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Fo-Ti the longevity herb

The Chinese have been practising longevity medicine for thousands of years and now their secret's out. The root of the Polygonum multiflorum evergreen known to the Chinese as He-shou-wu and commonly known as Fo-ti has always been highly regarded in the Far East as an aphrodisiac. However research is showing that not only does Fo-ti increase the quality of life but it combats infertility, fatigue, atherosclerosis, high cholesterol, immune disorders and even slows the aging process.

Look younger and live longer with Fo-ti

Historically Fo-ti has been used to fight infertility and prolong the quality and length of life itself. Indeed its Chinese common name He-shou-wu is said to have been the name of a Tang Dynasty man whose infertility was cured by the herb and according to tradition his unusually long life and libido was attributed to its anti-aging effects. Fo-ti has often been compared to Ginseng but unlike its cousin has not been subject to rigorous experimental study in humans. However we do know that it contains active substances called anthroquinones such as chrysophanic acid, rhein and emodin thought to be responsible for its vasodilatory and immunosuppressive effects. Phospholipids like lecithin and tannins have also been identified in high amounts which are well known for their fat emulsifying, cholesterol lowering and cardiotonic actions. It has also been established that the anthraquinone glycosides rhein and emodin act to stimulate bowel movements and are most likely responsible for its laxative effect. The pro-longevity action of these anthroquinones is thought to be a combined result of their augmentation of cellular immunity and growth of blood cells, alleviation of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), high blood pressure and cholesterol and their long term regulation of blood sugar.1 All this is good news for those fighting the effects of aging but more and more mature and healthy men and women are cashing in on the herb's cosmetic enhancements by restoring colour to greying hair, moistening the skin which reduces wrinkles and even improving the condition of their teeth. Senior citizens too can profit from Fo-ti's rejuvenating and mobility-increasing action because it nourishes the joints in particular sinew and cartilage. Even where illness or old age is not a problem Fo-ti is effective as a preventative for common ailments like constipation and even as a flu remedy.

Herbal Viagra?

Fo-ti's effects on sexual disorders are well established. Its enhancement of libido in both sexes has made Fo-ti a household name in China for thousands of years. Couples can benefit from its pro-sexual effects where poor libido or even genital dysfunction is suspected. Certainly its aphrodisiacal properties have been verified again and again in scientific studies which have proven its ability to combat erectile dysfunction in males by dilating capillaries, increasing micro-circulation and hence blood supply to the penis whilst preventing premature ejaculation very much like the Viagra drug. But its action on the sexual glands is not confined to men because Fo-ti exerts a direct action in the pleasure centres of the brain and vasodilatory effect on the genitals in both sexes increasing arousal in the short term and inducing endocrine changes which improve fertility in the longer term. Furthermore it also seems lubricate the vagina thus protecting against infection, discharges and dryness.

Healthy Hearts and Minds

Health professionals are increasingly turning to Fo-ti to treat neuropsychiatric disorders because of its buffering effects on stress. It is indicated for a plethora of nervous and metabolic illnesses like adrenal insufficiency, neurasthenia (nervous exhaustion or weakness), symptoms of dizziness or insomnia, nerve injuries such as sciatica and even psychiatric conditions like split personality.2 Recently it has featured in the 3rd edition of the Life Extension Foundation's "Disease Prevention and Treatment" guide as an adjunct to drug therapy protocols in Parkinson's disease because of its ability to stimulate the production of the brains "pleasure transmitter" dopamine. This brain chemical is grossly deficient in Parkinson's disease and may well be implicated in deficient libido too given Fo-ti's pro-sexual action in the sexually disinterested. Dopamine is essential for the proper arousal and motivation to face new learning situations and without it we suffer from depression and an inability to handle stress. Fortunately Fo-ti also improves adrenal response to stress by regulating the turnover of the stress hormones adrenaline and noradrenalin. All of this goes a long way to explaining how the herb combats nervous exhaustion. It also has a proven track record as a natural sedative for insomnia.1 and to this end seems to behave as an adaptogen by stimulating activity where it is lacking and tranquillizing where it is in excess.

But it is its medicinal action in cardiovascular health that has attracted most recent attention. Fo-ti whole root has been shown to lower serum cholesterol levels, according to animal and human research, as well as to decrease hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis.3, 4. Studies on mice have shown that it inhibits blood triglycerides and has an ability to reduce enlarged "fatty" livers such as that occurring in cirrhosis .5 What's more it has been shown to have efficacy as a vasodilator against hypertension, angina pectoris and even lowers the incidence of coronary heart disease.

Preliminary research in the West suggests that fo-ti also plays a role in a strong immune system and has antibacterial action against many infectious agents like mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB) and shigella flexneri. It has even been used successfully in cases of malaria.6 Furthermore the two laxative agents in Fo-ti - emodin and rhein - have shown promising anti-tumour and anti-cancer activity as well. More recently researchers have isolated a flavinoid called catachin (also found in green tea notorious for its life extension properties) that has powerful anti-tumour and antioxidant effects and which may account for Fo-ti's anti-aging reputation.

The net effect of Fo-ti use is complex but appears to supply a mild depressant action to the immune and cardiovascular responses whilst invigorating the mind and libido, and this makes it a popular choice among cheeky elderly folk. With its myriad benefits on mental, cardiovascular and gerontological health Fo-ti certainly seems to be a tonic for poor condition both inside and out for the young or old. Unfortunately there is a dearth of human clinical trials to support these contentions at present but in the face of overwhelming supporting anecdoctal and historical data Fo-Ti has already secured its place as an important revitalizer and aphrodisiac among the performance conscious.

How to take it

Fo-ti is widely available in health food stores and apothecaries and usually comes as processed powdered root from which a tea can be made by boiling 3-5 grams in a cup of water for 10-15 minutes. Three or more cups of this should be drunk each day until improvements in vigour are noticed. If you cannot tolerate the taste capsules containing 500mg of the powered herb are widely available and doctors may suggest taking five of these three times per day.7 Fo-Ti root herbal extracts are usually standardised for 10% chrysophanics and 1.9% reveratrol and come in tablets or capsules of varying strengths. The unprocessed roots may cause mild diarrhoea and taking more than 15g may cause numbness in the arms and legs. At the time of writing there are no known drug interactions


1. The Complementary and Alternative healing University. He-shou-wu by Joe Hing Kwok Chu
2. Chang HM. Pharmacology and applications of Chinese material medica. World Scientific I: 620-624, 1986.
3. 100. Foster S, Chongxi Y. Herbal Emissaries. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1992, 79-85.
4. 101. Foster S. Herbal Renaissance. Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith, 1993, 40-1.
5. Anon: Fo-Ti, In Olin BR, ed.: The Review of Natural Products. St. Louis, MO, Facts and Comparisons< 1998
6. Foster S, Chongxi Y. Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1992, 79-85.
7. Bone K. Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs. Warwick, Australia: Phytotherapy Press, 1996, 49-51.

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