Dong quai (Angelica sinensis ), or Chinese angelica, is a member of a plant family that includes parsley, carrots, and poison hemlock. Asian women have traditionally used its bittersweet root to relieve menstrual cramps and regulate periods. In this country it often shows up as the principal ingredient in "women's supplements," commercial mixtures of herbs that promise to treat everything from a sagging libido to the hot flashes of menopause.
What is it good for?
While laboratory and animal studies have shown a variety of effects, dong quai has not been well studied in people. Chinese herbalists prescribe dong quai in combination with other herbs to ease menstrual cramps and symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. A six-month trial of 71 postmenopausal women in the U.S. found that, used alone, dong quai was not effective for relieving hot flashes. One clinical trial in 2000 found that a cream containing don quai and several other herbs helped men suffering from premature ejaculation.
How does it work?
Dong quai contains compounds known as coumarins, which are believed responsible for some of the actions observed in laboratory and animal tests.
How safe is it?
Dong quai can be harmful if you take too much. Some of its compounds can make your skin sensitive to the sun and cause a rash. Others have been shown to cause cancer and birth defects in animals. Other reports suggest that taking the root can sometimes cause fever and heavy menstrual bleeding. If you decide to try it, be sure to find a trained herbalist who can make sure you get only as much as you need for your symptoms. Avoid combining dong quai with drugs that thin the blood, such as Coumadin (warfarin) and aspirin, which might increase the risk of bleeding. Some of the compounds in dong quai show estrogen-like effects in laboratory tests. Women with estrogen-sensitive conditions (certain cancers, endometriosis, fibroids) should avoid dong quai entirely.
How is it taken?
Some herbal experts warn that dong quai is meant to be used in combination with other herbs as prescribed by a qualified Chinese herbalist to address your particular needs. Taking it alone or in commercially prepared products is likely to be ineffective and may cause unwanted side effects. Keep in mind that the government does not regulate herbal remedies or practitioners so there's no guarantee that what you take will be safe or effective. In some cases, Chinese herbal products may be contaminated with heavy metals, prescription drugs or other undesirable substances.
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