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.
3,4-dihydroxyphenyl-lactic acid, caffeic acid, Ch'ih Shen (scarlet sage), Chinese Salvia, cryptotanshisone, dangshem, Dan-Shen, Dan Shen, danshen root, danshensu, dihydrotanshinone, ethyl acetate, fufangdenshen, horse-racing grass, Huang Ken, Hung Ken (red roots), Labiatae (family), Lamiaceae (family), lithospermic acid B, miltirone, neo-tanshinlactone, phenolic acids, Pin-Ma Ts'ao (horse-racing grass), protocatechualdehyde, protocatechuic acid, protocatechuic aldehyde, Radixsalvia miltiorrhiza, rat-tail grass, red-rooted sage, red roots, red sage, red sage root, red saye root, roots of purple sage, Salvia bowelyana, Salvia miltiozzhiza, Salvia miltiozzhiza bunge, Salvia przewalskii, Salvia przewalskii mandarinorum, salvia root, Salvia yunnanensis, salvianolic acid B, scarlet sage, Sh'ih Shen, Shu-Wei Ts'ao (rat-tail grass), Tan Seng, Tan-Shen, tanshisone I, tanshisone IIA, tanshisone IIB, Tzu Tan-Ken (roots of purple sage), yunzhi danshen.
Note: Danshen should not be confused with sage. Danshen is often used in combination with other products; combination products are not specifically discussed in this monograph.
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 in which danshen is compared with more proven treatments before a clear conclusion can be drawn.
Although animal studies suggest that danshen may help speed healing of burns and wounds, there are limited human data supporting 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.
Early studies have 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 a firm conclusion.
Diabetic complications (diabetic foot)
Early clinical trials suggest danshen may help treat diabetic foot. Well-designed clinical trials are needed before a strong recommendation can be made.
Early studies suggest that danshen may speed peritoneal dialysis and ultrafiltration rates when added to dialysate solution. Although this evidence seems promising, it is not known whether danshen is safe for this use. Further research is necessary.
Danshen may be beneficial in 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.
Early studies suggest that danshen may improve blood levels of cholesterol (lowers LDL or "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides and raises HDL or "good" cholesterol). Large high-quality studies are needed before a strong recommendation may be made.
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, and chronic hepatitis B. However, it is unclear whether there are any clinically significant effects of danshen in patients with liver disease.
For many years, danshen has been used as a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) remedy to treat acute pancreatitis. However, little research is currently available regarding the use of danshen in humans.
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.
There is not enough evidence to recommend either for or against the use of danshen for vasovagal syncope.
Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Limited evidence suggests that danshen in combination with other herbs and supplements may be a less effective treatment for tinnitus than acupuncture. Additional research is needed to fully understand danshen's effects on tinnitus.
One study using a combination product that included danshen found that there was no effect on food intake or weight loss. More high-quality studies are needed to confirm these results.