Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis) has been popularly used within Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years and the West is now catching up to the safety and health benefits of this plant during pregnancy. It is a favorite in Chinese formulas for womens’ health and is highly regarded as the “supreme woman’s root”. It has also earned the reputation as the “supreme female tonic” and the “ultimate herb for women”. With such powerful and compelling titles as these, the question arises “Is Dong Quai Safe To Take During Pregnancy?”
First things first…
What is Dong Quai?
Dong Quai literally means “ought to return”. In Chinese Herbology, this is so named because it is believed that by taking this herb, one’s energy and blood will return and restore without disorder.
It comes from the apiaceae family, or more commonly known as the celery, carrot or parsley family. The plant is native to China, Japan and Korea and grows on the high mountains in the cold, moist regions of these countries. It is distinguished by its small umbrella-like white flowers which bloom from May to August and produces its fruits between July and August.
Other common names and spellings include – angelica sinensis (Latin and botanical name); Chinese angelica; dang gui; tang kuei and tan kue bai zhi.
What Are The Medicinal Uses?
The whole root is considered beneficial and in TCM, it is believed that the different sections of the root provide different “actions”. The top part of the root has anti-coagulant (blood thinning) properties, the middle part of the root is used as a tonic and the bottom part is used to dispel patterns of blood stagnation.
Dong Quai has been widely used in restoring health and balancing the body in most cycles and rhythms of a women’s life, yet it is equally beneficial to men as well. It is essentially used before and after menstruation due to its anti-spasmodic properties to ease those uncomfortable “time-of-the-month” cramps and helps replenish blood levels after your period has ended.
Dong Quai can also be used to treat ailments such as: –
balancing hormones and encouraging a regular menstrual cycle in women who have stopped using birth control methods.
absence of periods (amenorrhea).
weakness after child birth as can help strengthen the reproductive organs, ovaries and womb.
eliminating blood stagnation and dissolving blood clots. This is due to its high levels of vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin B12, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, iron, folic acid, calcium and zinc to name a few.
regulating blood sugars.
increasing blood circulation and production of red blood cells.
enhancing fertility in both men and women.
arthritis due to its anti-rheumatic properties. A topical press can be made to penetrate deep in reducing inflammation, easing aches and pains by removing toxins and stimulating circulation to alleviate pressure on the area.
fighting and resisting disease due to its anti-fungal actions.
Is It Safe To Take During Pregnancy?
In TCM, although Dong Quai is highly recommended for all aspects of a woman’s body cycle, it is not recommended during pregnancy. My mother, who is a strong advocate of this herb from a young age, refused to take this herb while she was pregnant! WHY?
She was taught that in the past, midwives that practiced TCM, would use the herb to induce labor in women who were “overdue” in their pregnancy term. Thus, the same principle was applied to those in the early stages of pregnancy and was considered unsafe to use. In modern day research, some evidence has shown that Dong Quai can stimulate the uterus and cause contractions, leading to an increased risk of miscarriage or pre-term labor.
Due to its anti-coagulant (blood thinning) properties, it can increase the risk of bleeding. During pregnancy, this risk can be higher. It should not be taken with blood thinning drugs such as aspirin, heparin and warfarin as this could also increase the chances of bleeding.
According to the National Institutes of Health, one case study of a pregnant woman who took a combination of medicinal herbs (Dong Quai being one of them), later gave birth to a baby that was born with some serious birth defects. Medical professionals believed the herbs were to blame. However, this is not evident enough to suggest that Dong Quai alone could have this effect.
Pregnant women should take precautions when high doses of Dong Quai are taken as this can cause photo-sensitivity (sensitivity to sunlight) and lead to greater risk for skin cancer, especially to those who are fair-skinned. Extra care should be taken when combined with St. John’s Wort as it is also a herb known to increase photo-sensitivity.
Dong Quai may interfere with other herbs, such as ginger, which some women take to help alleviate morning sickness during their pregnancy. Supervision is advisable when other herbs are combined with Dong Quai. These include:-
Chinese skullcap (scutellaria baicalensis)
Feverfew (chrysanthemum parthenium/tanacetum parthenium)
Garlic (allium sativum)
Ginkgo (ginkgo biloba)
Ginseng (panax ginseng)
Liquorice (glycyrrhiza glabra)
Turmeric (curcuma longa)
Although herbs are the most natural alternative to chemically-charged pharmaceutical drugs, care should still be taken if you choose to implement them in your lifestyle. In all cultures, herbs have been used for medicinal purposes for many centuries but there is still more to be discovered and learnt. Some herbs may be more beneficial or harmful from one person to another, and if you have an under-lying medical condition, extra care should be undertaken. If you have any serious health concerns, you should always check with your health care practitioner or medical herbalist expert before self-administering herbs.
By Sacha Tarkovsky