The Health Benefits of Dong Quai

This mainstay of Eastern herbal medicine may ease menopausal symptoms

Dong quai in dish
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Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) is an herb native to China, Japan, and Korea. A member of the celery family, it's long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. Since dong qui (specifically, the root) is rich in compounds with anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating effects, among other healthful substances, it is said to aid in treating a host of issues from allergies to constipation, high blood pressure to premature ejaculation, and more.

However, the National Institutes of Health notes there is insufficient scientific evidence to support these and several other claims.

Also Known As

Since it's thought to have a balancing effect on the female hormonal system, dong quai is sometimes referred to as "female ginseng."

Health Benefits

In addition to the issues mentioned above, dong quai is often touted as a treatment for headache, premenstrual syndrome, menstrual cramps, fibroids, nasal and/or sinus congestion, and rheumatoid arthritis. Unfortunately, there just isn't enough solid science to back up the use of dong quai for these purposes.

Although research on dong quai's health effects is limited, some studies suggest that the herb might be helpful for hot flashes and arthritis. More research is needed.

Hot Flashes

There's some evidence that taking dong quai in combination with other herbs may help soothe hot flashes in women going through menopause. However, these studies use a small sample size, so it is unclear if the results would be replicable in a larger population.

In one study published in Clinical and Experimental Obstetrics & Gynecology, 55 post-menopausal women who were experiencing hot flashes were split into two groups: One group was given a placebo, while the other group was given chewable tablets containing a combination of dong quai and chamomile. After 12 weeks, participants who received the tablets experienced a greater improvement in hot flashes, as well as fewer sleep disturbances and less fatigue, compared to the others.

Additionally, a small study published in Gynecological Endocrinology found that an herbal formula containing dong quai along with several other herbs (including black cohosh, milk thistle, red clover, American ginseng, and chaste tree berry) helped relieve hot flashes and reduce sleep disturbances in pre- and post-menopausal women. The study involved 50 women (ages 44 to 65) and a treatment period of three months.

Arthritis

Dong quai shows potential in the treatment of osteoarthritis, according to a preliminary study published in PLoS One. In tests on cells taken from both human cartilage and rats, scientists observed that compounds extracted from dong quai might inhibit the osteoarthritis-related breakdown of cartilage.

While these results are promising, placebo-controlled human trials have not been performed.

Possible Side Effects

Dong quai side effects include:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Increased sensitivity to sunlight
  • Nausea
  • Sleep disturbance

Stop using dong quai and call your healthcare provider at once if you have severe burning, redness, pain, or swelling after use on the skin.

Interactions and Precautions

Since dong quai may have anticoagulant effects, it should not be used by people with bleeding disorders or women who tend to experience excessive menstrual bleeding.

Dong quai may also be harmful to individuals taking blood-thinning medications and should not be taken with Coumadin (warfarin), aspirin, Plavix (clopidogrel), Voltaren or Cataflam (diclofenac), Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen), Aleve (naproxen), Fragmin (dalteparin), Lovenox (enoxaparin), heparin, Eliquis (apixaban), or Xarelto (rivaroxaban).

Dong quai should not be used by pregnant or nursing women. Due to its estrogen-like effects, it should also be avoided by people with hormone-sensitive conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or cancers of the breast, uterus, or ovaries. 

Some research indicates that dong quai may be harmful to women with breast cancer or at high risk for the disease. In a study published in the journal Menopause, tests on cells in culture demonstrated that dong quai may promote the growth of breast cancer cells.

Dosage and Preparation

Dong quai is available as a supplement in tablets, capsules, tinctures, and tea. In traditional Chinese medicine, the recommended daily dose is 2,000 milligrams (mg) to 3,000 mg divided over three doses.

Depending on the supplement brand, a manufacturer's daily recommended dose might range from one 530 mg capsule per day to two 565 mg capsules three times a day.

It's recommended that tablets and capsules be taken with water at mealtimes.

What to Look For

When purchasing dong quai, look for a high-quality product from a familiar, reputable company. Dong quai supplements are sold in many natural foods stores and stores specializing in herbal products, as well as online.

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