Danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza) is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), often in combination with other herbs. Remedies containing danshen are used traditionally to treat a diversity of ailments, particularly cardiac (heart) and vascular (blood vessel) disorders such as atherosclerosis ("hardening" of the arteries with cholesterol plaques) or blood clotting abnormalities.
The ability of danshen to "thin" the blood and reduce blood clotting is well documented, although the herb's purported ability to "invigorate" the blood or improve circulation has not been demonstrated in high-quality human trials. Because danshen can inhibit platelet aggregation and has been reported to potentiate (increase) the blood-thinning effects of warfarin, it should be avoided in patients with bleeding disorders, prior to some surgical procedures, or when taking anticoagulant (blood-thinning) drugs, herbs, or supplements.
In the mid-1980s, scientific interest was raised in danshen's possible cardiovascular benefits, particularly in patients with ischemic stroke or coronary artery disease/angina. More recent studies have focused on possible roles in liver disease (hepatitis and cirrhosis), and as an antioxidant. However, the available research in these areas largely consists of animal studies and small human trials of poor quality. Therefore, firm evidence-based conclusions are not possible at this time about the effects of danshen for any medical condition.
Ch'ih Shen (scarlet sage), Dan-Shen, Dan Shen, danshen root, Huang Ken, Hung Ken (red roots), Pin-Ma Ts'ao (horse-racing grass), Radixsalvia miltiorrhiza, red-rooted sage, red sage root, red saye root, Salvia bowelyana, Salvia miltiozzhiza bunze, Salviae miltiorrhizae, Salvia przewalskii, Salvia przewalskii mandarinorum, Salvia yunnanensis, salvia root, Sh'ih Shen, Shu-Wei Ts'ao (rat-tail grass), Tan Seng, Tan-Shen, Tzu Tan-Ken (roots of purple sage).
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Better studies are needed that compare danshen with more proven treatments for this condition before a clear conclusion can be drawn.
Although animal studies suggest that danshen may speed healing of burns and wounds, there are no reliable studies in humans evaluating this claim.
Cardiovascular disease / angina
A small number of poor quality studies report that danshen may provide benefits for treating disorders of the heart and blood vessels, including heart attacks, cardiac chest pain (angina), or myocarditis. Danshen may have effects on blood clotting, and therefore may be unsafe when combined with other drugs used in patients with cardiovascular disease. Patients should check with a physician and pharmacist before combining danshen with prescription drugs.
One study found that danshen in combination with routine western medicine was not as effective as warming needle moxibustion. More studies are warranted in this area to draw any firm recommendations.
Danshen has been proposed as a possible glaucoma therapy, but further studies are needed in humans before a clear conclusion can be drawn. Danshen should not be used in place of more proven therapies, and patients with glaucoma should be evaluated by a qualified eye care specialist.
Due to poor quality of evidence, unclear safety, and the existence of more proven treatments for ischemic stroke, this use of danshen cannot be recommended.
Although early evidence is promising, it is not known whether danshen is safe for this use. Danshen injection may be helpful for recovery of kidney function after kidney transplant. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Liver disease (cirrhosis / chronic hepatitis B, fibrosis)
Some studies suggest that danshen may provide benefits for treating liver diseases such as cirrhosis, fibrosis, chronic hepatitis B. However, it is unclear whether there are any clinically significant effects of danshen in patients with liver disease.