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This Ancient Herb Is Your Ally Against Cramps

by Lauren Tannenbaum · November 21, 2022
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Looking to balance hormones and ease PMS cramps? An ancient herb called dong quai could be the key. Learn more about dong quai benefits and why it’s sure to become a staple in your routine.

Dong quai is an herb that’s root has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over one thousand years. It is celebrated for its ability to regulate hormones and aid in menstrual-related issues. In addition to its use for reproductive health, it is also used for respiratory, digestive, and immune support. Less common, but still notable, you may be familiar with it as a culinary herb, sometimes making its way onto the dining table via salads or roasts. It is also a common ingredient in various liqueurs and liquor and is popular in artisanal bitters.

As an herbalist, I’ve worked a lot with this plant. I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of dong quai related to the reproductive system. Below, I’ll explore how it acts as an ally from the literal start to finish of the menstrual cycle.

What is Dong Quai?

The scientific name for Dong Quai is Angelica sinensis. It is native to Japan, Korea, and the mountains of China, particularly the Shanxi and Gansu provinces. Its white blooms open in the summer, and roots, seeds, and leaves are all used for medicinal purposes. Herbalists often use it alongside other herbs in formulations to aid in symptoms associated with menopause and menstruation. Dong quai root is particularly popular.

Dong Quai Benefits

From menstrual regulation to menopause, dong quai is a go-to for myriad women’s health concerns. One of its most well-known mechanisms is hormone regulation. This makes it a natural choice for symptoms of PMS, menopause, and beyond. These are some of the top dong quai benefits:

Reduces Hot Flashes

During menopause, there is a steep decrease in both estrogen and progesterone. The change in hormones can lead to many symptoms, including hot flashes. Estrogen and progesterone also directly affect the hormone serotonin, which can play a role in decreasing hot flashes. That’s where dong quai comes in. Dong quai can help alleviate hot flashes by regulating hormones due to its potential serotonergic (a.k.a. it affects serotonin) activity. In a binding assay (an analytic procedure measuring the interaction between two molecules) involving the 5-HT7 serotonin receptor, dong quai exhibited serotonin-like activity. Because dong quai is capable of increasing serotonergic activity, it may help to improve symptoms of hot flashes, even when the body isn’t producing enough estrogen or progesterone to regulate serotonin on its own. (Psst: Siberian rhubarb root is another powerful herb for relieving hot flashes. That’s why we put it in our perimenopause and menopause supplement, Fan Club.)

Alleviates PMS Symptoms

dong quai pms cramps

Dong quai also may help relieve a number of symptoms associated with PMS, including painful cramping. It contains a bioactive constituent called Z-ligustilide, which may help reduce cramping by minimizing uterine contractions and helping with circulation. It is at least partially responsible for dong quai’s antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory attributes. Ferulic acid is another key active compound found in dong quai. It can act as an analgesic, or pain reliever, and may contribute to dong quai’s cramp-fighting abilities. Another bonus? The same hormone-regulating effect dong quai has on menopause symptoms can also help diminish unwanted symptoms associated with PMS, such as mood swings and bloating, since hormone fluctuations can be responsible for both of these.

Stimulates Blood Flow

There’s been a traditional association between dong quai and blood itself. It’s not surprising then, that it has been used to stimulate the arrival of a delayed period. It can act as an anticoagulant and, as discussed earlier, promotes blood circulation. It is thought that the polysaccharides in dong quai are a major contributing factor to replenishing blood and moving it out of a stagnant state. In this way, dong quai may help regulate the menstrual cycle and keep things flowing, so to speak.

Who Should Take Dong Quai?

Dong quai can be a wonderful choice for folks who struggle with irregular or painful periods, or those going through menopause. As with any new supplement, it’s important to discuss with your doctor before adding dog quai to your routine. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, should avoid the plant given it’s effect on the reproductive system. It is also a good idea to skip this one if you are on anticoagulants or antiplatelets, as it can potentially heighten their effect. If you are prone to particularly heavy periods, dong quai may not be the best choice for you.

Dong Quai Side Effects

Minor side effects to be aware of include photosensitivity and gastrointestinal issues. As always, listen to your body and consult a healthcare professional if anything seems amiss. Furthermore, if foraging is your thing, don’t try and collect this plant yourself. Not only is it easy to mistake dong quai with poisonous plants, but its roots are toxic until you’ve dried them. It’s best to take dong quai in the form of a high-quality supplement.

What Should I Look for in a Supplement?

HUM Moody Bird for PMS

Now that you’re on the road to relief from menstrual mayhem, it’s important to make sure you’re getting the most out of your dong quai supplement that you can. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dong quai is almost always taken in conjunction with other herbs for a synergistic effect. Capsules are one of the more convenient and reliable ways to ensure that the dosage and quality is consistent. HUM’s Moody Bird contains the recommended 150 milligrams of dong quai powder and 300 milligrams of chasteberry in a vegan capsule. Moody Bird not only helps with the physical symptoms of PMS, but also works on the emotional side, bringing some freedom from mood swings and irritability that so many experience in the early days of our cycle.

The Takeaway

It’s clear to see why dong quai has been a mainstay in herbal medicine for the past millennium. Its action on the reproductive system and rich healing history are equally compelling facets of this ancient plant. Like so many other plants with complex chemistry, we will most likely continue to uncover the mysteries of its various healing mechanisms. In the meantime, enjoy the relief, regulation, and relaxation that this tried and true herbal ally can bring to your life and cycle.


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