Botanical Description & Habitat
Angelica sinensis, A. polymorpha, A. acutiloba, and others.
High altitudes, on cold and damp mountain slopes, with rich, deep soil with good drainage conditions. China, Asia. Cultivated in Japan and China.
Historical Properties & Uses
Next to Panax ginseng, Dong Quai is undoubtedly the most honored and respected herb in China, and is quickly gaining an equal reputation among users in the rest of the world. Experts estimate Dong Quai has been used by Chinese for at least 2,000 years. It is described in a pharmacopoeia written in 544 A.D. It is said to have Yin qualities, while ginseng has Yang qualities.
Dong Quai is used medicinally as a tonic, cardiotonic, respiratory tonic and liver tonic. It is used to promote circulation, to regulate the menstrual cycle and stop discomforts of menstruation. In Western pop-medical terms that means it's good for PMS. In Western herbal terms, it is used for dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), metrorrhagia (too much menstruation) and amenorrhea (too little, or no, menstruation). Dong Quai is also often recommended during pregnancy to ease delivery, reduce pain and discomfort and eliminate complications as much as possible. In addition, Dong Quai is used as a laxative.
Many Chinese herbal formulas, of ancient origin and generations of use, contain Dong Quai.
Method of Action
Most of the actions of Dong Quai depend on the presence of coumarins, phytosterols, polysaccharides, and flavonoids.
Dong Quai has Cardiovascular Properties
Studies have shown Dong Quai is hypotensive through a dilation of blood vessels. This action is attributed to coumarins (e.g. oxypeucedanin, osthol, imperatorin, psoralen and bergapten), which have been shown in other studies to dilate coronary arteries, possibly by blocking calcium channels. Coumarins also act as vasodilators and antispasmodics; however, some may act as central nervous system stimulants. One part of Dong Quai's tonic effect is thus explainable. Dong Quai also inhibits platelet aggregation probably through the presence of ferulic acid.
In one study, in 111 patients with acute ischemic cerebrovascular disease, the total success rate was 91%, including a 71% very successful rate. In 65 patients suffering from superficial obliterating phlebitis, the total success rate was 98.2%, and the very successful rate was 81.5%. In 52 cases of thromboangiitis obliterans, the total effectiveness rate and very effective success rates were 86.5% and 44% respectively.
Dong Quai has Immune-system Enhancing Properties
An anti-allergy property of Dong Quai has been investigated fairly thoroughly. The plant operates in one way by inhibiting IgE, IgM and IgG protein production, and by stimulating B-lymphocytes and T-lymphocytes. Related coumarins have also demonstrated considerable immune enhancing effects; it is reasonable on that basis to assume Dong Quai also possesses such properties.
Among those effects is the ability to enhance and activate white blood cell activity. The polysaccharides in Dong Quai have also been implicated in immune stimulation. They stimulate interferon production, leukocyte production and have anti-cancer properties.
Dong Quai Contains Phytoestrogens with Potential Estrogenic Action
Dong Quai contains estrogenic substances that may exert some regulating affect on estrogen levels and on estrogenic biological mechanisms. They may alternately enhance when estrogen levels are too low, and compete when levels are too high. This would be in keeping with the idea of a menstrual tonic, for instance. It is doubtful if Dong Quai has any direct estrogenic effects.
Dong Quai has Smooth Muscle Relaxing, Antibiotic and Analgesic Properties
Substantial pharmacological research has validated these properties in Dong Quai. Anti-cramping, hypotensive, tonic, anti-asthmatic, analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-arthritic properties in the root have all been supported by basic research. It has also been shown effective against several strains of micro-organisms, especially fungi such as candida albicans.
Dong Quai has Opposing Actions on the Uterus and other Medicinal Effects
Two fractions of Dong Quai have opposite actions on the uterus. The volatile oil inhibits contractions, while the non-volatile component stimulates contractions. In a lengthy series of studies, Chinese physicians have determined several formulas based on Dong Quai were effective in a variety of clinical settings, including amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, sterility, susceptibility to miscarriage, uterine bleeding, uterine convulsions, anemia, ovarian functional disorders, climacteric disorders, blood stasis and toxemia of pregnancy.
Dong Quai Enhances Metabolic and Humoral Actions
In animals studies Dong Quai enhanced metabolism, increased oxygen utilization in the liver, and increased the metabolism of glutamic acid and cysteine. It was suggested these effects depended on the presence of vitamin B-12 and folic acid in the preparation. Dong Quai also reduced or prevented vitamin E deficiency-induced disease in rats.
Drug Interactions & Precautions
Veratrum alkaloids may potentiate the activity of dong quai (up to 50%).
Additive effects may occur between the hypotensive property of Dong Quai and that of dopamine receptor agonists such as bromocriptine mesylate.
Dong Quai should be used with caution in conjunction with CNS depressants or stimulants.
The hypotensive effect of this herb may be potentiated by anoretic drugs such as fenfluramine whose effects are mediated by brainstem serotonin, and may be additive with the analgesics nalbuphine HCl and propoxyphene HCl.
The sympathomimetic action of the uterine relaxant ritodine HCl and the vasocontricting property of Dong Quai are additive.
The antiarrhythmic agent, quinidine, may increase the hypoprothrombinemic effect of Dong Quai.
The presence of estrogen-like substances may increase the production of procoagulant factors which, in turn, may inhibit the anticoagulant action of heparin or coumarin.
Estrogenic constituents of the plant may potentiate oral antidiabetics, folic acid antagonists, and some corticosteroids.
The presence of estrogen can inhibit antihypercholesterolemics by inducing hyperlipemia. It can also inhibit the activity of most parenteral medications by reducing the rate of spreading.
The estrogenic activity of Dong Quai may be inhibited by meprobamate and phenobarbital. Due to the presence of estrogenic substance, oxytocin may augment theelectrical and contractile activity of uterine smooth muscle. The estrogen in Dong Quai may raise blood glucose levels enough to alter insulin requirements in the diabetic.
The hypotensive property of Dong Quai may be additive with the CNS depressant activity of the analgesic nalbuphine HCl. The same is true of the analgesic propoxyphene HCl.
Due to hypotensive principles, it would be wise to avoid using Dong Quai with procarbazine antineoplastic agents, to eliminate the chance of CNS depression.
Although the coumarin content of this herb is not high at normal usage levels, it is important to note coumarins can affect the action of almost any drug.
Due to the presence of blood serum platelet aggregation inhibitors, such as linolenic acid, this herb may potentiate the effects of anticoagulant drugs such as heparin.
Safety Factors & Toxicity
Dong Quai toxicity is quite rare, and very mild when they are reported. Some people appear to be allergic. Due to presence of coumarins, some persons may become photosynthesized and develop dermatitis.
The Canadian government has banned the sale of Dong Quai for food use in their country.
Preparation & Administration
Use three times daily
Dried root and rhizome
1-2 gms or by infusion
0.5-2ml of 1:1 in 25% alcohol
0.5-2ml of 1:5 in 50% alcohol
Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.
Berkarda, B., H. Bouffard-Eyuboglu & U. Derman. The effect of coumarin derivatives on the immunological system of man. Agents and Actions. 13, 50-52, 1983.
Duke, J.A. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, CRC Press, Inc., Boca Raton, Florida, 1985.
Facts and Comparisons. The Lawrence Review of Natural Products. Mar, 1997.
Harada, M., M. Suzuki & Y. Ozaki. Effect of Japanese angelica root and peony root on uterine contraction in the rabbit in situ. J. Pharm. Dyn., 7, 304-11, 1984.
Haranaka, K., N. Satomi, et.al. Antitumor activities and tumor necrosis factor producibility of traditional Chinese medicines and crude drugs. Cancer Immunol. Immonther., 20(1), 1-5, 1985.
Hsu, H.Y. Application of Chinese herbal formulas and scientific research. Oriental Healing Arts International Bulletin., 11(2), 87-96, 1986.
Kumazawa, Y., D. Mizunoe & Y. Otsuka. Immunostimulating polysaccharides separated from hot water extract of angelica acutiloba Kitagawa (Yamato Tohki). Immunology, 47, 75-83, 1982.
Lou, Z.H. Abnormal menstruation and pre-menstrual syndrome. Journal of New Traditional Chinese Medicine, Kwang Chow TCM College, 5, 47-48, 1984.
Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.
Ohno, N, S. Matsumoto, I. Suzuki, et.al. Biochemical characterization of a mitogen obtained from an oriental crude drug, tohki (angelica acutiloba Kitagawa). J. Pharm. Dyn., 6, 903-912, 1983.
Sung, C., A. Baker, et.al. Effects of angelica polymorpha on reaginic antibody production. Journal of Natural Products, 45, 398-406, 1982.
Tu, J.J. Effects of radix angelicae sinensis on hemorrheology in patients with acute ischemic stroke. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, 4(3), 225-228, 1984.
Xu, L.N., Z.Z. Yin & M. Lin. The antithrombotic effect of Dang Gui (angelica senensis) injection and its clinical trial. Abstracts of International Symposium on Traditional Medicine and Modern Pharmacology, Beijing, 1986, p. 104.
Yamada, H., H. Kiyohara, et.al. Studioes on polysaccharides from angelica acutiloba, IV. Characterization of anticomplementary arabinogalactan from the roots of angelica acutiloga Kitagawa. Molecular Immunology, 22, 295-304, 1985.
Yamada, H., H. Kiyohara, et.al. Studies on polysaccharides from angelica auctiloba." Planta Medica, 48, 163-167, 1984.
Yoshira, K. The physiological actions of tang kuei and cnidium. Bulletin of the Oriental Healing Arts Institute. 10, 269- 278, 1985.
Zhu, D.P.Q. Dong Quai. American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 15(3-4), 117-125, 1987.
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