He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum), also known as Fo-ti or Fleeceflower, is officially listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia and is one of the most popular and highly revered superior tonic herbs in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). HSW root is considered to act similar to a classic adaptogen, building the body’s defences against stress and supporting the balance between yin and yang energies. While not a stimulant, it’s considered beneficial for lifting mood, and believed to positively impact the central nervous system and to be both energizing and calming at the same time.
Prepared He Shou Wu root (the variety used in Joya’s Elixirs), refers to the traditional method of cooking the raw roots in a special liquid made from black beans, and is considered a different and superior medicine than the raw variety. This process makes the herb easier to digest and is thought to bring out more of its strengthening qualities. *The summary presented here refers to prepared HSW.
Consult your healthcare practitioner before use if you have a liver disorder or disease.
HSW has been shown to exhibit high activity of antioxidants, compounds which play a vital, health-protecting role in human life. Antioxidants have been shown to help protect against various metabolic diseases, heart disease, brain disorders and age-related syndromes, as they help the body combat cellular damage caused by free radicals (reactive chemicals containing oxygen).
HSW has also been shown to increase the body's level of superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase, two very important antioxidants that the body produces to fight free radical damage and maintain cellular balance. Of particular interest, some animal model studies suggest that HSW may have neuro-protective actions due to its antioxidant activity. (1, 2)
HSW is considered to be a powerful longevity herb that replenishes Jing (essence) to the body’s cells, and is revered more than any other herb in TCM for its ability to prevent premature aging and enhance longevity and youthfulness. Its main actions are nourishing the heart (believed to house the "spirit", referring to one's vitality), kidneys (which play a key role in growth and aging processes), and the liver (which regulates the movement of Qi (vital energy or life force) and body fluids). Thus, its strength comes from its ability to cleanse the body by cleaning the kidney and liver, and in turn the blood.
While HSW is prized in TCM for its liver-nourishing properties, and has also been shown to have liver-protecting effects in clinical studies (1, 2), incidences of liver toxicity and liver damage due to HSW have been reported in patients. A 2015 review that included a total of 450 cases found that HSW can cause liver toxicity and in some cases, may cause varying degrees of liver damage and even lead to death. However, most of the reported cases were related to long-term use and overdose of HSW. Further, in most cases liver damage was found to be reversible, and curable with treatment.
Of note, the form of processing and of extraction of HSW has been found to impact toxicity. Several studies suggest that in general, water-extracted prepared HSW is relatively safe (being the conventional method for Chinese herbs and the form used for Joya’s products). These studies demonstrate that liver toxicity is detected more readily in raw/unprepared HSW extracts, and that ethanol extracts can induce liver toxicity more readily than water extracted herb.