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Scientific Name(s): Polygonum multiflorum Thunb.
Common Name(s): Chinese cornbind, Climbing knotweed, Flowery knotweed, Fo-ti, Heshouwu, Radix Polygoni multiflori, Tuber fleeceflower
Medically reviewed by Holevn.org. Last updated on Dec 12, 2019.
Evidence exists of hepatic injury in humans. P. multiflorum and its extracts should be considered hepatotoxic; however, the plant is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine for its rejuvenating and toning properties, to increase liver and kidney function, for treatment of cognitive disorders and dyslipidemia, and to cleanse the blood. Clinical trials are lacking to support claims for therapeutic purposes, but topical applications for the treatment of alopecia and a role in neurodegenerative diseases are being investigated.
P. multiflorum is used at daily doses of 9 to 15 g of raw herb, but clinical studies are lacking. A standard dose in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia is 3 to 12 g/day.
Avoid use. Embryonic toxicity has been reported.
None well documented.
P. multiflorum is widely used in Chinese medicine; however, adverse event reporting under clinical trial conditions is lacking. Hepatotoxicity has been documented.
Evidence of hepatic injury in humans exists; consider P. multiflorum and its extracts hepatotoxic. The plant may also be nephro-, neuro-, and embryotoxic.
- Polygonaceae (buckwheat)
P. multiflorum is native to central and southern China and is also distributed in Japan and Taiwan. It is a perennial climbing herb that can grow to 9 m in height. The plant has red stems, heart-shaped leaves, and white or pink flowers. The roots are the main plant part of interest and are harvested and dried in autumn when they are 3 to 4 years of age, but the stems and leaves are also used. Raw, wine- or steam-processed, or cured fo-ti is available in the United States.1, 2, 3, 4
Radix Polygoni multiflori or he shou wu is a popular Chinese tonic herb, whose usage dates back to 713 AD.2 Fo-ti appears to be a name given to the preparation for use in areas where Chinese is not the primary language.4 It is considered one of the country’s great 4 herbal tonics, along with angelica, lycium, and panax, and is used to increase liver and kidney function and to cleanse the blood.3 The plant is also prescribed for symptoms of premature aging, such as gray hair, and is commonly found in hair care products in China.2, 4 It is also used to treat insomnia, weak bones, constipation, and atherosclerosis.2 Regarded as a rejuvenating plant, fo-ti has been thought to prevent aging and promote longevity. According to folklore, the older and larger roots have the most power, potentially offering immortality.2, 3, 4
Major chemical constituents include stilbenes, quinones, flavonoids phospholipids, and others. More than 100 chemical compounds have been identified, and analytical techniques are described.5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Chemicals of interest include the anthraquinones emodin, physcion, and rhein; stilbenes; and a tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside.7, 10, 11, 12 Minerals and vitamins in the root have also been described.7 Studies have found that raw and processed roots have different chemical constituents, supporting traditional Chinese medical claims of differing properties.5, 13, 14
Uses and Pharmacology
Extracts of P. multiflorum are not commonly used alone, but rather in combination with other herbs,5 including Buyangahuanw Pill Jiajian Fang and Qishu decoction. Clinical trials reporting on efficacy are limited.4
A mixture including he shou wu has been studied for its effects on the glucocorticoid receptor in senile rat thymocytes.15 An effect of emoghrelin, derived from P. multiflorum, stimulated growth hormone in vitro,16 and tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside protected against the thinning of mice derma associated with aging.17 Lifespan and lipid studies of he shou wu in quails have been performed.18
There are no clinical data regarding the use of P. multiflorum for antiaging effects. Purported antiaging effects mostly rely on in vitro studies of antioxidant and neuroprotective effects.5
Topical application of P. multiflorum has to induced follicular keratinocyte proliferation in mice.19, 20 The inhibition of tyrosinase activity in mice melanocytes has also been demonstrated,21 and compounds isolated from P. multiflorum roots induced a greater proliferation of dermal papilla cells than minoxidil in an in vitro study.22
There are no clinical data regarding the use of P. multiflorum in alopecia or hair coloring despite widespread traditional use in China for this purpose.
In vitro studies and limited animal data suggest P. multiflorum extracts, tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside and emodin, possess anticancer properties.5, 12, 23, 24 The focus of research into antiapoptotic activity centers on neuroprotection against degenerative disease (see CNS).
There are no clinical data regarding the use of P. multiflorum in cancer.
Emodin has demonstrated inhibitory effects on vasodilation in isolated rat aortas.25 Tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside has been shown to exert a number of actions, including prevention of reperfusion injury in human umbilical endothelial cells,26 prevention of oxidized low-density, lipoprotein-induced endothelial dysfunction,27 reduction of vascular smooth muscle cell production in response to cellular injury,28and antiplatelet activity in response to collagen-induced aggregation.29
There are no clinical data regarding the use of P. multiflorum in cardiovascular-related disorders.
In vitro studies in tissues of the CNS report decreased neuroinflammation via inhibition of microglia activation,30 promotion of hippocampal synaptic plasticity,31 antioxidant effect in hippocampal and other cells,32, 33, 34, 35 and the reduction of amyloid peptide production.36 In contrast, an in vitro study using cultured mouse cortical neurons showed an extract of P. multiflorum to be neurotoxic.37 In a study conducted in rats, tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside reversed impaired learning and memory; histological changes were observed in the hippocampus.38
P. multiflorum extracts are traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine and in traditional Chinese medicine for the treatment of cognitive disorders; however, clinical studies are lacking.37 One study conducted among patients with Alzheimer disease (N = 209) reported that the extract was effective; details of the methodology are unclear.39
Effects on triglyceride and total cholesterol regulation have been demonstrated by tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside, emodin, and physcion in mice and in vitro.40, 41, 42, 43 Raw fo-ti appeared to be more effective than processed fo-ti in 1 study.41
There are no clinical data regarding the use of P. multiflorum in dyslipidemia; however, both raw and cured fo-ti are used in traditional Chinese medicine for dyslipidemia.4
In vitro studies have shown that extracts of P. multiflorum possess antioxidant properties.30, 35, 37, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48 Immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory effects have also been reported.5 Reduction in the production of glycation end products in diabetes has been demonstrated in vitro.49
In contrast to the known hepatotoxicity of P. multiflorum extracts,50, 51, 52 tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside and emodin appear to have hepatoprotective effects.30, 32, 43, 48
P. multiflorum is used at daily doses of 9 to 15 g of raw herb, but clinical studies are lacking. A standard dose in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia is 3 to 12 g/day.50
P. multiflorum is usually used in combination with other traditional products.4, 5
Pregnancy / Lactation
Avoid use. Embryonic toxicity has been reported.53
Case reports are lacking. An in vitro study suggests tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside exerts an inhibitory effect on platelet aggregation.29
P. multiflorum is widely used in Chinese medicine; however, adverse event reporting under clinical trial conditions is lacking. Hepatotoxicity has been documented.50, 51, 52 GI symptoms, including diarrhea, may be due to consuming raw or improperly processed fo-ti.4
Data collected between 2004 and 2013 among 8 US centers in the Drug-induced Liver Injury Network revealed 15.5% (130) of hepatotoxicity cases was caused by herbals and dietary supplements whereas 85% (709) were related to medications. Of the 130 related cases of liver injury related to supplements, 65% were from non-bodybuilding supplements and occurred most often in Hispanic/Latinos compared to non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks. Liver transplant was also more frequent with toxicity from non-bodybuilding supplements (13%) than with conventional medications (3%) (P<0.001). Overall, the number of severe liver injury cases was significantly higher from supplements than conventional medications (P=0.02). Of the 217 supplement products implicated in liver injury, fo-ti was among the 22% (116) of the single-ingredient products.55
Evidence of hepatic injury in humans exists; consider P. multiflorum and its extracts hepatotoxic. The plant may also be nephro-, neuro-, and embryotoxic.
Reviews of the toxic effects, possibly dose- and duration-related, of P. multiflorum on the liver have been published. Other reviews suggest an idiopathic nature to the toxicity, with more than 400 cases reported. Hepatotoxicity is largely reversible; however, deaths have been reported.50, 51, 52 Nephrotoxicity and embryonic toxicity53 have also been reported and attributed to the quinone constituents emodin and rhein.5, 37
Tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside and emodin appear to have neuro-, nephro-, and hepatoprotective effects.30, 32, 43, 48, 54 In mice, processing the raw roots increased emodin and decreased tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside content and diminished observed toxicity.13
In rats, tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside was detected in the liver and lungs in the highest concentrations, but not in brain and testes tissues.6 Mutagenicity and toxicity to lung tissue have also been described.5
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Handbook of Biologically Active Phytochemicals and Their Activities. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1992. http://www.ars-grin.gov/duke/. Accessed 2014.8. Liu C, Zhang Q, Zhou Q. Assay of stilbene glucoside in Polygonum multiflorum Thunb and its process products [in Chinese]. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 1991;16(8):469-472.18041849. Ma C, Wang, J. Comparison of phospholipids in crude drug of Polygonum multiflorum Thunb. And its processed products. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 1991;16(11):662-664.180416810. Oerter Klein K, Janfaza M, Wong JA, Chang RJ. Estrogen bioactivity in fo-ti and other herbs used for their estrogen-like effects as determined by a recombinant cell bioassay. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2003;88(9):4077-4079.1297026511. Grech JN, Li Q, Roufogalis BD, Duck CC. Novel Ca(2+)-A TPase inhibitors from the dried root tubers of Polygonium multiflorum. J Nat Prod. 1994;57(12):1682-1687.771453512. Sun YN, Li W, Kim JH, et al. 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Eur J Pharmacol. 2011;650(1):206-214.2095112832. Kim HN, Kim YR, Jang JY, et al. Neuroprotective effects of Polygonum multiflorum extract against glutamate-induced oxidative toxicity in HT22 hippocampal cells. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013;150(1):108-115.2397378633. Jang JY, Kim HN, Kim YR, et al. Hexane extract from Polygonum multiflorum attenuates glutamate-induced apoptosis in primary cultured cortical neurons. J Ethnopharmacol. 2013;145(1):261-268.2316476334. Qin R, Li X, Li G, et al. Protection by tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside against neurotoxicity induced by MPP+: the involvement of PI3K/akt pathway activation. Toxicol Lett. 2011;202(1):1-7.2123725535. Steele ML, Fuller S, Patel M, Kersaitis C, Ooi L, Munch G. Effect of Nrf2 activators on release of glutathione, cysteinylglycine and homocysteine by human U373 astroglial cells. Redox Biol. 2013;1:441-445.2419123836. Liu LF, Durairajan SS, Lu JH, Koo I, Li M. 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