It also has a history of use in China as a heart, spleen, liver, kidney and general blood tonic. In more recent times, interest in herbal and alternative medicine has made dong quai a popular alternative to pharmaceutical hormone replacement therapy for treating symptoms of menopause.
A wide range of pharmacologically-active compounds have been identified in dong quai, including ligustilide, butylidenephthalide and butylphthalide. Animal experiments have shown that these agents can relax smooth muscle and reduce uterine contractions. Thus, they may be responsible for dong quai’s reputed ability to relieve menstrual cramps, but direct proof is lacking.
As noted above, dong quai is also a popular treatment for menopausal symptoms, although the few studies that exist are either equivocal or negative.
For example, one study on 71 post-menopausal women with hot flashes found dong quai was…
“…no more helpful than placebo in relieving menopausal symptoms.”
A more recent Chinese study on “Dang Gui Buxue Tang” (a Chinese herbal preparation consisting of dong quai and astragalus) also concluded that there was “…overall no significant difference between Dang Gui Buxue Tang and placebo in the treatment of vasomotor symptoms in Hong Kong Chinese women.”
This is par for the course. Unfortunately, there are very few human studies on dong quai, period. Anecdotal reports indicate it may have therapeutic value, but there’s little hard data that can either affirm or deny these reports.
On the plus side, there are a number of in-vitro and animal experiments that demonstrate dong quai has anti-inflammatory, antifibrotic, antioxidant, immune-enhancing and anti-tumor activities, although far more study is needed to determine its true value for treating human disease.
Dong quai supplements are made from the whole root of the Angelica sinensis plant. They’re available in capsules, tablets, liquid extracts, and teas. If you’re interested in experimenting with dong quai, check out the selection of products from iHerb.com. In addition, Xtend Life’s Total Balance for Women and Total Balance for Women Premium products contain dong quai (as part of their extensive multi-vitamin/mineral formulas).
The herb is not recommended for long-term use, and it should not be used during pregnancy. Women with heavy menstrual bleeding or fibroids should also avoid the use of dong quai.
Side effects of dong quai may include diarrhea and sun sensitivity in individuals with fair skin. Since dong quai contains coumarin derivatives, anyone taking the prescription anticoagulant Coumadin (warfarin), which is also a coumarin derivative, should not take dong quai without the advice of a physician.