What Happens When You Take Dong Quai?

Chinese angelica, or dong quai, has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Today, it's promoted as a natural remedy for premenstrual syndrome, digestive disorders, migraines, high blood pressure, and other ailments. Clinical evidence suggests that it may exhibit anti-cancer and neuroprotective effects, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK). But most studies have been conducted on animals or in vitro (outside of a living organism), so their findings may not apply to humans.

The University of Rochester explains that dong quai is rich in coumarins and other bioactive compounds. Coumarins dilate the blood vessels and suppress muscle cramps. Osthol, a coumarin derivative, acts as a central nervous system stimulant. Other compounds in dong quai may help reduce pain and inflammation. Unfortunately, these purported benefits lack scientific evidence, points out the University of Rochester.

Chinese angelica is available in pill, powder, and liquid form, but you want to think twice before using it. Just because something is natural doesn't mean it's safe. Let's see what happens when you take dong quai. 

Dong quai may improve blood circulation and heart health

Current evidence does not support the potential benefits of dong quai, notes the University of Rochester. However, some studies indicate that it may help improve blood circulation and heart health. For example, a 2013 report published by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) found that ferulic acid, an active compound in dong quai, may inhibit platelet aggregation and arterial thrombosis in rats. Arterial thrombosis affects circulation and can increase your risk of having a stroke or heart attack, explains a 2017 review featured in the European Heart Journal.

Chinese angelica oil may also reduce blood pressure and increase blood flow, according to the EMA. Moreover, it has mild anti-anxiety effects. Anxiety and heart disease are strongly connected. "I believe that a really careful look at anxiety would reveal the ways it can severely impact heart disease, both as a contributing factor and as an obstacle in recovery," says board certified psychiatrist Una D. McCann (via Johns Hopkins Medicine). But the above studies were conducted on animals and used very high doses of ferulic acid, so it's unclear how the results apply to humans.

You may experience increased sensitivity to light and other side effects

Dong quai is unlikely to relieve menstrual pain, hot flashes, and other hormonal symptoms, says the EMA. For some people, its side effects outweigh any potential benefits. As the researchers note, this root contains furocoumarins, a class of organic compounds that may increase your sensitivity to light. These substances can also become carcinogenic in the presence of ultraviolet light. Other compounds in dong quai may cause breast pain, digestive issues, hives, rashes, or liver problems.

MSK warns that dong quai supplements may not be safe for pregnant women and people with hormone-sensitive cancers, such as breast or prostate cancer. In some cases, it may increase bleeding due to its anticoagulant effect. On top of that, it can interfere with lisinopril, a drug prescribed for high blood pressure, and other medications. Men who take dong quai supplements may experience gynecomastia, or breast enlargement.

If you still want to give it a try, let your doctor know about it. He may recommend some blood tests or prescribe a more effective product. Also, note that Chinese herbal supplements, including dong quai, may contain potentially harmful chemicals, heavy metals, or other contaminants (via Community Healthcare System). Whether you want to keep your heart healthy, fight PMS, or stop hot flashes, there are safer options available.