DONG QUAI (Angelica sinensis) Monograph
There are few Monographs on Angelica sinensis. Most existing monographs1, 2 provide useful information. However, these are limited to repeating the same clinical studies and similar observations, such as that there is ‘limited human evidence’ to support medicinal use. Conversely, internet ‘monographs’ presented by supposed experts promoting supplementation will assert beneficial effects and, in the same monograph, cite disclaimers that obliterate the recommendations. This monograph enhances existing published data on Dong quai and adds primary research based on informal studies and first-hand experience.
When presented with a shipwrecked-on-a-desert-island scenario, most herbalists and researchers asked to chose one herb find the exercise very challenging; no one herb can address everything. In the past, we would have chosen a number of different herbs. After working with Dong quai, we list it among the top ten herbs we would choose. Donq quai’s proper name is Angelica sinensis and it is classified in the same plant family (Umbelliferae) as carrots, celery and parsley. It has been called ‘female ginseng’ for its beneficial effects in menopause and other feminine health issues, but is beneficial for both sexes. Like most herbs it manifests a number of properties, but Dong quai is classified primarily as an “adaptogen” because of its ability to support the body in a wide variety of health concerns.
It is beneficial for lowering blood pressure and supporting cardiac function. In combination with other herbs, it ameliorates premenstrual symptoms and menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. It is helpful in nerve pain, headaches and inflammation, and in the management of anemia. The World Health Organization (WHO) Monogram3 is not a pharmacopoeial monograph, yet it is a comprehensive reference useful for physicians, researchers, regulatory authorities and the general public. The WHO Monograph observes that in folk medicine the herb has been used for the “Treatment of dehydration, lumbago, abnormal menstruation, menopausal symptoms (including hot flushes), hypertonia and nervous disorders”.
Dong quai has been used in Eastern medicine for thousands of years for these and many other conditions. The Merck Manual, the oldest medicine textbook in English, has been published for over 100 years. In 1899 it introduced Dong quai to the Western World under the name ‘eumenol’ and recommended the alcoholic fluid extract for ‘regulating menstrual processes’4. The Compendium of
Pharmacological Actions of Medicinal Plants and Their Constituents by Eric Yarnell, ND (2012) classifies Dong quai as an “Immunomodulator, phytocytokine, adaptogen” and notes that it contains polysaccharides and coumarins.
The authors are researchers and manufacturers of dietary supplements. This positions us in a rarefied world that allows us, albeit conscientiously and responsibly, to produce custom supplementation and observe the short and long term effects of these formulations on a wide spectrum of users. Unlike participants in clinical studies, the consumers of these supplements return month after month (and at times for years) to refill their supplies and provide feedback on the effectiveness of the formulations. After reviewing a number of clinical studies on the subject of Dong quai, we decided to update a number of formulas by adding the herb.
Dong quai was added to a formulation for varicose veins (Vein no MoreTM) originally featuring traditional well-respected herbs for vein health such as horse chestnut. Based on external data, measureable changes were expected to manifest at the earliest in ninety days. Most of the patients utilizing the formulation returned in thirty to forty-five days to report that the varicose veins were either gone or almost invisible, and to advise that the accompanying pain had subsided as well.
Dong quai was also added to an already effective product (Remedy’s Hair Beyond CompareTM) supporting quicker and thicker hair growth. Again, results were measureable after only thirty days in a number of first-time users, including some suffering from alopecia.
In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), Dong quai is thought to be best-suited for individuals with a calm disposition. Dong quai is believed to possess mild warming qualities. The cardiac benefits it is purported to provide are thought to be due to its ability to “nourish” the blood. It has been used in the past to address missed periods, premenstrual issues and fatigue. It is considered by some to have mild estrogenic properties, but this has not been established conclusively. However, ethanol extractions of Dong quai have been found to possess stronger estrogenic properties.
In conclusion, for greater benefit in Western medicine, the traditional use of Dong quai in Eastern cultures needs to be clinically studied and documented. This is especially so in light of the popularity of pharmaceutical medicine in the Western model. As with all herbs, Dong quai may interact with these pharmaceutical medications and further clinical research is necessary. However, where there is no contraindication and use of pharmaceutical medicines can be ruled out or used integratively, Dong quai evidences great benefit in formulations for vein pain and reduction, hair growth and management of ‘poor’ blood conditions.