Cistanche is a powerful tonic herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for centuries. But what does modern research say about the potential health benefits and side effects of this desert plant?
In this in-depth article, we’ll examine the scientific evidence on cistanche's effects and safety. Discover how this ancient remedy may support immunity, cognition, libido, circulation, and more.
What is Cistanche?
Cistanche grows in arid regions of China and Mongolia. The dried stems, known as Cistanches Herba or Rou Cong-Rong, have been used in TCM tonics since the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD).
There are several species used medicinally, but Cistanche deserticola and Cistanche Tubulosa are considered the most potent. These herbs contain beneficial active compounds like:
- Phenylethanoid glycosides (PhGs) - antioxidants that boost immunity and circulation
- Polysaccharides - anti-aging sugars that modulate immunity
- Iridoids are anti-inflammatory compounds that protect brain health
- Oligosaccharides - support gastrointestinal health
In TCM, cistanche was believed to “invigorate the kidney yang”. This refers to its energizing, libido-enhancing properties. Let’s look at the modern research on some of cistanche’s key benefits:
Potential Health Benefits of Cistanche Extract
Immune System Support
Studies show cistanche polysaccharides can stimulate macrophage activity and natural killer (NK) cell cytotoxicity against tumor cells. Human trials found cistanche boosted antibody production in response to vaccines.
These immune-enhancing effects may explain the traditional use of cistanche as a longevity tonic. More research is needed, but the evidence suggests potent immunoprotective effects.
The antioxidants known as phenylethanoid glycosides (PhGs), abundant in cistanche, have exhibited neuroprotective qualities in laboratory studies.
Research shows PhGs can reduce inflammation, prevent neuronal apoptosis, and protect against amyloid beta toxicity associated with Alzheimer’s disease. These cognitive benefits likely result from improved circulation as well as direct neuroprotective mechanisms.
In TCM, cistanche has long been revered as an aphrodisiac. Recent research has uncovered the science behind this traditional use.
Studies have found cistanche extracts enhance levels of sex hormones including testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH) and estrogen in animal models. Cistanche also increases sperm production and motility.
These effects may result from improved circulation to the genitals, stimulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, and increased testicular function.
Learn more about: How Cistanche Enhancement Libido And Circulation Naturally
The antioxidants in cistanche, especially PhGs like echinacoside, help prevent free radical damage involved in many age-related diseases.
Rodent studies also report increased lifespan after long-term cistanche administration. More research is needed, but these results suggest cistanche has anti-aging potential to extend lifespan.
Traditional Medicinal Uses of Cistanche
In traditional Chinese medicine, cistanche is called Rou Cong-Rong and utilized to tonify the kidneys and enhance vitality. It has long been revered as a rejuvenating longevity herb. Here are some of cistanche’s most popular traditional uses:
- Kidney tonic - Treats impotence, infertility, frequent urination, low back pain and other kidney deficiencies by strengthening kidney function.
- Anti-aging - Believed to slow down aging and enhance vitality when used regularly. Rich in antioxidants to reduce cellular damage.
- Aphrodisiac - Enhances libido and sexual function for both men and women. May help improve erectile dysfunction.
- Laxative - Gentle laxative effect makes it useful for relieving constipation, especially in the elderly.
- Women’s health - Traditionally used to treat menstrual irregularities, leukorrhea, and pregnancy-related edema.
Cistanche also has a long history in traditional Mongolian and Korean medicine. It is typically taken as a tea, liquid extract, or powder addition to beverages or food. In modern applications, cistanche stems are often concentrated and standardized into capsules.
Scientific Evidence for Benefits of Cistanche Tubulosa
While human clinical trials are limited, multiple cell culture and animal studies back up the traditional uses of Cistanche tubulosa. Here are a few highlights of the recent research that shows that Cistanche benefits:
- A rat study found cistanche reversed bone loss after ovariectomy, supporting its use for osteoporosis prevention (Liang et al 2011).
- Mice injected with cistanche extract saw a 33% increase in swimming endurance vs control, confirming the fatigue-fighting properties (Gong et al 2008).
- In a rat model of Alzheimer’s, cistanche decreased neural cell apoptosis by 34% and improved learning and memory by 19% compared to controls (Pu et al 2017).
- Cistanche tubulosa extracts increased testosterone levels in rat leydig cells by 29% and sperm motility parameters by as much as 74% (Shimoda et al 2009).
While more clinical trials are needed, the cell and animal data supports cistanche’s broad spectrum of benefits, ranging from immunity to sexual health.
Possible Side Effects and Precautions
Cistanche is generally very safe, especially when used short-term. Traditional texts described it as a gentle Yang tonic suitable even for those with weak digestion. However, there are some potential side effects to keep in mind:
- Since it stimulates circulation, those on blood thinners or hypertension meds should consult their doctor before using cistanche.
- Mild gastrointestinal upset is possible, especially at high doses. Start low with around 500mg daily and increase slowly.
- Long-term use or excessive dosing may lead to Jing (essence) deficiency according to TCM theory. Cycling 5 days on, 2 days off helps prevent this.
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid cistanche due to lack of safety data. Those with hormone-sensitive cancers should also use caution.
- Monitor yourself carefully and discontinue use if any unusual symptoms develop when taking cistanche. As with any new supplement, consult your integrative medicine practitioner before use if you have any medical conditions.
How to Add Cistanche to Your Routine
Cistanche stem powder, liquid extracts, capsules, and tablets can be found online shops like Natural Jackson. It combines well with other herbs like ginseng, horny goat weed, and tongkat ali.
A typical dosage range is 500-1000mg once or twice per day. Due to cistanche’s mild action, it can be taken long-term without building tolerance.
Look for cistanche products standardized to 10-30% phenylethanoid glycosides (PhGs). The higher the percentage, the stronger the effects.
When purchasing cistanche, look for products standardized to at least 20% phenylethanoid glycosides (PhGs). The higher the percentage, the more potent its effects.
Also ensure any extracts or formulas are from reputable brands to ensure high quality and purity. The source and processing method also impact potency.
Try taking cistanche doses before physical or mental activity to take advantage of the energizing benefits. Allow several weeks of regular use to feel the full aphrodisiac effects.
Get the Bedroom Benefits of Cistanche
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Made in the USA following strict cGMP quality standards, Drive can stimulate circulation, energize the body, and put the spice back in your love life. Click here to learn more! When taking cistanche, allow several weeks of consistent use to experience the full aphrodisiac effects. Try taking it about 30-60 minutes before sex or physical activity.
Monitor your body’s reactions carefully. Discontinue use if any unusual symptoms occur. As always, consult your doctor before trying any new supplement.
Conclusion: A Potent Remedy Backed by Science
Cistanche deserves its lofty status in traditional Chinese herb. An abundance of cell and animal studies confirm cistanche can powerfully stimulate the brain, immune function, libido, and more. While human clinical trials are still limited, the historical and scientific evidence paints a compelling picture of this herb’s versatility and biological potency. Considering its safety and adaptogenic nature, cistanche is worth exploring as part of a healthy supplementation regimen.