In-vitro and animal studies done by Taiwanese nutritionists at Taipei Medical University suggest that Angelica sinensis – aka Dong Quai – might be an interesting supplement for both endurance and strength athletes. We rubbed our hands with glee when we read their article in Molecules, although we do have some reservations.
Angelica sinensis is a plant that grows in Korea, China and Japan. Traditional healers have used extracts of the dried roots of Angelica sinensis for thousands of years as a remedy for menstruation problems – hence its name ‘female ginseng’ – but also for arthritis, headache and fatigue. The extracts of Angelica sinensis contain Z-ligistulide and angelicide.
It is not clear to what extent Angelica sinensis has a pseudo-oestrogenic effect. Molecular studies have shown that the plant contains none, or almost no substances that are capable of attaching themselves to the estradiol receptor [J Agric Food Chem. 2001 May;49(5):2472-9.], but animal studies have shown that Angelica sinensis does stimulate tissues in the uterus. In addition, the extract lowers the concentration of LH. [Phytother Res. 2006 Aug;20(8):665-9.]
And finally, there are several documented cases of men having developed breasts after taking Angelica sinensis. [Singapore Med J. 2001 Mar;42(3):115-6.] Male athletes may be better off avoiding high doses of Angelica sinensis.
And while we are on the subject of side effects of Angelica sinensis: supplementation can lead to spontaneous abortion and also heightens the skin’s sensitivity to the sun.
The researchers gave male mice a daily dose of 0.41 g or 2.05 g Angelica sinensis per kg bodyweight for six weeks. The human equivalent of this dose, for a woman weighing 70 kg, would be about 3-15 g extract per day. The extract was manufactured by Sun Ten Pharmaceutical. [suntenglobal.com] By the way, the company did not finance the study. The Taiwanese National Science Council put up the money for the study.
The researchers got their lab animals to swim daily. One control group of mice swam too, but were not given a supplement containing active ingredients. Another control group did not swim and was not given Angelica sinensis either.
At the end of the six weeks, the researchers timed how long the mice were able to swim for. They discovered that the supplementation had increased the animals’ endurance capacity. In addition, the mice that had been given Angelica sinensis were capable of developing more grip strength in their claws.
The Taiwanese discovered that the supplementation altered the animals’ energy metabolism. They found that the muscles and liver of the mice that had been given Angelica sinensis contained more glycogen than those of the other mice.
The researchers also found less lactic acid, ammonia and creatine kinase in the blood of the mice that had been given Angelica sinensis. Angelica sinensis not only made the mice’s muscles more efficient, but also apparently protected the muscles against breakdown.
The researchers also intimated that they did an in-vitro study and discovered that Angelica sinensis has a muscle-building effect. “Angelica sinensis treatment could promote hypertrophy in cultured skeletal myotubes, second to the Astragalus membranaceus extract, via the activation of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/Akt (also termed protein kinase B)/mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway”, they wrote.
“Therefore, we hypothesize that Angelica sinensis supplementation with regular aerobic exercise training may have a synergistic effect on improving exercise performance and protecting against exercise-induced fatigue.”
Sounds good, but supplementation using hefty doses of Angelica sinensis did not lead to more muscle growth. See the table below. Hmm.
We’re not sure what to make of this study. For now we’re reserving judgement on Angelica sinensis.
Angelica sinensis Improves Exercise Performance and Protects against Physical Fatigue in Trained Mice
Angelica sinensis (AS) is a well-known medicinal herb and food material with antioxidative and multifunctional pharmacological activities. However, we lack evidence of the effect of AS on exercise performance and physical fatigue. We aimed to evaluate the potential beneficial effect of AS on ergogenic and anti-fatigue functions after physiological challenge. Male ICR strain mice were randomly assigned to four groups (n = 10 per group) for treatment: (1) sedentary control and vehicle treatment (vehicle control); (2) exercise training with vehicle treatment (exercise control); (3) exercise training with AS treatment at 0.41 g/kg/day (Ex-AS1); and (4) 2.05 g/kg/day (Ex-AS5); both the vehicle and AS were orally administered for 6 weeks. Exercise performance and anti-fatigue function were evaluated by forelimb grip strength, exhaustive swimming time, and levels of serum lactate, ammonia, glucose, and creatine kinase (CK) after a 15-min swimming exercise. Trend analysis revealed that AS treatments significantly increased endurance swimming time and blood glucose level, and decreased serum lactate, ammonia and CK levels. Liver and muscle glycogen contents were higher for Ex-AS1 and Ex-AS5 groups than the exercise control. Therefore, AS supplementation improved exercise performance and had anti-fatigue properties in mice and may be an effective ergogenic aid in exercise training.