti, when combined with other herbs or compounds, is not known.

If you choose to buy fo-ti or any other supplement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you look for a Supplement Facts label on the product that you buy. This label will contain vital information including the amount of active ingredients per serving, and other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings).

Lastly, the organization suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia,, and NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.

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 still thinking of trying it, it's essential that you speak with your healthcare provider first.

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Article Sources
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  1. Ho TT, Murthy HN, Dalawai D, Bhat MA, Paek KY, Park SY. Attributes of Polygonum multiflorum to transfigure red biotechnology. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2019;103(8):3317-3326. doi:10.1007/s00253-019-09709-y

  2. 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

  3. Zhang CZ, Wang SX, Zhang Y, Chen JP, Liang XM. In vitro estrogenic activities of Chinese medicinal plants traditionally used for the management of menopausal symptoms. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2005 Apr 26;98(3):295-300. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2005.01.033

  4. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary supplements: what you need to know. Reviewed January 15, 2020

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