He Shou Wu (Fo-Ti): The Elixir of Liver Damage?

One of my patients wanted me to look up this new elixir of life, He Shou Wu. Evidently vegans are on the lookout for how they can get collagen without eating animals. I’m not clear how that led people to a Chinese herb. Here’s the story my patient got, mentioning Rachelle Robinett recommending He Shou Wu as a collagen builder.

Here’s the problem. He Shou Wu (Fo-Ti) has been associated with liver failure. Now, I’m not someone who doesn’t understand that herbs get blamed for all sorts of things. I lived through kava kava getting banned. But the information on He Shou Wu seems legitimate. “Twenty-nine patients with He Shou Wu-induced liver injury were enrolled. The median age was 53 years (range 15-74) and 75.9% (22/29) were women. ” Most of them recovered, but “One patient was rechallenged with He Shou Wu and two developed autoimmune features. One patient died of liver failure and three had chronic persistent liver injury. ”

That most recent study was from February of this year. But digging a little further I found liver damage reports dating back to at least 2001. Keep in mind that He Shou Wu (Fo-Ti) is an extremely common prescription. For insomnia alone, it’s the most commonly prescribed single herb. So what we’re talking about are the side effects of a tiny percentage of those taking He Shou Wu (Fo-Ti).

Anyone considering taking this herb should keep in mind that herbs are not just natural, they are very powerful. If it can make you well, it can make you sick. The difference is in the dosage. “human beings do not respond uniformly to one or more drugs or even herbal medicines. Our genetic make-up, ethnic background, sex, renal and hepatic functions, diseases and nutritional states, ages and other factors such as the route of administration, all contribute toward the heterogeneity of our responses.”

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