by Rachael Link, MS, RD
You may not have heard of dong quai, but this traditional herb has been around for quite a while. In fact, it has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine.
Thanks to its potent medicinal properties, this herb boasts a long list of health benefits, from improving bone health to reducing the symptoms of menopause. Studies show that it could also decrease depression, lower blood sugar levels, ease inflammation and boost the health of your heart.
For most people, getting your hands on the raw version of this herb could be pretty challenging. Fortunately, dong quai is available in capsule, tea or liquid extract form, making it easy and convenient to incorporate into your daily regimen.
Angelica sinensis, also known as dong quai or female ginseng, is a type of herb belonging to the Apiaceae family of plants. This group of plants also includes parsley, carrots, celery and coriander.
Dong quai thrives in cooler temperatures and is typically found in the mountainous regions of China, Japan and Korea.
This plant has been a prime ingredient in Chinese medicine for centuries and was historically used for everything from relieving depression to treating constipation. Today, it is most often used to help balance hormones and reduce symptoms of menopause.
Many of the health-promoting properties of this angelica herb come from the presence of coumarin, a naturally occurring compound present in many plants. It also contains other beneficial plant compounds like ferulic acid and phytosterols.
Dong quai root is often brewed into a tasty herbal tea. It has a strong, bitter taste that is similar to anise.
Additionally, supplements like angelica root or dong quai extract are available to get an added dose of benefits into your day.
6 Dong Quai Benefits
1. Strengthens Bones
Osteoporosis is a condition characterized by weak, brittle bones and an increased risk of breaks and fractures. Though this condition can affect anyone, older women are the most susceptible.
This is because menopause causes a decline in levels of estrogen, an important hormone for regulating both bone formation and the breakdown of bone cells. (1)
In addition to treating some of the most obvious symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes, dong quai may also be useful in preventing bone loss as a result of menopause.
Some research shows that it could help prevent osteoporosis by building up and strengthening bones. One study found that treating bone cells with dong quai extract increased bone cell formation. (2)
Another animal study from Korea showed that treating rats with dong quai extract helped preserve bone mineral density. (3)
In addition to dong quai, eating plenty of calcium-rich foods, getting regular physical activity and spending a few minutes outside each day to get your fix of vitamin D can all help build up your bones.
2. May Reduce Blood Sugar
High blood sugar can lead to symptoms like frequent urination, trouble concentrating, increased thirst and weight loss.
Studies have found that dong quai has a blood sugar-lowering effect and can help promote normal blood sugar levels to prevent adverse side effects.
A study in the journal Food & Function showed that giving mice dong quai for four weeks decreased both blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. (4)
Insulin is a hormone responsible for the transport of sugar from the bloodstream to the cells. When insulin levels stay elevated for long periods of time, it can lead to insulin resistance. This causes your body to stop responding normally to insulin, resulting in a buildup of sugar in the blood.
Another 2016 study also confirmed these benefits on blood sugar, showing that administering dong quai extract to rats on a high-fat diet helped reduce blood sugar levels. (5)
Eating plenty of fiber, staying well-hydrated and keeping your carb intake under control are just a few other ways to keep blood sugar levels in check.
3. May Promote Heart Health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease and is usually caused by the buildup of plaque and cholesterol in the arteries, causing them to become narrow and hardened. (6)
Decreasing your cholesterol levels is an effective way to reduce your risk of heart disease and support better heart health.
Another study found that combining dong quai with huang qi, another medicinal plant, reduced triglycerides, total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol levels in rats. (8)
To boost the heart-healthy benefits of dong quai even more, remember to eat a balanced diet and incorporate regular exercise into your daily routine.
4. Decreases Inflammation
In times of injury or infection, your body often initiates an immune response to help fight off foreign organisms. Inflammation is part of this normal immune reaction. However, chronic inflammation is at the root of most diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Some studies have discovered that dong quai possesses powerful properties that can help reduce inflammation and may lower the risk of chronic disease.
A test-tube study published in Inflammation showed that dong quai extract effectively decreased the levels of several different inflammatory markers. (10)
Another study looked at the effects of dong quai extract on rats and found that dong quai significantly lowered inflammation caused by spinal cord injury. (11)
Besides dong quai, eating a healthy diet full of high antioxidant foods like fruits and vegetables can also help ease inflammation and make a major impact on your health.
5. Alleviates Symptoms of Menopause
Menopause is a natural decline in the amount of hormones produced by the ovaries as women age. It is typical for women in their late 40s and early 50s to experience menopause.
Side effects of menopause can include hot flashes, night sweats, hair loss, changes in mood and an increased risk of osteoporosis.
For symptom relief, many women turn to hormone replacement therapy, a type of treatment that provides the same synthetic hormones found in birth control pills. However, these medications can come with their own set of side effects and risks.
Dong quai has a long history as a natural alternative to help alleviate symptoms of menopause.
According to one Italian study, dong quai could have an estrogenic effect and may be able to help regulate hormone levels and relieve your menopause symptoms without the use of synthetic chemicals. (12)
Another study found that a mixture of dong quai and German chamomile was able to reduce the frequency and intensity of hot flashes by up to 96 percent. (13)
Reducing stress, getting more sleep and supplementing with other menopause natural remedies like black cohosh or chasteberry can also provide relief from menopause symptoms.
6. May Help Treat Depression
Some studies have found that dong quai could have an anti-depressant effect and may have a positive impact when it comes to your mood.
A 2016 animal study induced depression in rats by exposing them to mild stress. In response, the rats exhibited a decreased appetite and increased physical inactivity. Interestingly enough, treating them with dong quai extract altered the activity of a protein in the brain linked to depression and normalized these depressive behaviors. (14)
Another animal study had similar findings, demonstrating that an herbal preparation containing dong quai had clear anti-depressant properties. (15)
When used alone or in combination with traditional treatments and natural remedies, dong quai may be helpful for decreasing symptoms of depression.
History & Interesting Facts
Dong quai has been used in China for thousands of years to help balance hormones, reduce PMS symptoms and increase libido.
Interestingly enough, the name of this herb even hints at its beneficial effect on sexual health. In Chinese, dong quai supposedly means “the husband returns back to his wife.”
Dong quai has also been used in Native American, Ayurvedic and Kampo medicine as a cure for conditions like anemia, heart disease and high blood sugar.
These days, this angelica herb is a common natural remedy around the world used to treat everything from depression to menopause symptoms.
Although more research is needed to unearth its full potential as a medicinal herb, it has even been touted by some as a treatment for menstrual cramps, hair loss and certain skin conditions.
How to Use & Cook Dong Quai
Dong quai root is typically harvested and dried so that it can later be cut into pieces or ground up into powder form.
The root can be simmered, steamed or slow-cooked to infuse the strong flavor into soups, broths and tonics.
However, it is much easier to find dong quai in supplement form and, thanks to its growing popularity, you can usually find it at many pharmacies and health stores as well as online.
It is most often found as a capsule, but it is also available as a liquid extract or in dong quai tea.
When purchasing supplements, you should look for a reputable brand and check the ingredients label to make sure there are minimal added ingredients or fillers.
Dosages generally range from 2 to 4 grams per day, typically divided into two or three doses. However, it is always best to start with a smaller dose and work your way up to assess your tolerance.
Possible Side Effects & Precautions
Dong quai contains coumarin, one of the main ingredients in blood-thinning medications like Warfarin. If you are taking Warfarin or another blood thinner, taking dong quai may increase your risk of bleeding.
You should also be careful about combining dong quai with other natural blood thinners, such as ginger, gingko or garlic. Taking dong quai along with these compounds could increase your risk of bleeding or bruising.
For those who are pregnant or plan on becoming pregnant, taking dong quai is not advisable and may increase the risk of miscarriage. It should also not be taken by those who are breastfeeding, taking oral birth control pills or using hormone replacement therapy.
Additionally, some people may be allergic or sensitive to dong quai. If you have a sensitivity to other plants in the same family such as celery, anise dill or coriander, you should not use dong quai.
Side effects of dong quai are rare, but may include difficulty breathing, bloating, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting or weakness. If you experience these or any other symptoms, you should discontinue use immediately and talk to your doctor.
- Dong quai is an herb that has been shown to potentially relieve symptoms of menopause and depression, improve heart health, reduce inflammation, lower blood sugar and keep your bones strong.
- Historically, it has also been used to treat anemia, improve skin and hair health and decrease menstrual cramps, although current research on these effects is limited.
- Those who are breastfeeding, pregnant, trying to become pregnant or taking any hormonal medications like birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy should avoid dong quai.
- However, for those entering menopause and looking for a natural way to relieve symptoms, this powerful herb may be just the solution for you.
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