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Chinese Medicine may boost your running speed: A study has shown

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

A recent study suggests that the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) combination of Astragalus membranaceus (Huangqi 黄芪) and Angelica sinensis (Danggui 当归), called Danggui Buxue Tang (DBT / 当归补血汤), shortens running times and boosts iron levels during recovery.

Trying to increase your running speed for the next marathon?

A group of scientists from Kaohsiung Medical University in Taiwan reported that short-term Danggui Buxue Tang (DBT) supplementation can shorten running time and repress exercise-induced hepcidin levels, thereby boosting iron levels and accelerating iron homeostasis during sports recovery phase. Data shows that active males who received DBT supplementation prior to a 13 km run had their finishing times dramatically shortened by 12.3 mins or 14%, as compared to the placebo group.

Iron, Hepcidin, and Danggui Buxue Tang (DBT)

Iron is an essential element in your body that helps in haemoglobin synthesis and oxygen delivery, especially during physical exercise.

Hepcidin is the main hormone responsible for regulating iron levels in the body. Other studies have demonstrated that weight-bearing exercise, such as running, rowing, can elevate hepcidin levels, which in turn decreases iron transport and lowers iron levels.

DBT is a commonly used Chinese Medicine herbal decoction, first recorded in 1247 BC, that is used to treat blood deficiency and improve blood circulation in women. DBT contains only 2 Chinese herbs, Astragalus membranaceus (Huangqi 黄芪) and Angelica sinensis (Danggui 当归), with a unique weight ratio of 5:1.

Study results

36 recreationally active males were pair-matched and randomly received DBT, or a placebo for 11 days. The participants performed a 13-km run with maximal effort and results showed that those received DBT supplementation shortened their finish times by 14% or 12.3 minutes, as compared to the placebo group. DBT supplementation also repressed hepcidin levels, thereby causing a significant increase in iron levels.

Malondialdehyde (MDA), a product of polyunsaturated fatty acid peroxidation, is one of the most frequently used biomarkers for oxidative stress. Exercise-induced haemolysis is primarily caused by oxidative stress. It has been reported that abundant free-radical reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species are produced during intense exercise, which causes lipid peroxidation in RBC membranes, initiating the haemolysis process. In the study, there was a significant elevation in MDA levels in the placebo group, but not in the DBT group. However, there is no significant evidence to suggest that DBT supplementation can prevent exercise-induced haemolysis. There is also no evidence of any anti-inflammatory and anti-fatigue effects from DBT.

In conclusion, if you are looking to improve your running stamina for your next Standard Chartered Marathon run, you can consider trying DBT as a supplement. However, do consult a licensed TCM physician to assess if you are suitable to consume DBT.


This article is summarised by Physician Derrick Soh

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