Our expert says:
Hi Nicola, thank you for the question.
He Shou Wu is a Chinese herb obtained from the tuberous roots of Polygonum multiflorum. It is one of the more commonly used Chinese medicinal materials, and has a special reputation for preventing or delaying the graying of hair, even reverting gray hair to its original color, as well as having other benefits for the hair, such as treating alopecia. The herb is used for a variety of other therapeutic actions related to the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) categories of nourishing blood and yin.
The Medicines and Health Care Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in London issued an alert about potential adverse reactions to this herb. This is the main text of their report:
As of 30 March 2006, seven reports of suspected adverse reactions associated with Polygonum multiflorum have been reported to the MHRA. All seven reports are of liver reactions and comprise one report of abnormal liver function, 3 reports of jaundice, 2 reports hepatitis and one report of jaundice and hepatitis. The patients, 5 women and 2 men aged from 36 to 70 years old, were taking Polygonum multiflorum for hair loss (3 patients had taken the product Shen Min and 3 patients had taken the product Shou Wu Wan). All the patients had recovered or were recovering after stopping Polygonum multiflorum.
Reports of hepatitis associated with Polygonum multiflorum have also been reported in the published literature:
1. Battinelli et al (2004) New case of acute hepatitis following the consumption of Shou Wu Pian, a Chinese Herbal product derived from Polygonum multiflorum. Annals of Internal Medicine 140: E589
2. But et al (1996) Hepatitis related to the Chinese medicine Shou Wu Pian manufactured from Polygonum multiflorum. Veterinary and Human Toxicology 38: 208-282
3. Park et al (2001) Acute hepatitis induced by Shou Wu Pian, a herbal product derived from Polygonum multiflorum. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 16: 115-117
4. Panis et al (2005) Recurrent toxic hepatitis in a Caucasian girl related to the use of Shou-Wu-Pian, a Chinese herbal preparation. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition 41: 256-258.
Anyone who has previously experienced any liver complaint or any other serious health complaint is advised not to take Polygonum multiflorum without speaking to their doctor first. It is important to always discuss all of the medication you are taking, including herbal products, with your doctor or herbal practitioner to ensure you receive the appropriate care.
Following from the above my advice is to consult with you family practitioner who can examine you and take the necessary bloods before starting Polygonum multiflorum (He Shou Wu).
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