Dang Gui – Angelica Sinensis

Dang Gui – Angelica Sinensisdang gui

Some people speak of the traditional Chinese herb Dang Gui (Dong quai) as if it had mystical properties. And in Traditional Chinese Medicine, it does.

Dang Gui, which is the root of a plant known to botanists as Angelica sinensis, was considered in traditional herbal medicine to be a Yin herb. It helps the body contain energies that otherwise would be misdirected. As a treatment for hot flashes, for example, it helps the body channel the energy that otherwise would be used to generate unwanted heat. As a “sweet” herb, it adds a measure of sweetness to emotions and the experience of life. As an “acrid” herb, it wakes up the senses, but in a way that enlightens rather than upsets. And as a warming herb, it helps energies and blood move up in body when they naturally sag down. It redirects the vital energy known as Qi and blood flow back to the heart and brain and away from frivolous uses in the torso.

The legendary applications of Dang Gui have corresponding actions in modern medicine, but how would a pharmacologist look at the herb?

Dang Gui Modifies the Body’s Use of Estrogen

Dang Gui isn’t really a “plant estrogen.” There are plants that make actual estrogen, but Dang Gui is not one of them. Instead, this herb is more “estrogenic” than “estrogen.” The ferulic acid in estrogen occupies some of the same receptor sites as estrogen on the outer membranes of cells in the breast and uterus. It activates these cells in the same way as estrogen, even when there isn’t actual estrogen in circulation.[1] However, it can also activate cells in the breast and uterus that don’t have estrogen receptors.[2] In this way, the ferulic acid in Dang Gui is a kind of “super estrogen” that counteracts some of the effects of menopause. This property also means, however, that it should not be used by women who have breast or uterine cancer, whether or not their cancers are estrogen-receptor positive.

Dang Gui Has a Unique Effect on the Immune System

There are complex sugars (polysaccharides) in Dang Gui that modulate the immune system without necessarily stimulating or suppressing it. These polysaccharides fit into different kinds of receptor sites on white blood cells to activate them to fight infection. This effect occurs specifically in T cells. It’s known to occur when dong quai is brewed into a hot-water tea.[3]

However, Dang Gui also contains compounds that keep specialized mast cells from breaking open to release histamine. In this way one compound in Dang Gui  activates the immune system to fight infection, but another compound in Dang Gui stops allergies.[4]

Dang Gui Relaxes Breathingdang gui 2

About 1-1/2% of the total weight of dong quai is a compound called ligustilide. This chemical relaxes the smooth muscles around the bronchial passages.[5] It relieves asthma, although this makes dong quai an herb you don’t want to take if you have COPD.

Modern Science Confirms Dang Gui’s Use as a “Detoxifier”

Traditional Chinese Medicine uses Dang Gui in tonics to “purify” the blood. What actually happens is that complex carbohydrates, the previously mentioned polysaccharides, lock on to receptor sites on a set of white blood cells known as macrophages. These are large white blood cells that can surround and “eat” germs. They patrol the body looking for bacteria and other microorganisms. Dang Gui polysaccharides stimulate them to patrol more of the body to look in more places for germs.[6]

Dang Gui also plays a role In “liver tonics.” Some plant chemicals in the herb activate the Kuppfer cells, which are the liver’s immune system.[7] Other plant chemicals in the herb prevent the process of apoptosis, also known as cell suicide, when liver tissue is exposed to toxins. They keep the liver alive even when it’s been shocked by exposure to a poison. It’s the whole herb, not a chemical extract, that has this protective effective on the liver, and it’s the whole herb soaked in beverage alcohol (wine in Traditional Chinese Medicine) that helps the liver recover after toxic exposure.[8]

Dang Gui Has Anti-Ulcer Effects

One of the modern uses of Dang Gui formulas in China is the treatment of ulcerative colitis. The herb doesn’t stop the process of ulcer formation, but it accelerates tissue repair.[9] This is a benefit that would be noticed after taking an herbal tea.

Dang Gui Is Helpful for Some Men, Too

Traditional Korean herbal remedies for premature ejaculation usually focus on dang gui. It contains phytochemicals that raise the “vibratory threshold” for ejaculation, so that sex has to last longer and has to be more vigorous for the man to climax.[10]

The Best Known Use of Dang Gui Is In an Herbal Formula

Clinical researchers in universities as far apart as China and Texas have done extensive studies of a traditional formula that combines dong quai with other ingredients, especially white peony root. This Dang Gui and Peony Decoction, also known as Dang Gui Shao Yao San, or Toki-shakuyaku-san (TJ-23) in Japan, or Dangguijakyak-san (DJS) in Korea, or Tang-Kuei and Peony in most English-speaking countries, is showing considerable promise as a treatment for Alzheimer’s.

Researchers at the University of Texas noticed that when they gave elderly women this formula for hormone-related problems, they became mentally sharper and their memories improved. This led to a series of clinical trials all over the world involving both men and women to see if the formula could be a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease.[11]

Japanese clinical trials have found that Dang Gui  and Peony Decoction can be used to prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s and cognitive impairment caused by multiple-infarct dementia.[12] It may also prevent dementia and memory loss In Parkinson’s disease.[13]

And this formula may stop the Alzheimer’s-like complications of “type 3” diabetes. Dang Gui and Peony Decoction counteracts the effects of harmful free radicals, like those that are released when blood sugar levels are too high. [14]

The benefits of Dang Gui for the brain are not obtained from the use of Dang Gui by itself. It has to be combined with the other herbs of the traditional Chinese formula. These herbs act synergistically with Dang Gui for the formula’s combined effects.[15] But this profound effect of an unpatented, ancient, traditional herbal medicine may provide more benefits for Alzheimer’s patients that any other pharmaceutical treatments.

Dang Gui Isn’t a Miracle Herb, But…

angelica sinensis dang gui

Dang Gui is an especially useful herb, but that doesn’t mean it’s a cure-all. It’s very useful for treating women’s problems that are caused by a lack of estrogen. It can be very helpful for men who are concerned about premature ejaculation. And it’s a possible wonder-drug for preventing Alzheimer’s and the dementia that follows tiny blood clots in the brain.

Just don’t give up on traditional medicine to use Dang Gui. All herbs are best used with the best medicines your doctor can prescribe. Herbs don’t replace medicine. Be honest and open with an honest and open-minded doctor to get the best results from using Dang Gui or any other herb.

 

[1] Eagon PK, Elm MS, Hunter DS, et al. Medicinal herbs: modulation of estrogen action. Era of Hope Mtg, Dept Defense; Breast Cancer Res Prog, Atlanta, GA 2000;Jun 8-11.

[2] Lau CBS, Ho TCY, Chan TWL, Kim SCF. Use of dong quai (Angelica sinensis) to treat peri- and postmenopausal symptoms in women with breast cancer: is it appropriate? Menopause 2005;12:734-40.

[3] Kumazawa, Y., Nakatsuru, Y., Fujisawa, H., Nishimura, C., Mizunoe, K., Otsuka, Y., and Nomoto, K. Lymphocyte activation by a polysaccharide fraction separated from hot water extracts of Angelica acutiloba Kitagawa. J Pharmacobiodyn. 1985;8(6):417-424.

[4] Wei-An Mao, Yuan-Yuan Sun, Jing-Yi Mao, et al. Inhibitory Effects of Angelica Polysaccharide on Activation of Mast Cells. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2016;2016:6063475 doi:10.1155/2016/6063475.

[5] Zhao KJ, Dong TT, Tu PF, et al. Molecular genetic and chemical assessment of radix Angelica (Danggui) in China. J Agric Food Chem 2003;51:2576-83.

[6] Wang, Y. and Zhu, B. [The effect of angelica polysaccharide on proliferation and differentiation of hematopoietic progenitor cell]. Zhonghua Yi Xue.Za Zhi 1996;76(5):363-366.

[7] Wang J, Xia XY, Peng RX, Chen X. [Activation of the immunologic function of rat Kupffer cells by the polysaccharides of Angelica sinensis]. Yao Xue Xue Bao. 2004 Mar;39(3):168-71. Chinese.

PMID: 15171648.

[8] Niu C, Wang J, Ji L, Wang Z. Protection of Angelica sinensis (Oliv) Diels against hepatotoxicity induced by Dioscorea bulbifera L. and its mechanism. Biosci Trends. 2014 Oct;8(5):253-9. PMID: 25382441.

[9] 48430 Cho, C. H., Mei, Q. B., Shang, P., Lee, S. S., So, H. L., Guo, X., and Li, Y. Study of the gastrointestinal protective effects of polysaccharides from Angelica sinensis in rats. Planta Med 2000;66(4):348-351.

[10] Choi HK, Jung GW, Moon KH, et al. Clinical study of SS-Cream in patients with lifelong premature ejaculation. Urology 2000;55:257-61.

[11] Fu X, Wang Q, Wang Z, Kuang H, Jiang P. Danggui-Shaoyao-San: New Hope for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Aging Dis. 2015 Dec 20;7(4):502-13. doi: 10.14336/AD.2015.1220. eCollection 2016 Aug. Review.

PMID: 27493835.

[12] Kitabayashi Y, Shibata K, Nakamae T, Narumoto J, Fukui K (2007). Effect of traditional Japanese herbal medicine toki-shakuyakusan for mild cognitive impairment: SPECT study. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci, 61: 447-448.

[13] Matsuoka T, Narumoto J, Shibata K, Okamura A, Taniguchi S, Kitabayashi Y, et al. (2012). Effect of toki-shakuyaku-san on regional cerebral blood flow in patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2012:245091.

[14] Fu X, Wang Q, Wang Z, Kuang H, Jiang P. Danggui-Shaoyao-San: New Hope for Alzheimer’s Disease.

Aging Dis. 2015 Dec 20;7(4):502-13. doi: 10.14336/AD.2015.1220. eCollection 2016 Aug. Review.

PMID: 27493835.

[15] Yang WJ, Li DP, Li JK, Li MH, Chen YL, Zhang PZ. Synergistic antioxidant activities of eight traditional Chinese herb pairs. Biol Pharm Bull. 2009 Jun;32(6):1021-6. PMID: 19483308.

 

DISCLAIMER

The information and reference materials contained here are intended solely for the general information of the reader. It is not to be used for treatment purposes, but rather for discussion with the patient’s own physician. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of professional medical care.

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Sydney Acupuncture & Sydney Chinese Herbal Medicine