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What is Dong Quai?

Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis) is a medicinal herb native to China. It is sometimes known as Female Ginseng, Chinese Angelica or Danggui. The plant has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat a number of ailments. The major active ingredients in Dong Quai are ferulic acid, and coumarin.

Dong Quai - Where does it come from?

Dong Quai grows throughout China and South Asia, primarily in cool, dry regions. The root is the part of the plant that is usually used for medicinal effect, but the stems and leaves are occasionally used in treatments and for flavouring.

Dong Quai - What are the benefits?

The major uses for Dong Quai in Chinese medicine are for the treatment of gynaecological issues such as painful menstruation and menstrual irregularities – It is thought to modulate the production of oestrogen (1). It is also used to improve the blood – it may assist anemia by stimulating the production of new red blood cells, a claim which has been demonstrated in animal trials (2) and as part of a treatment for premature ejaculation.

A lot of new research has been coming out using the western scientific method to analyse Dong Quai – this has led people to propose additional uses for the plant. It has shown anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in animals (3), an ability to stimulate the immune system, in vitro (4), has proposed serotinergic activity, which can raise mood (5), has shown some anticancer effects in mice (6), and may be protective against osteoarthritis through promoting the proliferation of connective tissue components, in mice (7). It also contains vitamins B12 and E, and is rich in iron.

Dong Quai's benefits to bodybuilding

Dong quai is best known in bodybuilding circles as a fat loss supplement, particularly for women, a claim which has not been tested scientifically, yet has some anecdotal support. Some of the other claimed benefits may also be of interest to athletes. Stimulating red blood cell production would increase oxygen-carrying capacity, anti-inflammatories and antioxidants may reduce soreness and muscle damage and aid recovery, immune boosters can assist where an intense training schedule has run down the body's defenses. Connective tissue supports muscle, and a boost to the mood provides motivation, particularly during a cutting cycle where a reduced calorie intake can cause feelings of flatness and desreased alertness.

Dong Quai - negatives side effects and safety issues

There are a few serious precautions to take when dosing with Dong Quai. Firstly, it may prevent blood clotting, so it must not be taken by anybody who is taking anticoagulant medication, like warfarin, or anyone with a coagulation disorder.

Although Dong Quai has been shown to slow the growth of some cancers, some of the substances in this plant are thought to be carcinogenic. Dong Quai is sometimes used to treat skin pigmentation disorders, and can make the skin extremely sensitive to sunlight, which can result in burning even from mild exposure (8). In at least one case, Dong Quai supplementation caused gynaecomastia (man boobs) in a man taking a root extract supplement, thought to be higher in phytoestrogens than the raw plant (9).

Whilst there are thousands of years of anecdotal evidence supporting Dong Quai's uses in Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is almost no study of this compound's effects in humans undertaken using the western scientific method. The research which has been performed on cell lines and in mice is promising, but without human studies, strong conclusions cannot be drawn.

Dong Quai – what is the recommended dosage and when should I take it?

The dose of active compounds in Dong Quai varies, as in all natural substances. As a broad guide, a usual dose is between 1-5 grams of fresh root, or 500-1500mg of dried extract taken three times a day.

What supplements contain Dong Quai?

Dong Quai is not yet popular enough with bodybuilders to be included in any proprietary supplement formulations. It is usually sold as a stand alone ingredient, or a herbalist may blend it with other ingredients that suit the nature of the intended usage.

Dong Quai – what should I stack it with?

If Dong Quai is being used for fat loss, it would go well with other ingredients that support this goal like bitter orange or green coffee bean extract. Dong Quai should not be taken with other supplements that have anticoagulant effects like Gingko Biloba. If in doubt, check with a medical professional prior to taking Dong Quai.

(1) Chao WW, Lin BF. Bioactivities of major constituents isolated from Angelica sinensis (Danggui). Chin Med 2011 Aug 19;6:29.

(2) Liu C, Meng FY, Liang SX, Deng R, Li CK, Pong NH, Lau CP, Cheng CP, Cheng SW, Ye JY, Chen JL, Yang ST, Yan H, Chen S, Chong BH, Yang M. Polysaccharides from the root of Angelica sinensis promotes hematopoiesis and thrombopoiesis through the PI3K/AKT pathway.BMC Complement Alternative Med. 2010 Dec 21;10:79

(3) Saw CL, Wu Q, Su ZY, Wang H, Yang Y, Xu X, Huang Y, Khor TO, Kong AN. Effects of natural phytochemicals in Angelica sinensis (Danggui) on Nrf2-mediated gene expression of phase II drug metabolizing enzymes and anti-inflammation. Biopharm Drug Dispos. 2013 Sep;34(6):303-11.

(4) Gao QT, Cheng JK, Li J, Chu GK, Duan R, Cheung AW. Zhao KJ, Dong TT, Tsim KW. A Chinese herbal decoction, Danggui Buxue Tang, prepared from Radix Astragali and Radix Angelicae Sinensisstimulates the immune responses. Planta Med. 2006 Oct;72(13):1227-31.

(5) Hajirahimkhan A, Dietz BM, Bolton JL. Botanical modulation of menopausal symptoms: mechanisms of action? Planta Med. 2013 May;79(7):538-53.

(6) Gao M, Zhang JH, Zhou FX, Xie CH, Han G, Fang SQ, Zhou YF. Angelica sinensis suppresses human lung adenocarcinoma A549 cell metastasis by regulating MMPs/TIMPs and TGF-β1. Oncol Rep. 2012 Feb;27(2):585-93.

(7) Qin J, Liu YS, Liu J, Li J, Tan Y, Li XJ, Magdalou J, Mei QB, Wang H, Chen LB. Effect of Angelica sinensis Polysaccharides on Osteoarthritis In Vivo and In Vitro: A Possible Mechanism to Promote Proteoglycans Synthesis. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:794761.

(8) Dong Quai. Medline Plus. NIH. Accessed 29/11/2013.

(9) Goh, S. Y.; Loh, K. C. (2001). "Gynaecomastia and the Herbal Tonic Dong Quai". Singapore Medical Journal 42 (3): 115–116.

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