Cistanche (Rou Cong-rong): Powerful Antioxidant With Fantastic Benefits
One couldn’t find a plant stranger or more interesting than cistanche.
Yet, this curious plant is the secret to many health benefits. Its usage goes back 1800 years, but researchers are still discovering its advantages today.
Cistanche goes by many different names: cistanche tubulosa, cistanche sinensis, cistanche sala, and cistanche deserticola. It is also called Rou Cong Rong by the Chinese and nicknamed “ginseng of the desert.” It was even given the nickname “Methuselah’s Breakfast”- after the biblical character who lived until 969.
A lot like ginseng, cistanche varieties are endangered and in short supply, making their healing benefits all the more precious. The Chinese variety (Cistanche deserticola) is especially imperiled. Fortunately, there are plenty of species of the plant under the genus Cistanche that grow all over the world.
Cistanche’s health advantages aren’t limited to just one part of the body. Its amazing antioxidants offer a wide range of benefits. Cistanche works to strengthen the body’s natural systems, and advantages can benefit the entire body. That is why it has been a staple of ancient medicine traditions.
As a plant that is almost as great as the famous ginseng, what is Cistanche used for? Quite a bit, according to both traditional, historical uses and scientific research.
What is Cistanche?
Cistanche is a parasitic flower that grows in the Taklimakan desert region of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in northwest China. It’s unusual because can’t synthesize chlorophyll from the sun like most plants. Instead, it extracts water and the nutrients that it needs from the roots of a host plant.
The herb is known for its bright yellow columns of flowers that poke up just above the sandy ground, making them quite the sight to see in an otherwise barren landscape. And it may just be the strangeness of cistanche that attracted ancient healers and herbalists to it in the first place.
In its native region of northwestern China, the earliest practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) adopted the yellow flower as an integral part of their practice. It was used very similarly to ginseng in the desert regions where ginseng wasn’t locally available.
In ancient times, Chinese healers looked to cistanche as a sort of all-around replenishing tonic.
Practitioners believed a body that lacked strength and energy, and had a hard time keeping illness away was deficient in “yang.” Yang is the innate energy of a healthy body and healthy organs, and particularly the kidneys.
In TCM, cistanche was a top-notch yang tonic. Translated to modern standards, yang tonics are adaptogenic antioxidants. Adaptogens are herbs and botanicals that may support restoring function to the body’s organs at its most minute levels. They especially benefit in terms of energy, immunity, and inflammation.
When cistanche started earning interest through research and studies, the plant’s antioxidant properties became its most recognizable asset. A 2016 pharmacological review of the herb named it a potent antioxidant, able to promote healthy cellular function (especially in mitochondria). Researchers found that it encouraged the body’s production of its own natural antioxidant stores—namely, glutathione.
Three years earlier, a 2013 study of cistanche found it was a powerful antioxidant as well. The antioxidant power was so strong it could reverse risks for certain heart diseases.
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INCREDIBLE IMMUNE SUPPORT
As a rule, antioxidants are important immune system healers—and cistanche is no exception. We need antioxidants to maintain basic healthy immunity. They curb free radical damage and oxidization, actions that both lead to chronic inflammation and a harmed immune system.
But scientists have been a bit surprised by some of the research and tests into cistanche thus far. Researchers are finding in their studies that the herb has other properties that also help the immune system in unique ways.
In a 2014 study of cistanche, for example, scientists uncovered the presence of echinacosides. These constituents were once thought to only be present in echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea, and others). Researchers studied echinacoside thoroughly concerning echinacea. They work as an immune booster, immune regulator, and go-to remedy for colds and flu.
This makes the Chinese medicine herb powerful for immunity in a way that has always thought to be unique to echinacea. Taking cistanche may help one reduce the duration of colds and flu when ill. More research must be undertaken, though, to look at this in cistanche specifically, and separate from echinacea.
But the list doesn’t end there for cistanche’s immune properties. A 2016 review of the botanical points to studies that show its immune enhancement could reduce the risk of cancer. It can even help increase lifespan and reduce the effects of aging to boot. One of the effects of aging it fights is a less competent immune system.
COULD ALLEVIATE EFFECTS OF AGING
Another benefit of cistanche that branches out from its antioxidant abilities. This bizarre desert flower from Asia and beyond could also help soften the effects of aging.
Aging affects us all. But when one gets down to the science of it, aging is no more than the rapid oxidation of cells. It results in free radical damage.
And what reduces free radical damage? Antioxidants!
Aging can take on many forms: slowed immunity, more weakness, and a higher tendency for diseases are some examples. But it can also manifest in other ways: weathered skin, wrinkles, cognitive struggles, and even lower energy to boot.
Lucky for potential users of cistanche, studies show that it could help with even more beyond immunity when it comes to old age. The same 2014 study that looked at the echinacosides in the plant also showed that it improved cognitive function. It could even possibly reduce the chances of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
There also showed to be hope in the actual treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s. A study earlier in 2013 on patients with Alzheimer’s found that cistanche improved their symptoms, including the improvement of memory. This could make it similar to other famous nootropic remedies like lion’s mane or reishi.
These studies are far away from labeling cistanche as a complete remedy for dementia—or other troubling signs of aging. However, these studies are quite promising that it could very well be a supportive therapy one day. The authors point out that researchers should study cistanche more to get a better understanding of the superfood. For now, it fares well as a supplemental herb that could help reduce the health risks that come with aging.
BETTER MALE PERFORMANCE AND HORMONAL HELP
Legend holds that Genghis Khan took cistanche every day. Beyond the war and damage he inflicted, he is well-known for the large number of children he fathered. In fact, it is believed that 16 million men today are direct descendants of Genghis Khan.
Whether he actually took cistanche or if he fathered as many children as rumored is unknown. However, there is science that speaks to the power of cistanche when it comes to male performance. It has long been used to support drive and desire in men.
Cistanche’s antioxidants improve circulation throughout the body. This improved circulation improves nitric oxide manufacturing, a key component for male performance. In one 2018 study, diabetic rats treated with cistanche had improved hormone levels. Infertility and dysfunction in the male reproductive system are common complications for diabetes. The study showed how effective cistanche could be even with other medical complications.
Another study from 2016 found researchers were able to elicit a response in castrated rats who took cistranche. Their findings, in the words of the study’s authors, indicated that the herb was able to illicit desire and modulate hormone levels.
Although these studies were in animals, they do appear to vindicate the traditional use of the herb to increase male performance. One study in 2012 studied cistanche with other herbs to treat performance in Thai males. The study found it to be effective and well-tolerated. However, because researchers studied cistanche along with other traditional herbs, it’s not possible to tell how effective cistanche is on its own.
More research needs to be done, but studies do point to cistanche as very supportive for men who want to increase their performance.
Just when one would think that an herbal remedy of old couldn’t get any more unique, cistanche defies expectations yet again.
As a potent antioxidant and immune booster, cistanche recovers lost energy on a holistic level by restoring cellular function and improving immunity. But it also empowers energy levels in a whole other way beyond that as well.
A 2016 study of cistanche showed that the herb could possibly protect cells within the muscles of the body after exercise. It does this by helping the body better store energy in the form of ATP specifically. ATP stands for adenosine 5’triphosphate and is a crucial organic chemical in the body.
ATP is considered by scientists to be the “crossroads” of energy use and storage. The more the body has it and stores it up, the more on-demand energy it has ready-to-go in general. Therefore, the more ATP a person has, generally the more “energetic” a person is in all aspects of life.
No doubt, the way that cistanche can do this is by means of its antioxidant function. It protects against cellular degeneration in the muscles. What this does is reduce chances of damage to the muscle. Less damage allows the more successful storage of energy there for long periods.
What better way to heal the body and boost energy? While research still has a lot to explore and prove in this department with this Chinese herb. However, the outlook for energy-boosting is quite positive.
MAY DISPEL DEPRESSION
Anti-aging, immune-boosting, energy recovery, enhanced cognitive function—the list goes on and on for what cistanche may be able to support within the realm of wellness.
Perhaps most amazing of all: cistanche may be able to improve issues like stress and depression. Because the plant appears to help with cognitive function and memory, it seems to exercise power over the nervous system in general. This includes issues with mood.
In a very recent 2017 study on mice, cistanche was used for combating depression symptoms. Results showed that it helped the brain increase the production of dopamine in response to depression-inducing conditions and stress.
By that same science, cistanche could also be a helpful remedy for anxiety. Much more research is needed, though, in all these areas before it can be called such. Once again, this may all be owed to the herb’s antioxidant capacity.
Cistanche protects more than heart tissue, muscle, nerves, and immune system from free radical damage and inflammation. It could very well likely protect the brain and nervous system from the same, too. This, in turn, could be a huge factor in reducing the chances of depression, once more studies are established.
IMPROVED GUT HEALTH AND GUT-BRAIN CONNECTION
Cistanche has long been used to treat constipation in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Recent research has backed up the herb’s ability to improve gut function and relieve constipation.
In one study, researchers were able to treat constipation in rats with cistanche effectively. The study showed that it was able to relieve constipation but wasn’t able to pinpoint precisely why.
Researchers are only beginning to understand the importance of the gut in mood and how our microbiome contributes to our mental health. As the studies above in the section on depression, researchers in a study in 2018 were able to use cistanche as an anti-depressant in rats. However, they were able to do so because the herb altered the gut microbiome. Rather than producing the chemicals needed to alleviate depression, cistanche worked because it returned balance to the gut affected by stress.
Although only limited to animal trials so far, cistanche’s gut-healing effects could be a tool to help improve mental wellness.
Get the purest form of cistanche to harness its health benefits. We amplified cistanche’s effects by including some of the most potent natural ingredients for increased energy and numerous health hacks. These superfoods include:
- Cordyceps – Research supports this mushroom could help boost ATP and energy, which may improve mitochondrial issues
- Eleuthero – A ginseng-like herb backed by research suggesting it may help the body recuperate against stress, weakness, and fatigue
- Green Tea Extract – The king of all antioxidants, we include green tea extract for its reputed free-radical-fighting and its ability to kick metabolism back into high gear
Find the ancient ingredients that our ancestors have known to impart vitality for thousands of years. Get the energy you need to accomplish your goals and perform at a higher level.
We’ve hand-picked each of our botanicals for their top-notch historical uses. Supportive research demonstrates their antioxidant and energy-boosting potential to help you achieve health and vitality.
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