Red Sage: Unlocking Its Potential for a Healthy Heart

Red sage is a medicinal plant used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for many years. Recent scientific studies support its benefits for heart health. It may regulate blood pressure and improve heart function, among other benefits. Read on to learn how red sage could be beneficial for you, as well as how to use it safely.

Key takeaways:

What is red sage?

Red sage, officially known as Salvia miltiorrhiza, is a plant native to China and Japan. Salvia miltiorrhiza is a member of the mint family of plants called Lamiaceae. In China, red sage is known as danshen; in Japan, it is called tanshen. The name danshen is derived from the color of the root or rhizome of the red sage plant, which is dried and used for its medicinal benefits.

While red sage has been used in TCM for centuries, it is only recently that scientific research has started to catch up, exploring the potential health benefits of red sage, such as its ability to improve heart health.

Science behind red sage

Red sage is a plant that contains over 200 different compounds, which have different effects on the body and can be used for various health and medicinal purposes. Among these compounds, diterpenoid quinones and hydrophilic phenolic acids are the most important. In the root of the red sage plant, scientists have found that these two bioactive compounds are the most essential components for health, wellness, and medicinal properties.

Diterpenoid quinones and phenolic acids are bioactive compounds found in red sage and other plants that are believed to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Red sage contains 49 diterpenoid quinones and 36 phenolic acids.

Two diterpenoid quinones (tanshinone and denshensu) and one phenolic acid (salvianolic acid b) are believed to be the primary compounds that protect against cardiovascular disease and improve cardiovascular health. In lab experiments, these active ingredients have been shown to protect against cardiovascular disease by targeting various heart and blood vessel cells.

Cardiovascular health benefits of red sage

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a group of conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. CVD includes heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, peripheral vascular disease, and blood clots, to name a few.

Extensive research involving animals, such as rats, pigs, and rabbits, along with 2,431 participants in 39 clinical trials, has shown promising results in treating cardiovascular disease with red sage. Patient improvement rates range from 63.4% to 99.2%. However, further research is needed to establish red sage as a reliable treatment for cardiovascular disease due to variations in trial methodology.

Blood pressure regulation

Hypertension is characterized by persistent blood pressure in the arteries, posing risks of heart disease and stroke.

Red sage contains the substances tanshinone and denshensu that aid in blood pressure regulation by targeting various mechanisms in the body, including ion channels, collagen content, and ACE enzyme activity. Interestingly, a group of blood pressure medications known as ACE inhibitors are used to regulate ACE enzyme activity.

Animal studies have demonstrated the ability of red sage's bioactive substances to lower blood pressure and enhance heart function. More research is needed to fully comprehend how they work and whether they effectively treat humans.

Atherosclerosis prevention

Atherosclerosis is a disease where the arteries in the body become narrow and hardened, losing their elasticity due to the build-up of sticky plaques on the walls. This can lead to heart problems and is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease.

Studies show that red sage can help to prevent atherosclerosis by stopping oxidative stress, which damages cells in our blood vessels. It can also reduce inflammation, another contributing factor to plaque vessel damage and plaque build-up, causing atherosclerosis.

Animal studies have demonstrated that treatment with danshen can effectively prevent the development of atherosclerosis by reducing the levels of certain proteins associated with heart problems. Components salvianolic acid B and tanshinone have been extensively studied and have proven effective in preventing atherosclerosis induced by a high-fat diet in animals.

Lower bad cholesterol levels

Red sage can help lower bad cholesterol, which is a major cause of atherosclerosis.

Studies on rats have shown that red sage extract can lower LDL and triglycerides in the blood and liver by activating specific receptors and proteins that help to regulate cholesterol and fat in the body. A small study on humans also found that taking red sage extract tablets three times a day for six weeks significantly reduced total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels.

Reduced blood clotting risk

Platelets are tiny blood cells responsible for clot formation. If these clots occur in a blood vessel supplying the heart, they can trigger a heart attack, or in the case of a blood vessel in the leg, it's referred to as a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Aspirin, a widely used medication in the United States, is employed to prevent the formation of such clots.

The red sage root contains compounds that reduce blood clotting risk. Salvianolic acid B decreases and dissolves blood clots, while salvianolic A prevents platelet aggregation and clotting without affecting clot formation measurements. Tanshinone also prevents platelet aggregation but alternatively can activate them in healthy piglets. Red sage shows potential in reducing blood clots, but further research is required for a comprehensive understanding of its effects.

Heart attack prevention

Myocardial ischemia (MI) is a heart condition caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart due to blocked arteries, which can lead to heart damage.

Several animal studies have shown that compounds found in red sage can improve heart function and reduce heart damage by reducing oxidative stress and inflammation and promoting angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels). Furthermore, red sage has demonstrated the capability to widen the coronary arteries responsible for delivering blood to the heart, improving blood flow and decreasing the risk of a heart attack.

Additional benefits of red sage

In addition to the fantastic benefits danshen has on the heart, it also is believed to be effective in treating or preventing:

  • Cancer
  • Psoriasis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Liver protection
  • Neuropathic pain
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Ischemic stroke

How to take red sage

Red sage can be taken in various forms, including dripping pills, capsules, tablets, tinctures, and teas.

Many herbal or naturopathic stores carry red sage, or you can buy it online.

The recommended dosage may vary depending on the specific product or reason for its use as there is currently no formally agreed upon dosing. Red sage can be harmful if taken in large doses or for a prolonged time. It is important to follow the instructions on the product and consult with a healthcare provider before taking red sage.

Before taking red sage

It is crucial to consult a doctor and take into account the potential side effects before consuming red sage. Most of the reported side effects were observed in clinical trials at higher doses.

Potential side effects

The list of potential side effects includes:

  • Increased risk of bleeding
  • Low blood pressure
  • Decreased appetite
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Rash
  • Anaphylaxis

Medication interactions

Red sage has been found to have interactions with various medications, including but not limited to:

  • Diazepam
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Cardiac medications digoxin and cardiac glycosides
  • Anticoagulants/blood thinners: warfarin, aspirin, clopidogrel, NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen)

Additionally, red sage can affect cytochrome p450 enzymes, which are involved in drug metabolism.

If you are taking any medication prescribed by your doctor, do not take red sage until you have consulted with a healthcare provider, as the dosage of your medication(s) may need to be adjusted or changed before use.

Who should not take red sage?

Although, red sage has various potential benefits, there are some contradictions that mean you should not take it:

  • Pregnancy. Do not take red sage if pregnant, as the safety and risks are unknown.
  • Children. Use in children is not recommended due to insufficient information on its safety, risks, and dosing.

Red sage has potential health benefits for the heart, preventing and treating cardiovascular disease, and other health issues. Further research is needed to confirm the current scientific evidence, and more rigorous studies are underway to support the benefits of red sage, danshen, in humans.

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