Fo Ti benefits He Shou Wu supplement, hair growth, side effects, research studies Polygonum multiflorum, what are the medical uses for this Chinese herb?

April 3 2014

Fo-ti is a plant native to China that is also found in Japan and Taiwan. The medicinal part of the plant is the root. In traditional Chinese medicine, Fo Ti is often boiled in a liquid made with black beans -- this is known as red fo-ti. The white version is the unprocessed root. Many people take this herb or herbal extract with the hopes of restoring hair growth, but what does the research say regarding the benefits of He Shou Wu in terms of its usefulness for hair loss?

Human studies
As of 2014, we could not locate reliable human studies with Fo Ti root supplement published in a western medical journal that have shown it to be effective for hair growth.

Root and plant information
Ho-shou-wu (pinyin: heshouwu) is derived from the roots of Polygonum multiflorum. Fo-ti is the dried or cured root of a twining vine in the knotweed family. Fo Ti is occasionally grown in American gardens as an ornamental. The name Fo Ti was given to the plant by a marketer in the early 1970s for the American herb business. In China, it is known as he-shou-wu.

Composition of Fo Ti He Shoo Wu
This herb has many substances including anthraquinones, polydatin, and resveratrol, chrysophanol, physcion, emodin, aloeemodin, rhein, physcion, tetrahydroxy-stibene, noreugenin, apigenin, daucosterol, beta-sitosterol, stearic acid. Anthraquinones, physcion, emodin, and questin inhibit the enzymatic activity of Cdc25B phosphatase. This herb has stilbenoids. Tetrahydroxystilbene-glucoside is one of, or the major, active ingredient of the herb.

There are dozens of such supplements over the counter, here is a list of a few:

Fo-Ti (root) by Nature's Way has 1.22g (1,220mg) per 2 capsules, it is available at Physician Formulas vitamin company web site
Shen Min Herb 325 mg Shen Min Botanical Blend 261 mg Saw Palmetto Extract (Serenoa repens) (berry), Phytosterol Complex (soy), Kudzu Extract (Pueraria lobata) (root), Soy Extract (Glycine max) (soy germ)

Review article
Progress of study on brain protective effect and mechanism of Polygonum multiflorum
Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. 2005. Institute of Geriatrics, Xiyuan Hospital, China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Beijing.
This paper reviews the brain protective effect and mechanism of Polygonum multiflorum, its extracts and active component, tetrahydroxystilbene-glucoside published in recent decade. They have major effects as calcium channel antagonists, antioxidant, cholinomimetic drugs and cholinesterase inhibitors, as well as actions in regulating cell apoptosis and prolonging the ageing. The brain protective mechanism is multi-target, multi-link and multi-way. Therefore, Fo Ti herb has great applicative value in prevention and treatment of senile neuropathies, such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and vascular dementia.

Benefits of Fo Ti herb and extracts
The herb has been shown in animal studies to have cognitive enhancement potential and to also help with keeping healthy arteries. There are other better known Herbal Memory Pills that work more effectively, for instance Acetyl l-carnitine.

Alzheimer's disease
Protective effect of Polygonum multiflorum Thunb on amyloid beta-peptide 25-35 induced cognitive deficits in mice.
J Ethnopharmacol. 2006; Food Function Research Division, Korea Food Research Institute, Seongnam, Republic of Korea.
Amyloid beta protein (Abeta) may be neurotoxic during the progression of Alzheimer's disease by eliciting oxidative stress. This study was designed to determine the effect of Polygonum multiflorum water extract on Abeta25-35-induced cognitive deficits and oxidative stress in mice. Our findings suggest that FoTi herbal extract exerts a preventive effect against cognitive deficits induced by Abeta25-35 accumulation in Alzheimer's disease, and that this effect is mediated by the antioxidant properties of Fo Ti extract.

Reduction of atherosclerosis in cholesterol-fed rabbits and decrease of expressions of intracellular adhesion molecule-1 and vascular endothelial growth factor in foam cells by a water-soluble fraction of Polygonum multiflorum.
J Pharmacol Sci. 2005; School of Pharmacy, Second Military Medical University, Shanghai, China.
Polygonum multiflorum stilbeneglycoside is a water-soluble fraction of Polygonum multiflorum, one of the most famous tonic traditional Chinese medicines, that has protective effects on the cardiovascular system. The purpose of the present study is to elucidate the effects of stilbeneglycoside on macrophage-derived foam cell functions and the reduction of severity of atherosclerosis in hypercholesterolemic New Zealand White rabbits. Our results show that that Fo Ti stilbeneglycoside is a powerful agent against atherosclerosis and that this herbal extract's action could possibly be through the inhibition of the expression of intercellular adhesion molecule and vascular endothelial growth factor in foam cells.

Removing toxins from Fo Ti He Shoo Wu supplements
Harmful elements removal from Polygonum multiflorum by supercritical CO2 extraction
Zhong Yao Cai. 2008; College of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Shenzhen University, Shenzhen, China. wenzhen
To remove harmful elements as copper, lead and arsenic from Fo Ti Polygonum multiflorum, a Chinese traditional medicine. Our results show chelating extraction by supercritical CO2 can provide a non-destructive method to decrease the content of harmful elements from Fo Ti He Shoo Wu  and other Chinese traditional medicines.

Fo Ti He Shoo Wu side effects, caution, toxicity, and concerns, including liver toxicity
Acute hepatitis associated with the use of an herbal supplement Polygonum multiflorum mimicking iron-overload syndrome.
J Clin Gastroenterol. 2008.

Acute hepatitis due to shen-min: a herbal product derived from Polygonum multiflorum.
J Clin Gastroenterol. 2006. Cárdenas A, Restrepo JC, Sierra FG. Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Hospital Pablo Tobón Uribe and Gastro-Hepatology Group, University of Antioquia, Medellín, Colombia.
Shen-Min is a herbal product sold as a supplement for women to enhance hair growth. It is widely available across Asia, Europe, and the United States and sold without prescription as a hair nutritional supplement. We describe a case of acute liver injury in a 28-year-old white woman who developed symptomatic hepatitis 8 weeks after starting Shen-Min. All other potential causes of acute hepatitis including viral, hypoxic/ischemic, metabolic, and autoimmune etiologies were excluded. The liver injury slowly resolved over 3 weeks after discontinuing the herbal product. Although the mechanism of Shen-Min hepatotoxicity is unknown, we suspect an idiosyncratic reaction because the patient developed a fine maculopapular rash, mild eosinophilia, and did not overdose. Shen-Min is a Chinese herbal product with a mixture of several plants and vitamins including Polygonum multiflorum, a root that has been previously associated with hepatotoxicity.