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Dan shen (Salvia miltiorrhiza)

Clinical use in Chinese medicine

Dan shen has been used in Chinese Medicine for over two thousand years as a blood moving herb. This herb has clinical functions of eliminating blood stasis by invigorating blood circulation, clearing Heat and cooling blood in terms of the concept of Chinese medicine. It is commonly used for many disorders due to blood stasis in Chinese medicine, such as some pain conditions, some lumps and masses, arthritis or some carbuncles and boils. It can be used for insomnia and irritability.

Some pharmacological actions    

  • Anticancer actions: numerous in vitro and in vivo studies show that Dan shen possesses anticancer actions on breast cancers (triple-negative and hormone receptor-positive), prostate cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer etc. Its potential therapeutic mechanism is associated with inhibiting the growth of cancer cells, inducing cell cycle arrest and apoptosis, suppressing their invasion and migration, and inhibiting angiogenesis.

  • Anti-inflammatory effect: Dan shen exhibits anti-inflammatory activities in vitro and in vivo. Example of its potential mechanisms is suppression of LPS-induced inflammatory mediators, such as nitrite oxide (NO), tumour necrosis factor α (TNF-α), interleukin 6 (IL-6), inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS) etc.

  • Immune modulation: Dan shen can especially promote the proliferation and enhances cytotoxicity of T lymphocytes in cancer patients. On the other hand, it can inhibit multiple sclerosis (an autoimmune disease) and allergic asthma.

  • Liver protection: Dan shen has liver protective activities for liver diseases including hepatic injury, fatty liver or hepatic fibrosis. For examples, it can improve liver lipid metabolism via blocking STAT-3/SREBP1 signaling pathway; ameliorate liver fibrosis by activating hepatic natural killer cells and regulating Nrf2/HO-1 and NF-κB/IκBα signaling; protect against alcohol-induced liver injury via the SIRT1-mediated deacetylation of β-catenin.

  • Kidney protection: A nationwide study within a 12-year follow-up period in Taiwan showed that Chinese herbal medicine improves the long-term survival rate of patients with chronic kidney disease (P<0.004). Dan shen was the most frequent single herb prescribed for patients with CKD. Many experimental studies revealed that Dan shen might protect kidney function of acute or chronic kidney disease through inhibiting kidney fibrogenesis and inflammation.

Use with cautions 

  • Dan shen is generally regarded as safe and well tolerated, but not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women.

  • Dan shen should not be used with aspirin, warfarin, heparin or other anti-coagulant drugs due to the increased risk of bleeding.

  • The clinical use of Dan shen is rarely prescribed on its own, it is usually a part of a complex herbal formulation based on different individuals.

  • The use of Dan shen should be consulted and supervised by a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner. A qualified Chinese medicine practitioner in Australia must be registered with the Chinese Medicine Board of Australia. This health care profession includes acupuncturists, Chinese herbal medicine practitioners and herbal dispensers.


Chen, X., Guo, J., Bao, J., Lu, J., & Wang, Y. (2014). The anticancer properties of Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge (Danshen): A systematic review. Med Res Rev., 34(4), 768-794.

Sha, W., Zhou, Y., Ling, Z., Xie, G., Pang, X., Wang, P., & Gu, X. (2018). Antitumor properties of Salvianolic acid B against triple-negative and hormone receptor-positive breast cancer cells via ceramide-mediated apoptosis. Oncotarget, 9(91), 36331-36343.

Wu, X., Gao, H., Hou, Y., Yu, J., Sun, W., Wang, Y., . . . Chen, X. (2018). Dihydronortanshinone, a natural product, alleviates LPS-induced inflammatory response through NF-κB, mitochondrial ROS, and MAPK pathways. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol., 355, 1-8.

Liu, H., Ma, S., Xia, H., Lou, H., Zhu, F., & Sun, L. (2018). Anti-inflammatory activities and potential mechanisms of phenolic acids isolated from Salvia miltiorrhiza f. alba roots in THP-1 macrophages. J Ethnopharmacol., 222, 201-207.

Chen, Y., Li, H., Li, M., Niu, S., Wang, J., Shao, H., Li, T., Wang, H. (2017). Salvia miltiorrhiza polysaccharide activates T Lymphocytes of cancer patients through activation of TLRs mediated -MAPK and -NF-κB signaling pathways. J Ethnopharmacol., 200, 165-173.

Dong, Z., Ma, D., Gong, Y., Yu, T., & Yao, G. (2016). Salvianolic acid B ameliorates CNS autoimmunity by suppressing Th1 responses. Neurosci Lett., 619, 92-99.


The content of this website has been developed by Dr Henry Liang and is based his opinion and some available published literature. It does not cover all possible uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions of these herbs. Information contained in this website is intended for use as an educational aid, NOT to replace medical advice. Any questions regarding a medical diagnosis or treatment should be directed to a medical or health care practitioner.

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