In Asia, angelica species are grown for their medicinal activity. They are cultivated in China, Japan, North America and Europe and there are several varieties subtle differences. The roots and rhizomes of angelica contain the active components and of interest to female athletes.

History

For thousands of years Dong Quai, as it is called in China, has been recommended for the treatment of menstrual disorders. It sometimes is referred to, as the ”female ginseng”. It has been used to treat dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, hot flashes as well as assure a normal pregnancy. Angelica has also been used to treat abdominal pain, arthritis, and migraine headaches. This herb was used in Chinese traditional medicine to treat obstetric and gynecological problems and is reputed to relax the uterus and regulate the menstrual cycle. In addition, it is believed to enrich the uterine circulation and stabilize pregnancy.

Chemistry

Chinese and Japanese angelica species contain coumarins, flavonoids and essential oils. It contains a significant amount of vitamin B12 and vitamin E. The coumarins include ferulic acid, osthole, umbelliferone and angelicin. These compounds act as phytoestrogens. The volatile oils include ligustilide and butylene phthalide. These compounds act to relax the uterus.

Pharmacology

Angelica sinensis compounds exert both a stimulating and inhibiting effect on the uterus. Estrogen activity and relaxation of the uterus are opposing effects. It is a classic example of nature’s combinatorial libraries binding with cell membrane receptors.

Ligustilide, through an inhibitory mechanism, relaxes the uterus. During pregnancy it lengthens and normalizes contractions. Because of its high content of vitamin B12, biotin and ferulic acid, angelica extract stimulates red blood cell formation (hematopoiesis) in bone marrow.

Angelica sinensis phytoestrogen activity, which is very low relative to animal estrogens, is due to its competing for the estrogen binding receptors located on cell membranes. This mechanism accounts for their dual use.  When estrogen levels are low, these phytoestrogens occupy the receptor sites to produce their characteristic weak estrogenic effect. When the estrogen levels are too high, they continue to occupy those sites preventing the excess estrogen from exerting a more powerful effect.

Angelica is purported to dilate coronary arteries, increase myocardial blood flow, and lower blood pressure. This is believed due to its calcium channel inhibition. Calcium channel blockers are a relatively recent development in the arsenal of combating hypertension and angina. It also possesses a cholesterol-lowering effect that reduces the risk atherosclerosis.

Angelica is also a mild analgesic.