ZEN - He Shou Wu

He Shou Wu (english information)

He Shou Wu strengthens and stabilizes the lower back and knees. It is used to enhance sexual drive, increase sperm count and to strengthen sperm and ova. It is widely used in Asia to maintain the youthful condition and color of the hair. It will calm the nervous system. Because it has components that are potent antioxidants with gentle anti-inflammatory action in the liver, it can clear the eyes. Its strength comes from its remarkable ability to cleanse the body by cleaning the kidney and liver, which in turn clean the blood.

By virtue of its ability to accumulate tremendous quantities of Qi into its root, this herb can tonify these organs and can fortify and nourish the blood. He Shou Wu is also very rich in iron He Shou Wu is not a stimulant. He Shou Wu is extremely rich in potent antioxidants and in antioxidant-potentiating molecules. He Shou Wu stimulates the body’s innate ability to efficiently clear superoxide, the highly reactive free radical, from the body. It is widely believed that the SOD generating capacity of He Shou Wu is one of the reasons it has been found to have anti-aging and longevity increasing activity. SOD protects our cells from DNA damage, lipid peroxidation, ionizing radiation damage, and many forms of progressive cell degradation.

He Shou Wu is extremely rich in zinc. Zinc is an essential trace mineral required by all forms of life. Numerous aspects of cellular metabolism are zinc-dependent. Zinc plays important roles in growth and development, the immune response, neurological function, and reproduction. Zinc is important to our sexual and reproductive functions. Zinc is critical to reproductive health. He Shou Wu has been found to enhance fundamental immunological functions. He Shou Wu has been found to improve adrenal gland functioning.

He Shou Wu (pronounced huh – similar to English "huh", but not as open – show woo) is one of the most popular and highly revered tonic herbs in Asian herbalism. He Shou Wu is the prepared tuberous root of Polygonum multiflorum, a plant that grows in the mountains of central and southern China. It shares the position as the primary essence (Jing) tonic of Chinese herbalism with Lycium fruit (Goji berry). He Shou Wu is also widely used in popular Western herbalism under the names “Fo Ti” or “Fleeceflower.”

Ho Shou Wu is unsurpassed in its ability to provide deep, primordial energy (Jing, essence) to the cells of the body via the Kidney system as described in Chinese health philosophy. Ho Shou Wu supplements the human body’s “functional reserve.”

He Shou Wu is widely used in Chinese tonic herbalism as a tonic to prevent premature aging by tonifying the Kidney and Liver functions, toning up Jing (vital essence), nourishing the blood, and fortifying the muscles, tendons and bones. It strengthens and stabilizes the lower back and knees. He Shou Wu is used to enhance sexual drive, increase sperm count and to strengthen sperm and ova. It is also widely used in Asia to maintain the youthful condition and color of the hair. This is one of its most popular attributes. Because it is a very mild sedative, it will calm the nervous system, and because it has components that are potent antioxidants with gentle anti-inflammatory action in the liver, it can clear the eyes.

Its strength comes from its remarkable ability to cleanse the body by cleaning the kidney and liver, which in turn clean the blood. By virtue of its ability to accumulate tremendous quantities of Qi into its root, this herb can tonify these organs and can fortify and nourish the blood. Though He Shou Wu provides abundant Qi, it is not a stimulant.

The Legend of He Shou Wu

Li Ao from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) wrote a book called “The Legend of He Shou Wu” documenting in detail its discovery. He Shou Wu is the name of the man after which the herb Polygonum multiflorum was named in China.

He Shou Wu’s grandfather was born with a weak constitution. Due to his chronic frailty, he had never been able to marry and as time went by had given up on the prospect of either marrying or baring children. In addition, he had taken to strong liquor. Nevertheless, he was an enthusiastic follower of Taoism and often shadowed his Taoist teacher in the mountain.

One day, at the age of 58, he fell into a drunken stupor in the forest. When he awoke, he observed a pair of vines entwined for more than 3 yards. He thought to himself that they appeared to be making love, and in a whimsical mood he dug up the roots of the plant, which he took back to his cottage. No one in the local village recognized the herb. A hermit from the mountain saw it, however, and told him, "You are impotent, old and childless. This climbing plant struck you as peculiar, now surely it is supposed to serve you as a divine tonic. Why don't you take it”?

He agreed and ground up the root into powder and swallowed a small amount on an empty stomach. In seven days, he started to “realize the tao of human.” He started to feel an unknown vitality flowing through his veins and after a little while he noticed certain urges starting to develop. Soon this previously hapless guy began to experience something very unfamiliar to him – incredible virility – he could barely control his sexual desire. Over the next several months, he became strong. He decided to continue taking the herb, doubling his dosage. In several years, all of his old diseases went away, his hair grew dark again, and his appearance became youthful. Over the next ten years, he fathered several boys and changed his name to Neng Si, meaning “Capable of Bearing Offspring.” The man gave his son this same herb, and his son lived to be one hundred and sixty years old. The son gave birth to a boy whom he named He Shou Wu. He was the family’s family name, Shou means head, Wu means black. The literal translation of He Shou Wu would mean “Mr. He with a Head of Black Hair.” He Shou Wu also consumed the herb regularly throughout his life. He Shou Wu had jet black hair when he was one hundred and thirty years old. He Shou Wu’s neighbor stole the He family’s secret recipe (He Shou Wu) and he also lived a long life.

Though the herb called He Shou Wu’s was well famed as an anti-aging tonic and a fertility enhancing sex tonic, it did not gain much attention from the health cultivationists (preservationists) after the He family had made it famous. Revered herbalist Li Shi Zhen, who authored the greatest contribution to the development of Chinese herbal pharmacy, a book named The Great Herbalism (published in 1578), noted that though He Shou Wu had been established for a long while, few people were taking the herb at the time. Not until a royal endorsement from an emperor changed that. Ming Dynasty Emperor Shi Zong (reigned from 1521 to 1566) was gifted an herbal elixir called Seven Treasure Beard Beautifying Pill. He enjoyed “great success,” fathering several royal princes. This formula, with He Shou Wu as the main ingredient, became an instant hit among the commoners and He Shou Wu became a household herb throughout Asia ever since.

Li Ao’s Personal Commentary on He Shou Wu

Li Ao, the Taoist sage who recounted the Legend of He Shou Wu, is famous as the sage whose walk “resembled a swift wind.” He had this to say regarding his personal experience with the herb

He Shou Wu

"I will reveal to you an herbal secret. Taking He Shou Wu helped me to father children. Originally, I preferred peace of mind, and under no circumstances did I want to take this herb, because I had heard it said that it was ‘harmful to peace of mind’ (referring to its stimulation of sexual desire). However, my spouse took it accidentally and we attained the greatest happiness (the highest level of sexual ecstasy). Since then I have continued taking this miraculous herb.”

The Story of Li Qing Yuen

There is a famous story that has been widely spread about a man named Li Qing Yuen, who, as the tale goes, is said to have lived to be 252 years old. All evidence indicates that this is not possible. Therefore, I believe the story of Li Qing Yuen must be viewed as a legend. Nevertheless, it is widely believed in Asia that Li Qing Yuen did indeed live and that he lived to extended age – certainly to be a centenarian.

The story is worth telling because it expresses the deep interest the Chinese have had in the art of longevity and provides some excellent life lessons. According to the story, Li Qing Yuen was born in the mountainous southwest of China, he ran away from home at the age of eleven with three travelers. These travelers were in the herbal trade. Together the boy and his three teachers traveled throughout China, Tibet, and Southeast Asia, encountering many dangerous situations, but all the while studying the herbal traditions of all the various regions.

As Li Qing Yuen became older, he became a practicing herbalist, and was well known for his excellence of health and amazing vigor. He was particularly interested in Taoist life cultivation and had a deep personal interest in tonic herbs. One day, when he was around fifty years old, he met a very old man who, despite of his venerable old age, could out-walk Li Qing Yuen. This impressed Master Li very much because he believed that brisk walking was both a way to health and longevity and a sign of inner health. Li Qing Yuen inquired as to the old sage's secret. He was told that if every day he consumed a "soup" of an herb known as gou qi zi (Lycium chinensis fruit - known to us as Goji berries or Wolfberries) he would soon attain a new standard of health. Of course Li Qing Yuen knew about this Goji but had not made it a central part of his daily herbal regimen. Li Qing Yuen did just what the old sage suggested and continued to consume Goji soup from the time forward.

Because of his radiant health and longevity, he was greatly revered by all those who knew him and he had many disciples who followed him. Even at a very old age, his sight was keen and his legs were strong, and he continued to take his daily vigorous walks. One day, he was on a journey through treacherous mountains. In the mountains he met a Taoist hermit who was much older than him. Impressed by the great illumination of the old Taoist, Li Qing Yuen begged the sage to tell him his secrets. The old Taoist, recognizing the sincerity of Li, taught him some deep secrets of Taoist Yoga (also known as the "Inner Alchemy") and recommended that Li change his diet and consume Ginseng daily, combined with He Shou Wu.

It is said that Master Li also changed his diet accordingly, so as to consume very little meat, and even limited his consumption of root vegetables. He also limited his consumption of grain. Instead, he focused mainly on steamed above-ground vegetables and herbs. He supposedly died in 1930, reportedly after a banquet presented in his honor by a government official. He had married during his lifetime numerous times and lived through many generations of his own descendants, of which he had many.

Ron’s Note: I first reported on this story in 1984 in the book “Chinese Tonic Herbs (Japan Publications).” However, though I have tried, I have found that primary sources of documentation for Li Qing Yuen’s extreme longevity are non-existent. The story had first been reported, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, in a 1933 news agency filing as "the oldest man on earth", having been born in 1680 and just died at 253. The Guinness Book first identified him as Li Chung-yun and later as Li Zhongyun (1993 edition). The Guinness Book noted that “Li Chung-yun was said to have maintained a youthful appearance to the end, crediting it to Taoist wisdom and healthy living.”

The story is representative of a tradition that is rich in the lore of Taoists living to ages unimaginable by us. It is well known that among the Chinese population, the Taoists have always far outlived all other people. Many have lived to be centenarians and few died prematurely. The Taoist art of longevity, known as the "Way of Radiant Health" is one of the great legacies of the East. The Taoist arts of longevity include tonic herbalism, qi gung, Tai Chi Chuan (tai ji quan), Taoist yoga, Taoist sexual techniques and many of the martial arts.

Li Qing Yuen’s Other “Secrets of Longevity”

According to the complete story of Li Qing Yuen, Master Li was once asked what his “secrets of longevity” were. It is well known that his diet consisted primarily of vegetables and tonic herbs, but also very small amounts of meat. But in response to the question concerning his “secrets”, he is reported to have said that in order to live long, one must be able to “Sit like a tortoise, walk like a pigeon, and sleep like a dog.”


“Sit like a tortoise” refers to the ability to sit still, free from concern, breathing slowly and calmly. This skill is achieved by practicing meditation. Meditation is not really passive, though it may appear to be. It is the art of achieving stillness – an art that allows us to rejuvenate both our body and mind every day. It also refers to the ability to concentrate and remain alert for long periods of time while sitting still – not an easy task for Americans, but definitely possible with some practice. Sitting still while breathing slowly has been proven to reduce high blood pressure, a huge problem in America. High blood pressure can be modulated in many individuals by simultaneously breathing deeply and slowly while calming the mind.

“Walk like a pigeon” refers to the ability to walk briskly, at any age. To the Taoists, walking “like the wind” is both a source and sign of vigor and youthfulness. Speed walking has been widely practiced in China for thousands of years as a form of superior exercise. Walking quickly and lightly for a distance of a couple of miles a day is considered to be superb exercise that promotes health and longevity. A pigeon appears to move all its muscles in the process of walking. Its head moves in rhythm with its feet and arms (wings). When we speedwalk, we should take care to relax and move all our muscles in a gentle rhythm that promotes circulation throughout the body (tense shoulders and neck are thus a no-no). It would be a good idea to stretch and or do some yoga or qi gung before taking our daily speedwalk.

“Sleep like a dog” refers to the ability to sleep deeply anytime, and to be able to awaken quickly with a clear head. Dogs, as we all know, sleep through the night as humans do, but they can be awakened easily and respond quickly. When a dog sleeps, they breathe deeply from their abdomen. Observe a dog and you will see that their hind legs are moving up and down. This is because they are breathing deeply, using their deep abdominal muscles. This is indeed a secret of longevity. Deep sleep combined with deep breathing rejuvenates the body every day, eliminates waste and restores vitality to all the cells of the body. Night time sleep is not the only sleep that is beneficial. Naps can be very important in a longevity program. In fact, a six year study of 23,681 men, published this year in the Archives of Internal Medicine, reported that taking a 30 minute nap three times a week reduced the risk of coronary death by a whopping 37%. Even just occasional napping brought a 12% reduction in deaths due to heart disease. Head author, Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, noted that countries where naps are common tend to have low rates of death from heart disease. Dr. Trichopoulos said that he thinks the stress relief provided by a short nap is a key factor in the reduction of deaths from cardiovascular disease, but other factors may play a role. To achieve this ability to sleep like a dog, practice slow, deep, abdominal breathing for five to fifteen minutes every night before sleeping.

The Science of He Shou Wu

“Prepared” or “not prepared,” that is the difference.

The tuber of He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum) must be “prepared” in order to be used as a regularly-consumed tonic herb. Unprepared He Shou Wu does not possess the tonic effects and can have unwanted side effects. The freshly picked tubers are sliced, stewed in black bean soup (in a proportion of 10 parts He Shou Wu to 1 part black beans) until the soup is exhausted. The “prepared” roots are then dried. That is all there is to the “preparation.” Of course, no chemicals are used in the making of “prepared” He Shou Wu.

Active Constituents

The tuberous root of Polygonum multiflorum (He Shou Wu) has many active constituents. He Shou Wu is rich in anthraquinones, including many phospholipids such as lecithin (3.7%). A stilbene glycoside known as 2,3,5,4-tetrahydroxystilbene-2-O-β-D-glucopyranoside (henceforth referred to as “he shou wu super-glycoside”) is considered to be the principle active constituent responsible for He Shou Wu’s strong blood lipid lowering function. It has very powerful antioxidant activity. There are many similar stilbene glycosides present in He Shou Wu. The stilbene glycosides in He Shou Wu are very similar to resveratrol, an antiaging biomolecule. Several of the stilbene glycosides in He Shou Wu are stronger antioxidants than resveratrol.

Pharmacological studies have shown that prepared Ho Shou Wu root extract can prolong the life cycle of somatic cells.

Laboratory studies have shown that He Shou Wu can promote strong development and prolonged growing cycle in mammalian cells compared to cells in the control group, which demonstrated aging and degeneration. [i]

Studies have demonstrated that various laboratory animals fed He Shou Wu in their diets lived longer than control animals.

Study 1: A decoction with He Shou Wu as the main ingredient prolonged the lifespan of fruit flies. At 0.1% strength, the decoction could prolong the lifespan by 5.83%. At 0.5% strength, it could prolong the lifespan by 12.03%.8

Study 2: A traditional Jing-replenishing formula with He Shou Wu as the main ingredient has been shown to slow down the aging of vital organs in aged animals, especially the reproductive organs, the ovary, the uterus and the testicle. The same formula also demonstrated significant results in open human clinical studies. [ii]

Study 3: Shou Wu Kidney Tonic capsules were given to 60 aged humans who had been assessed in a Chinese clinic as experiencing “Kidney deficiency” (Jing deficiency). Out of the 60 cases, 18 cases were evaluated as “extremely effective” (30%) and 32 cases were considered “effective” (53.3%), with a total effective rate for 50 cases of 83.3%.9

Study 4: In an attempt to prove Shou Wu’s legendary reputation as being able to reverse grey hair to black, Shou Wu liquor (dilute alcohol extract) was given to 36 people with gray hair. 24 completely recovered their dark hair and 8 more showed improvement. The total effective rate was of 88.9%.

Prepared He Shou Wu extract increases the cellular antioxidant activity

He Shou Wu stimulates the body’s innate ability to efficiently clear superoxide, the highly reactive pro-oxidant (free radical), from the body.

All organisms maintain complex innate antioxidant systems to prevent damage by oxidation. Antioxidants are chemicals that reduce the rate of oxidation reactions. Oxidation reactions are chemical reactions that involve the transfer of electrons from one substance to an oxidizing agent. These oxidized molecules can cause degeneration of the cellular structure and will result, if unchecked, in expedited aging of the cell and ultimately cell death. On a bigger scale, this oxidation process will result in degenerative disease and ultimately in death. Oxidation is a constant function of life, but it is accelerated by stress, environmental toxins, injury, microbial invasion, excessive sunlight and many other factors. Antioxidants can slow these reactions either by reacting with the oxidizing agent and preventing the oxidation reaction from occurring, or by reacting with intermediates and halting the oxidation reaction directly. He Shou Wu is extremely rich in potent antioxidants and in antioxidant-potentiating molecules.

Superoxide dismutase (SOD)

Superoxide dismutase, generally referred to as SOD, is a class of closely related enzymes produced within the human body. Of all the antioxidants produced in the human body, SOD is king. SOD proteins are present in almost all aerobic cells and in almost all extracellular fluids. SOD transforms the most reactive and most dangerous free radical – the superoxide radical – into ions that are less reactive. These less reactive ions are then further transformed by the antioxidants catalase and glutathione into safe molecules. This transformation, called dismutation, is essential to life.

SOD is much more powerful than any other antioxidant. No external antioxidant is comparable to SOD, as external antioxidants may deteriorate by the time they enter our blood stream and because they cannot match SOD’s performance in clearing the most dangerous free radicals. Indeed, SOD has the fastest reaction rate with its substrate of any known antioxidant.

SOD has been shown to help protect many types of cells from the free radical (pro-oxidant) damage that results in cell death, tissue damage and aging.

There are three main kinds of SOD produced in the body. SOD is formed in the mitochondria, in the cytoplasm of the cell, and in extracellular fluids. Each molecule of superoxide dismutase contains atoms of copper, zinc, manganese, or iron, depending upon where it is made. Mitochondrial SOD is thought to be the most biologically important since it appears to be the most active and protective, especially protecting our DNA from free radical damage that can lead to mutations that in turn can result in deadly diseases. It has been demonstrated that mice lacking the gene that produces Mitochondrial SOD die soon after birth. Mice lacking cytoplasmic SOD have a shortened lifespan.

SOD protects our cells from DNA damage, lipid peroxidation, ionizing radiation damage, and many forms of progressive cell degradation.

And SOD signals other cells to produce more SOD, preparing the antioxidant defense system for free radical attack. Indeed, maintaining our SOD levels at close-to-youthful levels should be a prime goal of everyone who seeks longevity.

He Shou Wu has been shown to arrest cortisone-induced decrease in SOD in laboratory animals, and to restore it to the normal level.(9)

He Shou Wu has been shown to help maintain youthful levels of SOD in laboratory animals even as they age. For example, a study showed that after feeding He Shou Wu extract to mice for 7 consecutive months, the blood SOD level of 11 month old mice was maintained at the same level as that of 2 month old mice. [iv] This study demonstrated that He Shou Wu could protect the SOD production mechanism even as mice aged. Mice not given He Shou Wu showed a strong decline in SOD production during the same period. It is widely believed that the SOD generating capacity of He Shou Wu is one of the reasons it has been found to have anti-aging and longevity increasing activity.

Stilbene glycosides in He Shou Wu strongly protect cells from damage due to free radicals

It has been shown that biomolecules known as stilbene glycosides are present in significant quantities in He Shou Wu. These molecules have more antioxidant potency than resveratrol, the well known antioxidant found in grapes. [v] One particular stilbene glycoside present in He Shou Wu, which we will call “heshouwu super-glycoside” has been proven to have exceptionally potent free radical scavenging, hydroxyl radical scavenging and superoxide anion scavenging actions. Heshouwu super-glycoside is especially potent at reducing lipid peroxide formation in liver, heart and brain (a very good thing).

Inhibits monoamine oxidase (MAO)

MAO-B, one of two types of MAO, is closely associated with the aging process. researchers have found that among a number of herbs that affect MAO activity, He Shou Wu is the greatest inhibitor of MAO activity, with the inhibiting rate in laboratory animals reaching as high as 82% when the concentration is at optimal doses.

Another study showed that after one month of continuous feeding of a He Shou Wu formula, aged mice experienced a significantly reduction in the MAO-B activity of in the brain.7

He Shou Wu extract has been shown to have a significant inhibitory effect on the formation of oxidized lipids.

In living organisms, lipids are used for energy storage, serve as structural components of of cell membranes, and are important hormones or contain essential fatty acids. The term lipid is often used as a synonym for fat, but is in fact a subgroup of lipids called triglycerides. Lipid peroxidation refers to the oxidative degradation of lipids (triglycerides). It is the process whereby free radicals "steal" electrons from the lipids in cell membranes, resulting in cell damage.

For example, when LDL (the “bad cholesterol”) is oxidized in the arterial wall, it becomes “oxidized LDL". Macrophages, aggressive white blood cell scavengers, quickly go after oxidized LDL and form the plaques characteristic of atherosclerosis. Oxidized LDL induces inflammation in the arterial walls, further contributing to the development of atherosclerotic plaque. Vicious cycles, or negative chain reactions, of this nature are common in the body. They result in aging of the body, degeneration of the mind, and ultimately in death.

Studies demonstrates ability of He Shou Wu to reduce damage due to lipid peroxidation

19-20 month old mice (old age by mice standards) were fed He Shou Wu decoction continuously for 4 months. Their blood plasma lipid peroxidation level at the end of the 4-month regimen was comparable to that of 3 month old mice. If we translate this to human age, it would mean a 60 year old human’s blood can be as young as that of a 6 year old if they consume He Shou Wu continuously for 10 years. The mice in the control group showed a significantly higher level of plasma lipid peroxidation.

Several studies have shown that extended consumption of He Shou Wu significantly lowered lipid peroxidation level in the heart, brain, liver and blood of mice. [vii] One study showed that a large dose of He Shou Wu suppressed lipid peroxidation by 95% without side effects. [viii]


-All studies emphasize the continuous consumption of He Shou Wu in order to see the results.

-All of these tests prove that He Shou Wu and He Shou Wu-containing formulas, if consumed on a long term basis can significantly increase the organism’s own innate ability to eliminate free radicals, resist oxidation, and suppress lipid peroxidation occurs that during the aging process.

He Shou Wu has been shown to lower the lipofuscin content of heart tissue.

Lipofuscin is a brown pigment composed of oxidized lipid-containing residues of cellular digestion and metals such as aluminum and iron. Lipofuscin is considered to be an aging or "wear and tear" pigment. "Liver spots" commonly associated with aging are superficial lipofuscin deposits in the skin. Lipofuscin is commonly found in the heart muscle, smooth muscles, liver, kidney, adrenals, nerve cells, and ganglion cells.

Research has shown that He Shou Wu can reduce the amount of lipofuscin in heart tissue in laboratory animals. The ability of Ho Shou Wu to reduce lipofuscin content of the heart tissue indicates that it has antioxidant activity that targets the heart and has an anti-aging function in heart tissue.

He Shou Wu enhances immunity

He Shou Wu has been found to enhance fundamental immunological functions in mammals.

He Shou Wu increases the weight of mouse thymus gland and delays the gland’s atrophy process. The thymus is an organ located in the upper portion of the chest cavity. It is of central importance in the maturation of T cells (immune cells). The thymus gland atrophies as animals mature.

Enhances the phagocytic function of mouse abdominal macrophage (large white blood cells);

Enhances the immunological function of T and B lymphocytes (white blood cells); and

Induces the production of g-interferon in humans. Interferons (IFNs) are natural proteins produced by the cells of the immune system in response to challenges by foreign agents such as viruses, bacteria, parasites and tumor cells. Interferons assist the immune response to viruses by inhibiting viral replication within other cells of the body.

He Shou Wu enhances adrenocortical function

He Shou Wu has been found to improve adrenal gland functioning. He Shou Wu significantly increases the survival ability of mice in extremely cold conditions, an indication of adrenal fortitude.

This supports prepared He Shou Wu’s traditional function as a Kidney tonic. Jing controls the functions of adrenal cortex.

He Shou Wu’s Blood Tonic Actions

He Shou Wu enhances the proliferation of blood producing cells

Scientific research supports He Shou Wu’s traditional function as a blood tonic. Prepared He Shou Wu can greatly enhance the hematopoietic (blood producing) function of the body. It does this by directly promoting the blood generating hematopoietic stem cells.

In one study, a water extract of He Shou Wu was administered to mice for 3 days. Mice receiving the treatment showed an increased count of a type of bone marrow cell, known as the CDU-S cell, of 121% that of the control group. Other bone marrow cell counts also significantly increased. Peripheral reticulated red blood cells (the most recently released red blood cells) started to increase on day 6 after the treatment started, and reached the peak from the normal 3.7% to 6.19% on day 8, after which the cells returned to normal. This was 158% of the control group. These results show that He Shou Wu tonifies blood by enhancing the body’s hematopoietic cells.

Improves red blood cell membranes

Extracts of this herb have been demonstrated to help strengthen the membranes of erythrocytes (red blood cells) and to promote the growth and development of erythrocytes in test animals.

He Shou Wu is a rich source of lecithin which is an important raw material of red blood cell and other cell membranes (lecithin is also a major component of nervous tissues).

Very rich in iron

He Shou Wu is also very rich in iron, higher than that of other blood tonics such as Tang Gui and Goji.

Effects on the cardiovascular system

He Shou Wu has had a calming effect on the hearts of various laboratory animals. Laboratory animals that were fed prepared He Shou Wu showed fewer atherosclerotic lesions and lower blood cholesterol levels than animals of the control group fed with cholesterol only. Clinical evidence from Asia supports the moderate anti-hypercholesterolemia effect of prepared He Shou Wu. This herb also counteracts in laboratory animals the heart beat rate increase induced by a heart rate stimulating drug, and to some extent it prevents myocardial ischemia (the pathological loss of or reduction in blood flow – ischemia - to a part of the muscular tissue of the heart [myocardium]).

May lower blood fat and cholesterol

He Shou Wu can greatly reduce the free fatty acid level in blood serum in test animals.

Hyperlipemia is the presence of excess lipids (such as fat) in the blood. In a test whereby mice with hyperlipemia were fed prepared He Shou Wu powder, the blood total cholesterol level was lowered by 42%, triglyceride was lowered by 89%, β-lipoprotein was lowered by 54%. [ix] Hyperlipemia is a medical condition and must be treated by a physician. He Shou Wu should not be used as a medicine to treat hyperlipemia.*

One human clinical study showed that taking the herb orally by patients with high cholesterol were able to lower their cholesterol to the normal level after 7 consecutive days of treatment, the total cholesterol level in the treatment group was lowered to 88 ± 11mg% (compared to the control group’s 188 ± 12mg%; p<0.01. Of course, one study is not conclusive and should not be construed as an endorsement of the use of He Shou Wu as a medicine for high cholesterol, a significant medical condition.*

There appears to be several mechanisms by which He Shou Wu lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in laboratory animals. Some studies have found that He Shou Wu can bind with LDL cholesterol and thereby prevent its absorption in the intestines. The anthraquinones in He Shou Wu can promote intestinal movement and thereby reduce the re-absorption of LDL cholesterol in the intestines, and can promote the metabolism of LDL cholesterol. [x] He Shou Wu’s rich content of lecithin can also play a role.

Studies have shown that He Shou Wu can significantly increase the level of HDL (“good”) cholesterol in the blood serum in mice.

Improves blood flow

Prepared He Shou Wu improves blood flow and inhibits blood platelet clumping in test animals. It is also effective in enhancing aged rats’ blood flowability by reducing blood plasma and whole blood viscosity. He Shou Wu can counter elevated platelet agglutination (clumping) in rats induced by hyperlipemia, and maintain normal platelet aggregating functions. In other words, He Shou Wu can keep the blood platelets from sticking together excessively, maintaining normalcy, vastly improving blood function. Platelet aggregation is a naturally occurring process in the body during which platelets - disc shaped blood cells - clump together. The accumulation of platelets is essential in blood clotting, for example, at the site of an injury. However, if there is platelet aggregation in a blood vessel, the result can be a heart attack or stroke.

Protects the Liver

Classically, He Shou Wu is considered a Liver tonic. Many studies now support He Shou Wu’s protective and function-regulating actions on the liver. Since the liver is the major detoxification organ of the body, protecting it is to a large degree akin to supporting its proper functioning. Throughout our lifetime liver cells continually replenish themselves. Adult humans do not die with the same liver they were born with.

In experiments on mice, prepared He Shou Wu reduces buildup of hepatic (liver) fat.

Prepared He Shou Wu lessens the enlargement of the liver caused by carbon tetrachloride poisoning.

He Shou Wu can significantly counters the liver damage in rats caused by peroxidized (spoiled) corn oil. The damage includes fatty liver, liver function damage and elevated levels of peroxidized lipids in the liver.

At a fundamental level in the liver’s cells, in vitro studies have demonstrated He Shou Wu’s ability to inhibit the lipid peroxidation of rat liver microsomes induced by ADP and NADPH.

These studies show that He Shou Wu’s liver protection mechanism lies largely in its ability to inhibit lipid peroxidation (LPO) and its damage to the liver cells. [xi]

Furthermore, researchers have found that this herb can stabilize liver cells by improving membrane mechanism. He Shou Wu’s rich content of plant lecithin may also play a major role. People with fatty liver show a significantly lower level of lecithin. Providing a direct source of lecithin or helping the body’s synthesis of lecithin can help. It is theorized, but not yet confirmed, that the lecithin in He Shou Wu enters the liver with co-factors that enhance its action in the liver, and this distinguishes the lecithin derived from He Shou Wu from lecithin derived from soy, eggs, animal products and especially from synthetic lecithin. He Shou Wu has a special tropism (attraction) to the liver.

[Editor’s Note: As fat continues to build up in liver, inflammation occurs, liver function begins to decline and symptoms develop. This inflammation leads to scarring and severe damage of the liver, or fatty liver. Fatty liver can progress to cirrhosis. The liver is a cleansing organ that detoxifies our blood. It therefore often becomes intoxicated first. Fatty liver disease is an abnormal enlargement of the liver due to fat or toxin build up in liver.

A great zinc supplement

He Shou Wu is very rich in zinc. The zinc content of prepared He Shou Wu is as high as 42 mg per 100 grams the herb. This is several dozen times higher than that of most herbs. Animal type foods are considered to be high in zinc, but they only have 3-5 mg per 100 gram, much lower than the 42 mg in He Shou Wu.

Zinc is an essential trace mineral required by all forms of life. Numerous aspects of cellular metabolism are zinc-dependent. Zinc plays important roles in growth and development, the immune response, neurological function, and reproduction. On the cellular level, the function of zinc can be divided into three categories: (1) regulatory, (2) catalytic, and (3) structural.

Regulatory functions of zinc: Zinc participates in the synthesis of nucleic acids (the components of DNA and RNA) and protein. Certain proteins with zinc “fingers” have been found to regulate gene expression by acting as transcription factors (binding to DNA and influencing the transcription of specific genes). Zinc also plays a role in cell signaling and has been found to influence hormone release and nerve impulse transmission. Zinc plays a role in apoptosis (gene-directed cell death), a critical cellular regulatory process with implications for growth and development, as well as a number of chronic diseases.

Enzymatic functions of zinc: Zinc-dependent enzymes can be found in all known classes of enzymes. Zinc plays an indispensable biological role as a catalyst. Astoundingly, zinc is required for the biological function of more than 300 enzymes in the human body.

The single mineral-nutrient zinc is pivotal in achieving healthy longevity. Zinc is a trace element required for most of the functions of human life because it directly affects our ability to maintain homeostasis. These mechanisms include the fundamental functions of oxidative stress response and immune efficiency.

The cell uses sophisticated mechanisms to control the levels and movements of zinc. In fact, the relevance of zinc is linked to special proteins called metallothioneins (MT), which act as catalysts during the process of handling the body’s responses to oxidative stress. The zinc must both bind to the MT and be released by the MT in order to be useful. The release of zinc from MT determines the nature and viability of our immune response, by activating immune cell proliferation and differentiation, and by controlling the production of inflammatory molecules called cytokines. MT essentially controls the availability of zinc and therefore determines how our body handles stress. The human body produces at least ten MT forms, some of which are specific to certain organs, like the brain. We also produce two forms, MT-1 and MT-2 which are found everywhere in the body. The primary functions of these two molecules is to regulate zinc homeostasis, and to limit oxidative dame with the cells. Following an injurious stimulus, such as a temporary inflammation, the subsequent oxidative stress induces the release of zinc from MT, which promotes the activity of antioxidant enzymes like SOD, thus reducing the oxidative damage.

As we age, continuous oxidative stress and inflammation (well defined characteristics of aging) result in systemic zinc deficiency. The zinc release from MT further limited, and this leads to increasingly low zinc ion bioavailability for stress and immune response. Thus a vicious cycle is perpetuated where inflammation further develops, resulting in accelerated aging. Scientists now call this process “inflamm-aging.”

The immune response is tightly linked to stress response and inflammation. Immune response, the stress response and inflammation constitute an integrated and defense network against various types of stressors, including both external pathogenic sources and psychological stressors. (See Antiaging article on page 3).

As mentioned, the regulation of the inflammatory response is largely under the control of zinc ion bioavailability. The cytokine (inflammatory) network plays a pivotal role here because it is involved both directly and indirectly in innate adaptive immune response. It is now a virtual certainty that as zinc resources become diminished in the body, there is a reciprocal increase in pro-inflammatory molecules in body.

In the course of zinc deficiencies, or during a chronic inflammatory status (such as in aging, severe infections or cardiovascular disease), pro-inflammatory molecules and functions increase and zinc related molecules decrease. As a result, inflammation becomes self supporting. As a result, the life supporting homeostasis of our innate and adoptive immune functions is altered, which in turn results in age-related diseases and in the aging process itself.

The lifelong exposure to stressors (both physical and psychological) is responsible for the chronic activation of the inflammatory response as the first line of defense. Inflammation is critical to successful longevity. On the other hand, an excessive responsiveness (as occurs in older people) is detrimental due to a marked inflammatory status which favors age-related diseases and disabilities. It has now been established that centenarians maintain well balanced MT regulation (similar to younger adults) and good zinc bioavailability, and thus satisfactory innate immune response. It appears certain that those who become centenarians have experienced less chronic inflammation than those who do not succeed at achieving such longevity.

Higher intake of zinc in older individuals may ensure optimal function since several of the proteins involved in DNA repair in humans are zinc-associated proteins. Since diminished capacity to repair DNA is a trademark characteristic of aging, organic zinc supplementation is likely to prove critical in extending lifespan.

Structural functions of zinc: Zinc plays a key role in the structure of proteins and cell membranes. The structure and function of cell membranes are also affected by zinc. Loss of zinc from biological membranes increases their susceptibility to oxidative damage and impairs their function.

Zinc plays a critical structural role in our innate antioxidant system. It is a life-essential component of a major type of SOD known copper-zinc superoxide dismutase (CuZnSOD).

Zinc is important to our sexual and reproductive functions. Zinc is critical to male reproductive health. It is often referred to as "the male mineral." It helps maintain normal sexual function and supports sperm production and sperm motility. It is now generally believed that zinc plays a critical role in the development of the male reproductive system, including the seminiferous tubules, and in the body’s ability to make testosterone. Zinc deficiency has been linked to low sperm count and low sperm density, an almost epidemic problem for men in the United States. zinc aids in the metabolism of testosterone, and enhances sperm quality and motility.

Other Tonic Herbs Rich in Zinc

Polyrhachis Ant (Manchurian Mountain Ant) and Astragalus are both rich sources of zinc. It is not surprising that He Shou Wu, Polyrhachis Ant and Astragalus are all superior sexual tonics. Polyrhachis Ant is extremely rich in zinc. The zinc content of Polyrhachis Ant is the highest among all known living organisms. Every gram of dried Polyrhachis Ant contains 180 mg. of zinc. This undoubtedly explains part of ant’s strong beneficial influence on sexuality, as zinc is a critical element in the human sexual function. In words, it is a powerful sex-improving element. In China Polyrhachis Ant was called the “Herb of Kings” because it gave the emperors the potency to have hundreds of active sexual partners. Other phytochemicals in ant seem to have an influence on the way that zinc is utilized. Studies have shown that regular use of Polyrhachis Ant can prevent and treat disorders associated with zinc deficiency, including senile cataract, night blindness, incontinence, and sexual dysfunction, including impotence, spermatorrhea and premature ejaculation in men. And Polyrhachis Ant is not just for men. It is used as a tonic by women who wish to flourish sexually. It is used in Asia for frigidity, menorrhagia and climacteric symptoms in women.

Other Tonic Herbs Rich in Zinc

Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus) is a premier Chinese tonic herb. It is rich in zinc as well. Not surprisingly, it is widely used to enhance vigor and fertility in men. One of its well proven functions is that it enhances the healthy functioning of human sperm. Poor sperm motility is an important cause of male infertility. Numerous research studies have shown that Astragalus root has a significant stimulatory effect on human sperm motility in vitro. And Astragalus is very safe for the sperm. Astragalus root protects the sperm, improving viability. Astragalus has been shown not to induce sperm agglutination and adhesions, and studies have revealed no phenomena of abnormal morphology of sperm exposed to Astragalus root extract.

Author’s notes on He Shou Wu’s further possible role in male fertility - Lipid peroxidation occurs in human sperm cells with damage to the cell plasma membrane, which leads to cell death. Lipid peroxidation is believed to be the mechanism for sperm cell membrane damage and thus loss of sperm motility and viability. The membrane damage results in the loss of respiratory activity of the cells. It is believed by researchers that the breakdown of the membrane permeability barriers results in the loss of enzymes, substrates, and nucleotide cofactors, including the ATP that powers flagellate (sperm tail) motion. Too low a defense capacity by innate antioxidants like SOD could thus be a major cause of male infertility.

A strong correlation has been made between SOD activity and the time interval for complete loss of sperm motility. The addition of exogenous SOD to the sperm, in vitro, significantly decreased this motility loss and inhibited lipid peroxidation. He Shou Wu is a potent SOD stimulant in the human body, and He Shou Wu is tropic to the sexual organs. That may partially explain some of its fertility enhancing benefits. It has been postulated that Astragalus root has an effect of anti-lipoperoxidative defense of the sperm as well. Although a direct effect of Astragalus root on spermatozoal SOD and LPO levels has yet to be demonstrated, it is likely that Astragalus helps protect sperm.

Antibacterial effect

Experiments indicate that this herb inhibits a number of bacteria, including Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus albus, Shigella flexneri, Shigella sonnei, typhoid bacillus, Bacillus paratyphosus, Bacillus diphtheriae, and beta hemolytic streptococcus.

Effect on Memory

It was found that mice fed with He Shou Wu extracts had better active shuttle avoidance response, fewer vacuole numbers, less lipofuscin (aging residue) in the hippocampus, and lower MDA concentrations in the brain. These results suggest that dietary supplementation with either ethanol or water extracts of He Shou Wu can reduce brain pathological changes and promote learning and memory ability. [xii]

Potential adverse effects of this herb are mainly digestive canal reaction, with thin stool seen in the majority of cases, and occasional light abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Adverse effects are not common with extracts of properly prepared He Shou Wu. Raw, unprepared He Shou Wu is a laxative and should not be consumed as a tonic herb, i.e. on a long term basis.

“Prepared” versus “raw” He Shou Wu

The tuber of He Shou Wu must be “prepared” in order to be used as a regularly-consumed tonic herb. The roots are sliced, stewed in black bean soup (in a proportion of 10 parts He Shou Wu to 1 part black beans) until the soup is exhausted. The “prepared” roots are then dried. That is all there is to the “preparation.” Of course, no chemicals are used to prepare He Shou Wu.

The Toxicity Difference: Prepared He Shou Wu has extremely low toxicity.

He Shou Wu has been used for over two millennia as a tonic herb in China and other Asian regions. In Asia, He Shou Wu is considered to be extremely safe and suitable for long term use.

Chemical Constituent Difference: The conjugated anthraquinones (such as emodin) present in unprepared He Shou Wu are highly laxative. After preparation, the amount of conjugated anthraquinones in He Shou Wu decreases, while the free form anthraquinones that have so many health-promoting and protective benefits significantly increase. This is why prepared He Shou Wu has a much milder laxative effect compared to raw, and why prepared He Shou Wu is so safe and effective.

Efficacy and Function Difference: The “preparation” eliminates the laxative effect of He Shou Wu and brings out the tonic effect. In addition to toxicity elimination, the special preparation process also enhances He Shou Wu’s therapeutic efficacy. He Shou Wu is known to activate macrophages. In a test where mice were fed He Shou Wu prepared by different methods, or not prepared at all, at the dose of 6g/kg, only the prepared He Shou Wu that was stewed and steamed with black soybean soup for 32 hours was shown to significantly enhance the phagocytic activity of abdominal macrophage. He Shou Wu that was raw or prepared differently showed no obvious results.

Raw, un-prepared He Shou Wu is used as a laxative in Chinese herbalism, and is not used in tonic herbalism. Raw He Shou Wu must be used cautiously and only for short periods of time, as directed by a health professional.

ZEN - He Shou Wu products are always made from PREPARED He Shou Wu. Raw He Shou Wu is of course less expensive, and that is often the driving force behind the way many herb companies make their purchasing decisions. As a result, He Shou Wu is sometimes blamed for the unwanted side effect of loose stool that results from the use of the incorrect herb (raw He Shou Wu). Again, ZEN-He Shou Wu is extremely aware of this issue and only uses PREPARED He Shou Wu to make its tonic products.

It is a primary Yin Jing formulation, designed to quickly and reliably build the Yin Jing in the Kidneys, nourish the blood, protect the liver, cleanse the body, increase vitality and promote sexual and reproductive functions. Because of the added blood tonic herbs, it is a superb blood tonic formulation; and because of its added Siberian Ginseng, it is possible to feel the energy of the He Shou Wu very quickly. Jing energy is very deep and therefore may not be felt quickly, but it is nonetheless working at the deep level.

Hair and Nails: A superb anti-aging Yin Jing tonic. Like He Shou Wu, this formula tonifies the Kidney, nourishes the Liver, builds blood, improve circulation. Some herbs were added to highlight the Kidney tonic’s function on, and to nourish, the hair and nails, fostering healthy growth and radiance. This formula regulates hormones. Hair and Nails also purifies the blood and has mild, general anti-inflammatory action. It is a very potent antioxidant. It is a superb antiaging formula.

Who can use it? Anyone


ZEN-He Shou Wu powdered extract is a “pure yield” (100% natural) powdered extract of the highest grade prepared Polygonum multiflorum tubers, grown in the remote high mountains of Yunnan province, China.

Specifications: 50 grams or 150 grams - should be packed in dark glass bottles

Mild gastrointestinal disturbance, characterized by soft stool, is the only side effect associated with Polygonum multiflorum. However, moderate doses of processed He Shou Wu rarely result in such an effect. Should this occur, the herb may be combined with certain other herbs, and the problem can be eliminated. Consult your herbalist. Again, this side effect is rare.

Ingredients: Prepared Polygonum multiflorum (He shou wu, Fo-ti) root extract

Usage: He Shou Wu may be used as a maintenance herb throughout ones lifetime. It is often the primary tonic herb used in a Jing-building, blood tonifying longevity program. Standard dosage would be 3 (up to 6) grams a day, divided into 2 or 3 doses a day.

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