Dong quai is a member of the celery family. Greenish-white flowers bloom from May to August, and the plant is typically found growing in damp mountain ravines, meadows, river banks, and coastal areas. The root is used in herbal medicine.
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Dong quai has been used either alone or in combination with other traditional Chinese medicine herbs to help relieve painful menstrual cramps.
Dong quai has been used either alone or in combination with other Traditional Chinese Medicine herbs to help relieve painful menstrual cramps. Many women take 3–4 grams per day. A Japanese herbal formulation known as toki-shakuyaku-san combines peony root (Paeonia spp.) with dong quai and four other herbs and has been found to effectively reduce symptoms of cramping and pain associated with dysmenorrhea.2
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Dong quai is an herb with weak estrogen-like actions similar to soy. In one trial, a formula containing licorice, burdock, dong quai, wild yam, and motherwort reduced menopause symptoms.
A variety of herbs with weak estrogen-like actions similar to the effects of soy have traditionally been used for women with menopausal symptoms.3 These herbs include licorice, alfalfa, and red clover. In a double-blind trial, a formula containing tinctures of licorice, burdock, dong quai, wild yam, and motherwort (30 drops three times daily) was found to reduce symptoms of menopause.4 No effects on hormone levels were detected in this study. In a separate double-blind trial, supplementation with dong quai (4.5 grams three times daily in capsules) had no effect on menopausal symptoms or hormone levels.5 A double-blind trial using a standardized extract of subterranean clover (Trifolium subterraneum), a relative of red clover, containing 40 mg isoflavones per tablet did not impact symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, though it did improve function of the arteries.6 An extract of red clover, providing 82 mg of isoflavones per day, also was ineffective in a 12-week double-blind study.7 In another double-blind study, however, administration of 80 mg of isoflavones per day from red clover reduced the frequency of hot flashes in postmenopausal women. The benefit was noticeable after 4 weeks of treatment and became more pronounced after a total of 12 weeks.8
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In Traditional Chinese medicine, dong quai is typically used in combination with herbs such as peony and osha for menopausal symptoms and menstrual cramps.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dong quai is rarely used alone and is typically used in combination with herbs such as peony (Paeonia officinalis) and osha (Ligusticum porteri) for menopausal symptoms as well as for menstrual cramps.9 However, no clinical trials have been completed to determine the effectiveness of dong quai for PMS.
Also known as dang-gui in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), dong quai is sometimes referred to as the female ginseng. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dong quai is often included in herbal combinations for abnormal menstruation, suppressed menstrual flow, dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), and uterine bleeding. It is not used in TCM for treating symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes. It is also used in TCM for both men and women with cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and problems with peripheral circulation.1
Traditionally, dong quai is believed to have a balancing or “adaptogenic” effect on the female hormonal system. Contrary to the opinion of some authors, dong quai does not qualify as a phytoestrogen and does not appear to have any hormone-like actions in the body. This is partially supported by a double-blind trial with menopausal women that found no estrogenic activity for the herb.10 In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dong quai is rarely used alone and is typically used in combination with herbs such as peony and ligusticum for conditions such as menstrual cramps.11
Dong quai has been traditionally used as a way to promote formation of red blood cells, an effect partially supported in a case study of a man with kidney failure who had a significant improvement in anemia due to dialysis while drinking a tea composed of dong quai and peony.12 No clinical trials have examined dong quai alone for this purpose, or for the treatment of other forms of anemia.
The powdered root can be used in capsules or tablets.13 Women may take 3–4 grams daily in three divided applications. Alternatively, 3–5 ml of tincture may be taken three times per day.
Certain medicines interact with this supplement.
Although there are no specific studies demonstrating interactions with anticoagulants, the following herbs contain coumarin-like substances that may interact with heparin and could conceivably cause bleeding.14 These herbs include dong quai, fenugreek, horse chestnut, red clover, sweet clover, and sweet woodruff. People should consult a healthcare professional if they’re taking an anticoagulant and wish to use one of these herbs.
A 46-year-old woman taking warfarin experienced increased strength of the anticoagulant properties of the drug after starting to use dong quai (Angelica sinensis) for menopause.15 The daily amount of dong quai was 1,130–2,260 mg per day. Her bleeding tendency returned to normal after discontinuing the dong quai. While little is known about the potential interaction of dong quai and warfarin, women should discuss the use of the herb with a healthcare professional if they are taking an anticoagulant drug and wish to use dong quai.
Dong quai may cause some fair-skinned people to become more sensitive to sunlight. People using it on a regular basis should limit prolonged exposure to the sun or other sources of ultraviolet radiation. Dong quai is not recommended for pregnant or breast-feeding women.16
1. Foster S, Yue CX. Herbal Emissaries. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1992, 65–72.
2. Kotani N, Oyama T, Hashimoto H, et al. Analgesic effect of a herbal medicine for treatment of primary dysmenorrhea—a double-blind study. Am J Chinese Med 1997;25:205–12.
3. Crawford AM. The Herbal Menopause Book. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1996.
4. Hudson TS, Standish L, Breed C, et al. Clinical and endocrinological effects of a menopausal botanical formula. J Naturopathic Med 1997;7(1):73–7.
5. Hirata JD, Swiersz LM, Zell B, et al. Does dong quai have estrogenic effects in postmenopausal women? A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Fertil Steril 1997;68:981–6.
6. Nestel PJ, Pomeroy S, Kay S, et al. Isoflavones from red clover improve systemic arterial compliance but not plasma lipids in menopausal women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1999;84:895–8.
7. Tice JA, Ettinger B, Ensrud K, et al. Phytoestrogen supplements for the treatment of hot flashes: the Isoflavone Clover Extract (ICE) Study: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 2003;290:207–14.
8. van de Weijer PHM, Barentsen R. Isoflavones from red clover (Promensil®) significantly reduce menopausal hot flush symptoms compared with placebo. Maturitas 2002;42:187–93.
9. Qi-bing M, Jing-yi T, Bo C. Advance in the pharmacological studies of radix Angelica sinensis (oliv) diels (Chinese danggui). Chin Med J 1991;104:776–81.
10. Hirata JD, Swiersz LM, Zell B, et al. Does dong quai have estrogenic effects in postmenopausal women? A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Fertil Steril 1997;68:981–6.
11. Qi-bing M, Jing-yi T, Bo C. Advance in the pharmacological studies of radix Angelica sinensis (Oliv) Diels (Chinese danggui). Chin Med J 1991;104:776–81.
12. Bradley RR, Cunniff PJ, Pereira BJG, Jaber BL. Hematopoietic effect of Radix angelicae sinensis in a hemodialysis patient. Am J Kidney Dis 1999;34:349–54.
13. Foster S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, 28–9.
14. Miller LG, Murray WJ, eds. Herbal Medicinals: A Clinician’s Guide. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press, 1999, 313–5.
15. Page RL, Lawrence JD. Potentiation of warfarin by dong quai. Phamacotherapy 1999;19:870–6.
16. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 28–9.
Last Review: 05-01-2013
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