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

Dong quai supplements typically contain extracts of the root of the plant. The root is rich in a number of substances thought to influence health, including compounds with anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating effects. Dong quai root also contains a substance called ferulic acid

Dong quai is said to aid in the treatment of allergies, constipation, fibroids, headache, high blood pressure, menopausal symptoms, menstrual cramps, nasal and/or sinus congestion, osteoarthritis, premature ejaculation, premenstrual syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis. However, the National Institutes of Health notes there is insufficient scientific evidence to support these claims.

Health Benefits

Although research on dong quai's health effects is limited, some studies suggest the herb may help treat certain health problems. Here's a look at the science behind the potential benefits of dong quai:

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 combination of dong quai and chamomile had experienced a greater improvement in hot flashes, as well as fewer sleep disturbance and less fatigue.

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 sleep disturbance 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, and 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 by 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 Warfarin (Coumadin), aspirin, clopidogrel (Plavix), diclofenac (Voltaren, Cataflam, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen, dalteparin (Fragmin), enoxaparin (Lovenox), heparin, apixaban (Eliquis), and rivaroxaban (Xarelto).

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 mg to 3,000 divided over three doses.

Depending on the supplement brand, the manufacturers daily recommended dose ranges from one 530 mg capsule per day to two 565 mg capsules three times a day.

What to Look For

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

Other Questions

Can dong quai ease menopausal symptoms?

On its own, there is little evidence to support dong quai alone may help ease symptoms of menopause. However, studies have found dong quai in combination with other herbs may reduce hot flashes and night sweats, and improve sleep quality.

One study found a combination of dong quai and chamomile (product named Climex) may reduce hot flashes in menopausal women, while another study found a combination of American ginseng, black cohosh, dong quai, milk thistle, red clover, and vitex agnus-castus, sold as Phyto-Female complex, may reduce hot flashes and night sweats, and improve sleep quality in pre- and post-menopausal women.

Another product containing burdock root, licorice root, motherwort, dong quai, and Mexican wild yam root seems to reduce menopausal symptoms as well.

Is dong quai an aphrodisiac?

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dong quai is believed to be an aphrodisiac for women and works to improve arousal, sensitivity, and responsiveness. The herb is also said to relieve painful intercourse for menopausal women and improve lubrication. There is, however, little scientific evidence to support these claims.

Does dong quai treat premature ejaculations?

Some research has shown that dong quai, combined with other herbs, may prevent premature ejaculation in men. While the research is limited, a direct-to-skin application of dong quai, Panax ginseng root, Cistanches deserticola, Zanthoxyl species, Torlidis seed, clove flower, Asiasari root, cinnamon bark, and toad venom shows promise in this area.

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