Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Is Fo-ti for You?

What can you tell me about the Chinese medicine called fo-ti, said to be an effective tonic? What else is it used for and what, if any, risks are involved in taking it? Is it something that you would recommend?

Answer (Published 5/15/2012)

Fo-ti (Fallopia multiflora, also known as Polygonum multiflorum) is a very popular Chinese medicine that comes from the tuber of a plant native to China that also grows in Japan and Taiwan. It has been used for centuries as a tonic and as a treatment for a number of diseases and health problems including tuberculosis, high cholesterol, cancer, insomnia, lower back pain, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears), as well as for reversing or preventing the effects of aging including premature graying of the hair. An extract of fo-ti is still used today in some products for hair and skin care. Unprocessed fo-ti is applied to the skin to treat acne, athlete's foot, dermatitis, razor burn and scrapes.   

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Supplements & Herbs - If you are interested in supplementing your diet, and want to take the mystery out of choosing vitamins, try Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor. Visit today for your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor Recommendation.

I discussed your question with Tieraona Low Dog, M.D., an internationally recognized expert in the fields of integrative medicine, dietary supplements and women's health, and an authority on botanical medicine. She tells me that fo-ti can be consumed raw or after processing. A preparation made from the raw tuber generally is used as a laxative and is intended to be taken only in the short term, for about two or three days. (Unprocessed fo-ti is described as "white" because of its light color compared with the "red" processed form.) In the United States, processed fo-ti is sold mostly in formulas said to bolster mental clarity and longevity, but Dr. Low Dog says that very few human studies support its use for either of these purposes.

She cautions against taking fo-ti because more than 25 cases of hepatitis have been reported in people who have used it, including one case in a five-year-old. Beyond that, fo-ti could potentially interact with a number of prescription medications, including some for diabetes (causing blood sugar to drop too low) and stimulant laxatives. (Fo-ti is a stimulant laxative, so taking it along with another drug with that effect could lead to dehydration.) Other drugs that may interact adversely with fo-ti include digoxin, Elavil, Haldol, Inderal, theophylline, Prilosec, Prevacid and Valium. Since fo-ti hasn't been well studied, it shouldn't be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. (It is known to enter breast milk and could cause diarrhea in infants.)

Given the fact that there isn't much scientific evidence to support its use and because of safety concerns, Dr. Low Dog suggests consulting a doctor of Oriental Medicine who has training in traditional Chinese herbal medicine rather than trying it on your own. I agree.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here