Polygonum multiflorum (Fo-ti) is a popular herb in traditional Chinese medicine. Commonly known as He shou wu in China and Fo-ti in North America, studies have shown this herb to be beneficial in the treatment of cancer, diabetes, hair loss, hardening of the arteries, and neurodegenerative diseases.
What is Fo-Ti?
Polygonum multiflorum Thunb. (P. multiflorum) or Fallopia maltiflora is officially listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia and is one of the most popular herbs in Chinese medicines [R].
In North America, it is commonly known as Fo-ti.
It is widely cultivated throughout China and other countries such as Japan, where it grows in valley shrubs, hillside forests, gutter rock crevices and other locations at altitudes of 200-3000 m [R].
The plant grows to be 2-4 m tall consisting of a woody tuber, leaves that are 3-7 cm long and arrowhead-shaped, white or greenish-white flowers that are 6-7 mm in diameter and an achene fruit 2.5-3 mm in length [R].
Over the years, parts of Fo-ti have been used for different medicinal purposes.
Chemical Constituents of Fo-ti
More than 100 chemical compounds have been isolated from Fo-ti, and the most biologically relevant components have been determined to be from the families of stilbenes, quinones, flavonoids, and phospholipids.
The toxicity of processed Fo-ti is lower than that of the crude herb and this may be associated with the decreased levels of some of the components after processing [R].
Additionally, processing of Fo-ti resulted in the formation of five new chemicals that were not identified in the crude herb [R].
Refer to the technical section for the full names of these new chemicals and for an extensive list of the chemical constituents of Fo-ti view the article by Lin et al. (2015) [R].
Two of the best-studied constituents of Fo-ti include 2,3,5,40-tetrahydroxystilbene-2-O-β-D-glucoside (TSG) and emodin.
Pharmacokinetics of Fo-ti
Only limited data about certain constituents of Fo-ti is available.
Rats rapidly absorb TSG into its bodily fluid and quickly eliminated, distributing through the liver and lung but hardly through the blood-brain and blood-testicle barriers [R].
Health Benefits of Fo-ti
Fo-ti exhibits a wide spectrum of pharmacological effects, including anti-aging, immunologic, neuroprotective, anticancer and anti-inflammatory effects.
However, few clinical studies have been conducted to evaluate the traditional therapeutic claims and to understand the medical potential of its bioactive compounds.
Immune-Supporting Effects of Fo-ti
1) Anti-inflammatory Effects of Fo-ti
In mice, A methanol extract of Fo-ti has an anti-inflammatory effect on mouse macrophage cells that are stimulated by lipopolysaccharide (a bacterial toxin from harmful bacteria).
2) Fo-ti Promotes Good Immune Function
The sugars (rhamnose, arabinose, xylose, and glucose) and anthraquinone glycosides found within Fo-ti can improve immune response and overall immune system function (immunomodulatory effect).
Fo-ti boosts the immune system by increasing the production of T and B cells, and improving the activities of the immune cells, as well as increasing the secretion of the inflammatory tumor necrosis factor.
3) Fo-ti May be Effective against MRSA
Fo-ti has anti-bacterial activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylocuccus aureus (MRSA) in a cell-based study [R].
Emodin blocks binding of SARS coronavirus human cells in a cell-based study [R].
5) Fo-ti May Help with Asthma
Antioxidant Activities of Fo-ti
6) Fo-ti Protects the Liver
Pre-treating rats with 200 mg/kg water extract of Fo-ti protect the rats against chloroform-induced liver toxicity and significantly reduced plasma ALT (a liver enzyme that indicates liver damage) as well as improved glutathione levels and other oxidative stress markers. However, increasing the dose to 400 mg/kg did not protect the liver against chloroform toxicity, and at 4000 mg/kg, Fo-ti damaged the liver [R].
7) Fo-ti May Protect the Bone from Oxidative Stress
Hot water extract of Fo-ti prevents bone loss (osteopenia) from mice with that lose bone mass from having their ovaries removed [R].
8) Fo-ti Protects Tissues Oxidation in Diabetes
Stilbene glucoside from Fo-ti inhibits tissue aging due to high blood sugar (formation of advanced glycation end product) [R].
Neuroprotective effects of Fo-ti
9) Fo-ti May Help with Alzheimer’s Disease
A small Chinese clinical trial found that Fo-ti extract is effective against Alzheimer’s disease [R].
Tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside helps slow down age-related memory loss in rats [R].
Emodin, a chemical found in Fo-ti, inhibits the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine, which might be how it helps with cognitive function in a similar manner to Huperzine A and some Alzheimer‘s drugs [R].
10) Fo-ti May Help with Parkinson’s Disease
11) Fo-ti Protects the Brain from Stroke
Hexane extracts of Fo-ti can protect against tissue damage following stroke in mice and thus may have clinical applications as a protective agent against neurological injury [R].
12) Fo-ti Protects Against Glutamate-Induced Toxicity
In a cell-based study, Fo-ti protects neuronal cells from the hippocampus against glutamate toxicity, suggesting that it can help with cognitive disorders, especially ones that involve memory loss [R].
Fo-ti and Cardiovascular Risks
13) Fo-ti Helps Reduces Cholesterol
However, further research is required to understand how Fo-ti helps reduce cholesterol.
14) Fo-ti Helps Prevent Hardening of the Arteries
TSG can prevent hardening of the arteries by reducing lipid levels in the blood, reduce inflammation and normalize the structure of the blood vessel via a reduction in the expression of MMP-2 and MMP-9 genes [R].
15) Fo-ti has Protective Effects in Blood-Clotting Disorders
Thromboembolic (blood-clotting) disorders are caused by loose blood clots that form in a blood vessel and are carried by the bloodstream into another vessel that subsequently becomes blocked.
This often happens in the lungs (pulmonary embolism), brain (stroke), gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, or leg. This phenomenon is known as thromboembolism.
The chemical 2,3,5,4′-tetrahydroxystilbene-2-O-β-D-glucoside isolated from Fo-ti can prevent abnormal blood clotting [R].
16) Fo-ti Protects the Heart
In rats, TSG protected the heart from squeezing pressure around the abdomen [R].
In a heart attack model, Fo-ti stilbene glycoside can protect against cell injury from lack of oxygen or blood flow by increasing the levels of cellular antioxidants such as superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, and the nitric oxide pathways [R].
17) Fo-ti Helps with Fructose-Induced Metabolic Syndrome
Fo-ti, together with red ginseng, helps with fructose-induced metabolic syndrome by improving high blood pressure, obesity, high blood lipids, inflammation of the blood vessels, and insulin sensitivity [R].
18) Fo-ti Helps Prevent Cancer
It could significantly reduce colon tumor volume and weight in mice [R].
Emodin enhanced tumor cell death of gallbladder cancer cells that are injected into mice [R].
19) Fo-ti Helps with Insomnia and Sleep Disorders
Fo-ti extracts are commonly prescribed in Taiwan for the treatment of insomnia [R].
20) Fo-ti Helps With Hair Growth
Fo-ti has traditionally been used to treat patients suffering from baldness and hair loss throughout East Asia.
This traditional use of the herb has been substantiated by a study conducted in mice showing that P. multiflorum extracts promote hair growth by inducing the anagen phase in resting hair follicles [R].
Torachrysone-8-O-β-D-glucoside, a compound found in P. multiflorum, can significantly increase the number of dermal papilla cells which play a role in hair growth and hair fiber length [R].
Potential Side Effects and Toxicity
Liver Toxicity of Fo-ti
The best-known toxicity of P. multiflorum is the induction of hepatotoxicity [R]. Hepatotoxicity induced by P. multiflorum can be severe and even result in death.
Several cases of hepatotoxicity due to P. multiflorum have been reported in patients from Australia, China, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands and Slovakia who were taking the product for hair loss, chronic prostatitis or to boost the immune system [R, R, R, R].
The main chemicals responsible for the hepatotoxicity of P. multiflorum are free anthraquinones such as emodin and physcion [R]. The toxicity of emodin has been detailed by the U.S. National Toxicology Program [R].
Kidney and Lung Toxicity of Fo-ti
P. multiflorum is also toxic to the kidneys (nephrotoxicity) and the lungs (pulmonary toxicity), particularly after long-term use.
P. multiflorum causes embryonic toxicity in mice and may affect embryonic development, suggesting that it may not be safe for pregnant women.
Warfarin (prescribed to prevent the formation of blood clots) may interact negatively with P. multiflorum resulting in bone marrow suppression [R].
- The underlying mechanisms of P. multiflorum may be related to the antioxidant effects of TSG, a decrease of the angiotensin II level, suppression of transforming growth factor-β1 expression, and inhibition of extracellular signal-regulated kinase 1/2 and p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase activation.
- Cardiac remodeling refers to the changes in size, shape, structure, and function of the heart and is usually a pathological result of an injury to the heart muscle.
- Several studies have demonstrated that the anti-inflammatory effects of P. multiflorum occur through inhibition of the expression of pro-inflammatory signaling factors such as nuclear factor-κB, tumor necrosis factor-α, inducible nitric oxide synthase, cyclooxygenase-2, chemokines, and cytokines (R, R1).
- Additionally, other markers of diabetes, including the expression of TGF-β1, COX-2, and SIRT1 genes, were found to significantly improve in TSG-treated diabetic rats [R].
- Full chemical names for the compounds found in P. multiflorum after processing: 2,3-dihydro-3,5-dihydroxy-6-methyl-4(H)-pyran-4-one, hydroxymaltol, 5-hydroxym ethyl-furfural, butanedioic acid, and 5-dihydroxy-6-methyl-4(H)-pyran-4-one
- P. multiflorum boosts the immune system by accelerating the production of T and B lymphocytes, initiating the mixed lymphocyte reaction, improving macrophage phagocytosis, and increasing secretion of tumor necrosis factor (TNF).
Other names for P. multiflorum include:
Chinese Cornbind, Chinese Knotweed, Climbing Knotweed, Fallopia multiflora, Flowery Knotweed, Fo Ti Tieng, Fo-Ti, He Shou Wu, Ho Shou Wu, Multiflora Preparata, Poligonum, Poligonum Multiflorum, Polygonum,Polygonum Multiflorum Thunberg, Racine de Renouée Multiflore, Radix Polygoni Multiflori, Radix Polygoni Shen Min, Renouée, Renouée à Fleurs Nombreuses, Renouée de Chine, Renouée Multiflore, Reynoutria multiflora (Thunb), Rhizoma Polygonata, Shen Min, Shou Wu, Shou Wu Pian, Tuber Fleeceflower, Zhihe Shou Wu, Zi Shou Wu