Exploring the Potential Hepatotoxicity of Flowery Knotweed Root

Exploring the Potential Hepatotoxicity of Flowery Knotweed Root

AJ Smith

Flowery Knotweed Root, known by its Pin Yin name “He Shou Wu” and scientifically known as Polygonum multiflorum, is a traditional Chinese herbal remedy that has been used for centuries to treat a variety of health issues, including hair loss, premature aging, and liver-related conditions. While this herb has gained popularity for its potential health benefits, there have been growing concerns regarding its hepatotoxicity, or the risk of causing liver damage. In this blog post, we will delve into the potential toxicity of this commonly used herb, exploring the potential risks and benefits associated with its use. 

The Traditional Uses of Flowery Knotweed Root

Flowery Knotweed Root is an herb deeply rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and is commonly referred to as "He Shou Wu" or "Fo-Ti." It is believed to possess numerous health benefits, and it has been used for generations to promote hair growth, restore natural hair color, enhance vitality, and support overall longevity.

The Potential Health Benefits of Flowery Knotweed Root

1. Anti-aging properties: Flowery Knotweed Root is thought to possess anti-aging properties, helping to slow down the aging process by promoting the body's ability to repair and regenerate cells.

2. Hair health: This herb is popularly used to combat hair loss and promote hair growth. It is believed to nourish the hair follicles, making hair stronger and more resilient.

3. Immune system support: Flowery Knotweed Root is believed to enhance the immune system, helping the body better defend against infections and diseases.

4. Antioxidant effects: Some studies suggest that this herb has antioxidant properties, which can protect the body from oxidative stress.

The Concerns Surrounding Hepatotoxicity
Despite its long history of use in traditional medicine, there have been increasing reports of hepatotoxicity associated with the use of Flowery Knotweed Root. Hepatotoxicity refers to the potential of a substance to harm the liver, and it can manifest in various ways, including liver inflammation, liver damage, and even liver failure. 

The mechanism of hepatotoxicity of Polygonum multiflorum is not known, but the injury is usually attributed to the anthraquinones (such as emodin) which are major constituents in Polygonum multiflorum.  Anthraquinones are chemical compounds that have been linked to liver damage in some individuals when consumed in high doses or over extended periods. While many traditional remedies use Flowery Knotweed Root in combination with other herbs to mitigate this risk, the potential for liver issues is still a cause for concern. 

Traditional Pao Zhi processing methods (discussed in more detail here) are time-tested processing techniques for preparing raw herbs before making them into medicine.  These steps are used to enhance the efficacy of the final product and ensure the herbs are safe and effective for treating patients. In some cases, the Pao Zhi method is required to release the active chemical compounds found in the herb.  This is a necessary part of the extraction process, increasing the bioavailability of these substances so they’re able to be absorbed when consumed.  In other cases, the processing is necessary to neutralize or remove naturally occurring toxins so the finished product is safe for human consumption.  

Pao Zhi processing neutralizes the phytochemicals concentrated in the roots of Flowery Knotweed (Polygonum multiflorum) which are toxic to humans while preserving the other medicinal compounds. The recommended method for preparing He Shou Wu is a technique called “Cu Zhi”, which means to “Stir Fry with Vinegar”. Eliminating the risks of potentially toxic compounds is one of many reasons it is important to receive herbal treatment from a trained herbalist or TCM Practitioner. 

The Lack of Regulatory Oversight

One of the key challenges with Flowery Knotweed Root and other traditional herbal remedies is the lack of regulatory oversight and standardized dosages. The composition of herbal preparations can vary widely, making it difficult to determine the safety and efficacy of these products. This is one of the main reasons that consumer advocacy groups and watchdog organizations are pushing for increased regulatory scrutiny of all dietary supplements by the FDA.  

The Need for Caution

If you are considering using Flowery Knotweed Root or any herbal remedy, it's essential to exercise caution, consult with a healthcare professional, and be informed of any potential risks to ensure your health and safety.  This is particularly important if you have a history of liver problems or are taking medications that may interact with herbal supplements. While some individuals may benefit from the potential health-promoting properties of Flowery Knotweed Root, concerns regarding the potential for hepatotoxicity have cast a shadow on its use.