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Fo-Ti

What Should I Know About It?

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Updated May 23, 2014

Polygonum multiflorum root dried
Badagnani/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

What is Fo-Ti?

Other Names: Polygonum multiflorum, He shou wu

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, it is often boiled in a liquid made with black beans -- this is known as red fo-ti. White fo-ti is the unprocessed root.

Fo-ti is called He shou wu, which means "black-haired Mr. He" in Chinese. This name refers to a legend of an older villager named Mr. He who took fo-ti and restored his black hair, youthful appearance and vitality.

Why People Use Fo-Ti

In Chinese medicine, fo-ti is a longevity tonic that is used for greying hair, premature aging, weakness, vaginal discharge, and erectile dysfunction. Red fo-ti is considered a tonic to increase vitality and energy, strengthen the blood, kidneys and liver. White fo-ti is used for constipation.

There is evidence that fo-ti can lower serum cholesterol, decrease hardening of the arteries, and improve immune function.

There are no controlled studies on the effectiveness or safety of fo-ti in humans. Preliminary studies with animals have found that fo-ti may attenuate diet-induced increases in plasma cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and plasma triglycerides. In animal studies, there is some evidence that fo-ti may enhance learning and memory and prevent the degeneration of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons in the brain.

Possible Side Effects and Safety Concerns

Rarely, people develop an allergic skin rash after taking fo-ti. Other side effects include loose stools. Taking more than 15 grams of the processed root can cause numbness in the arms and legs.

There have been three published case reports of acute hepatitis following the use of a fo-ti product called Shou-wu-pian, which is manufactured in China. It is not known whether it was due to fo-ti or product contamination.

One study tested 32 plants used for menopause in traditional Chinese medicine. They found that fo-ti had the greatest estrogenic activity. People with estrogen-related cancers of the breast, ovary, uterus, and prostate should take extra caution because the effect of fo-ti in humans is not known.

Sources

But PP et al. "Hepatitis related to the Chinese medicine Shou-wu-pian manufactured from Polygonum multiflorum." Vetinary and Human Toxicology. 38.4 (1996):280-2.

Li RW et al. "Anti-inflammatory activity of Chinese medicinal vine plants". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 85.1 (2003):61-7.

Mazzanti G et al. "New case of acute hepatitis following the consumption of Shou Wu Pian, a Chinese herbal product derived from Polygonum multiflorum". 140.7(2004):W30.

Park GJ et al. "Acute hepatitis induced by Shou-Wu-Pian, a herbal product derived from Polygonum multiflorum". Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 16.1 (2001):115-7.

Yang PY et al. "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". Journal of Pharmacology Sciences. 99.3 (2005):294-300.

Zhang CZ et al. "In vitro estrogenic activities of Chinese medicinal plants traditionally used for the management of menopausal symptoms". Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 98.3 (2005):295-300.

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