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Dong quai needs company to work well

The possible adverse effects of hormone replacement therapy are encouraging more and more menopausal women toward herbal remedies such as dong quai (Angelica sinensis). In fact, dong quai is immensely popular for many conditions related to women. But does dong quai really work?

Like many herbs, there are subtleties involving the function of dong quai. While it is widely known that the Chinese Materia Medica recommends dong quai for menstrual disorders, it is also not so commonly known that most Chinese medicine practitioners won't prescribe dong quai alone.

Janie D. Hirata, M.D., and colleagues from Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, California, recently undertook a study to determine if dong quai had an effect on menopause when taken by itself. Seventy-one postmenopausal women, average age 52, received three capsules three times daily of either dong quai or placebo for 24 weeks.

The researchers assessed the women's outcomes in four ways: serial ultrasonic measurements of uterine lining thickness; microscopic examination of the maturity of vaginal cells; menopausal symptoms, as recorded in the women's diaries and as scored on the Kupperman index; and blood tests for estrogen levels. Menopause thins the endometrial lining, atrophies vaginal cells, drops estrogen levels and causes hot flashes and depression. Estrogen replacement therapy helps reverse each index. On all four parameters, however, dong quai performed nearly the same as the placebo.

What do these results suggest? Used alone, dong quai apparently has little or no estrogenlike effects in menopausal women. This correlates with the fact that Chinese healers rarely use it alone. But what about its wide popularity? Since there are no studies targeting the use of dong quai with other agents, the jury is still out, but if the herb's popularity is any indication, dong quai probably does possess some valuable health-enhancing properties.

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