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Benefits of He Shou Wu: What the Science Says


Traditional Chinese Medicine is nothing short of fascinating, to say the least.

For thousands of years, TCM users and practitioners have sworn by the power of natural herbs to treat a number of ailments, from minor conditions to serious diseases.

He Shou Wu is one such herb.

So, what exactly is He Shou Wu used for, and is there any science to back its efficacy?

Let's take a look below.

What Is He Shou Wu?

He Shou Wu (also known as Fo-Ti or Chinese Knotweed) is a Chinese traditional medicine that has been used for millennia to treat various health conditions, including weakness and fatigue, poor memory, insomnia, and other symptoms associated with aging.

This revered medicine is derived from the Polygonum multiflorum herb, which is native to China. The medicinal component typically used is the dried root of the plant.

This species of flowering plant belongs to the buckwheat family, Polygonaceae.

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How Do You Take He Shou Wu?

He Shou Wu can be taken in numerous ways - most commonly as herbal tea, dried powder extracts, liquid tinctures or in capsule form.

The option you choose is entirely down to your personal preference - some people like to put it in food so a powdered extract is the easiest to work with, others don’t like the taste at all so are more inclined to take capsules.

The one caveat we will mention here though is that no matter which form you are looking to take it in, make sure you are getting it from a trusted and reputable supplier.

There are many ‘bad actors’ in this space that produce low concentration extracts, or even worse yet, extracts contaminated with toxins such as heavy metals.

We personally only use SuperFeast’s He Shou Wu dried powder extract as their ethos, quality standards, testing and sourcing principles are second to none. Find out more about it here.

The Health Benefits Of He Shou Wu

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He Shou Wu has been a trusted treatment in Chinese medicine for centuries, but what does modern science say?

Here are a few of He Shou Wu's most celebrated health benefits, with some recent clinical studies to add some extra weight.

1.) May Improve Cognitive Function

He Shou Wu is a potent source of choline and lecithin, which have been indicated to improve cognitive function.

Choline is an essential nutrient for both humans and animals, and it naturally occurs in many foods such as nuts, beef, liver, and eggs.

Choline is essential for the human nervous system and is also associated with mood management, improved muscle function, and regulated memory.

2.) Can Help Relieve Stress

He Shou Wu has been used for millennia to help people better manage stress.

The science hasn’t been explored well with this one, but the prevailing thought is that He Shou Wu may help stimulate our adrenal gland function, which can help regulate important stress hormones, build up our immune systems, alleviate stress responses, and regulate our metabolisms.

3.) Can Help Increase Energy Levels

He Shou Wu may also help increase our energy levels.

This is because He Shou Wu contains a high level of iron, which can help improve the efficiency with which our bodies use energy.

An iron-rich diet may also improve our gastrointestinal processes, the regulation of our body temperatures, and general wellbeing.

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4.) May Enhance Immunity

It's also thought that He Shou Wu is used to help enhance our bodies' natural immune responses.

Again - this is thought to be linked to He Shou Wu's potent iron content. Iron deficiencies have been linked to a weakened immune system and poor natural defences in the body.

On the other hand, a component of He Shou Wu, called emodin, was also found to be an immunosuppressant, which may help with neurodegenerative diseases.

5.) Thought To Help Promote Longevity

Not out of place in the very famous TCM line up of reishi, turkey tail, chagacordyceps and tremella mushrooms, He Shou Wu is one of the most revered and celebrated longevity and youth tonics.

Interestingly, this herb got its name from a member of the Tang dynasty who allegedly cured his own infertility with this herb.

After using He Shou Wu on a regular basis, he also claimed to witness a prominent reversal in the aging process, which included a decline in grey hair.

It's alleged that he lived to the age of 130 - so there must be some truth to the magic, right?!

Well, whether these stories are fact or fiction remains to be seen. However, evidence suggests that He Shou Wu can actually influence factors that promote longevity.

He Shou Wu is considered to be a rejuvenating adaptogen, and in traditional Chinese medicine, it has been used for centuries to reduce the effects of aging.

He Shou Wu is thought to inhibit the MAO-B enzyme (Monoamine Oxidase B), which is responsible for breaking down a number of chemicals in the brain, including dopamine.

The MAO-B enzyme increases during the aging process, which is thought to contribute to the symptoms of neurological issues such as Parkinson’s disease.

So by inhibiting the MAO-B activity, He Shou Wu could potentially slow down the signs of aging and improve motor function.

6.) May Improve Blood Cholesterol Levels

He Shou Wu may also improve our blood cholesterol levels.

Studies reviewing the bioactive compounds found in He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum) have discovered that these may positively impact our bodies' blood cholesterol levels.

High blood levels of certain cholesterol compounds have been linked to an increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease.

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7.) Can Help To Protect The Liver

Widely used in Chinese herbalism for a variety of health benefits, He Shou Wu is known to nourish the yin and tonify the liver and kidneys to balance the qi.

Scientifically, He Shou Wu contains the antioxidants anthraquinones and polysaccharides which may help protect the liver by reducing inflammation and preventing fat oxidation.

Anthraquinones are believed to stimulate bile production, which helps break down fats and toxins from the digestive tract.

Polysaccharides are thought to bind to toxic substances and remove them from the bloodstream before they reach the liver.

NOTE: He Shou Wu at certain dosages has been recorded to negatively interact with the liver in a small number of people. We will detail this further in ‘side effects’ below.

8.) May Treat Depression

In addition to its ability to treat physical health conditions, He Shou Wu may also be an effective treatment for symptoms of depression.

He Shou Wu is considered a nervous system tonic and although depression is a complex issue, there is evidence to suggest that it does have a relationship to biological and neurological conditions.

While research is lacking in this area, some believe that the components found in He Shou Wu may help balance the nervous system, which may reduce symptoms of depression.

9.) May Help Stimulate Hair Growth

He Shou Wu has long been used in Chinese culture as a hair tonic - in fact, this may be its most famous benefit and is actually the root of its name!

Legend states that He Shou Wu was first discovered and used by a frail and aging old man by the name ‘He Tianer’. Upon using the herb, He Tianer felt his strength, energy and vitality return over time - and allegedly, his grey hair returned to a youthful head of jet black hair. Paying homage to this hair-restoring miracle, the name ‘He Shou Wu’ was given to the herb with Shou translating to “head” and Wu to “black”.

Tales and legends aside, there are some studies that shine a light on how Fo-Ti may actually help restore hair colour and promote growth.

Small trials have landed promising results indicating that it can help blood flow and circulation in the scalp as well as melanin synthesis which is essential for hair growth.

There is also evidence to suggest that Fo-Ti may help speed up the transition of hair follicles from the dormant stage of hair growth (telogen phase) to the growth stage (anagen phase) - however, as with all purported benefits at this stage, more research is needed before any strong conclusions can be drawn.

There are now a number of He Shou Wu hair shampoos now available (often combined with aryuvedic hair oils as well) that are designed to best harness the hair-restoring effects 

What Are The He Shou Wu Side Effects?

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There are side effects to be aware of when using He Shou Wu.

There's definitely reason to suggest that He Shou Wu may have some impressive medicinal benefits, however, it can’t be ignored that it may also produce side effects in some users.

The most severe side effect recorded is hepatotoxicity or injury of the liver (also known as DILI or Drug-Induced Liver Injury) in a small number of patients.

Some minor and more commonly reported side effects of He Shou Wu intake may also include diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, headache, dizziness, insomnia, and constipation. Again - this is in a small number of people and usually not long-lasting.

It’s important to consult your GP or health practitioner before using He Shou Wu.

What Is The Best He Shou Wu Dosage?

Once you’ve received approval from a qualified health practitioner, you should always start out with a very small dose of He Shou Wu for the first few weeks to let your body adapt to it.

For instance, SuperFeast recommends a dose of ¼ - ½ tsp daily. We recommend you start out with 1/4 tsp for the first week at least and graduate to 1/2 a tsp after that if your body has adjusted well.

He Shou Wu is not recommended in its raw state as it will cause diarrhea. It is best to process the herb with black beans to aid digestion or simply purchase the ready-to-consume extracts.

It’s also best to take He Shou Wu just before meals to alleviate any stomach sensitivity or issues. If you notice any adverse effects at all, stop immediately and contact your GP.

Is There Any Research On He Shou Wu And Cancer?

Currently, there isn't any solid evidence suggesting that He Shou Wu can prevent or cure cancer.

There have been a number of literature reviews and meta-analyses completed on the effectiveness of various different TCM herbs helping as co-treatments to better manage symptoms caused by traditional cancer treatment, however, much more research in this area is required before anything can be confidently said.

Can You Buy He Shou Wu Over The Counter?

It is definitely possible to buy Fo-Ti over the counter, such as Shou Wu Pian, however, it can be difficult in some countries due to specific regulations surrounding certain TCM herbs.

If you do find a place to buy over the counter - be sure to do your research on the brand first as you want to make sure you are getting a potent and uncontaminated extract. Always ask to see 3rd party testing results and if they can’t be shown - be wary.

As mentioned - we don’t personally buy over the counter as the only brand we use ships directly to the door.

Hit the banner below to check them out for yourself:

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Final Thoughts

He Shou Wu has been used for thousands of years now and doesn’t appear to be slowing down.

It's believed that the earliest records of He Shou Wu date back to about 2000 years ago, and since then, it's become more well-known throughout China and Asia.

As the western world continues its pursuit of alternative medicine, He Shou Wu has piqued the interest of many natural remedy users across the globe.

While it does show great potential for treating many ailments such as low energy, cognitive decline and hair loss - it can’t be ignored that the clinical evidence for these claims is still in its infancy and that there is some evidence for it also causing liver damage in certain people.

Always consult your GP before starting any new supplement and if you ever experience adverse effects - stop immediately.

Darcy Ogdon-Nolan

Holding a Bachelor Of Science (Hons.) combined with close to a decade now in the health food and wellness industry, I believe I'm uniquely positioned to provide a depth of knowledge and first-hand experience on emerging health products, trends and ideas! From greens powders and medicinal mushrooms through to protein powders and workout nutrition - I'm particularly interested in what modern science can uncover about what human cultures have been using to treat ailments for millennia!

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