Cistanche Deserticola health benefit and side effects, review as an aphrodisiac plant by Ray Sahelian, M.D.
April 28 2016

The dried fleshy stems of Cistanche deserticola -- or desert living cistanche -- is known in China as Rou Cong Rong. In Japan, the species used is Cistanche salsa. Cistanche also grows in Mongolia. According to one Chinese researcher, Rou Cong Rong (Herba Cistanchis) is one of the commonly used drugs in Chinese traditional medicine. It is used to reinforce the vital function of kidney and to influence fertility, leukorrhea and metrorrhagia in women.

What's in Cistanche herb?
Several compounds have been isolated including cistanosides, beta-sitosterol, tubuloside, daucosterol, succinic acid, triacontanol, acteoside, betaine phenylethanoid glycosides, and polysaccharose.

Phytother Res. 2013. Beta-Sitosterol Enhances Cellular Glutathione Redox Cycling by Reactive Oxygen Species Generated From Mitochondrial Respiration: Protection Against Oxidant Injury in H9c2 Cells and Rat Hearts. Herba Cistanches (Cistanche deserticola) is a 'Yang-invigorating' tonic herb in Chinese medicine. Preliminary chemical analysis indicated that β-sitosterol (BS) is one of the chemical constituents in an active fraction. To investigate whether BS is an active ingredient of Herba Cistanches, the effects of BS on H9c2 cells and rat hearts were examined. The results indicated that BS stimulated the mitochondrial ATP generation capacity in H9c2 cells, which was associated with the increased production of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species. BS also stimulated mitochondrial state 3 and state 4 respiration, with the resultant decrease in coupling efficiency. BS produced an up-regulation of cellular glutathione redox cycling and protected against hypoxia/reoxygenation-induced apoptosis in H9c2 cells. However, the protective effect of BS against myocardial ischemia/reperfusion injury was seen in female but not male rats ex vivo. The cardioprotection afforded by BS was likely mediated by an up-regulation of mitochondrial glutathione redox cycling in female rat hearts. In conclusion, the ensemble of results suggests that BS is an active ingredient of Herba Cistanches.

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What does the research say about cistanche herb?
Studies in rodents show that administration of cistanche herb improves energy levels. Mice given cistanche are able to swim for longer periods. Many of the compounds found in cistanche herb have antioxidant properties and protect the liver from toxins. I could not find any studies evaluating the role of cistanche in menstrual disorders in women or its effects on fertility in humans. Cistanche appears to have brain enhancing potential. rou cong rong is the Chinese name for cistanches.

Transient exposure to echinacoside is sufficient to activate Trk signaling and protect neuronal cells from rotenone. Laboratory of Neurology of Integrative Medical Institute, Zhongshan Hospital, Fudan University, Shanghai, P R China. J Neurochem. 2013.
Neurotrophins exert their physiological functions mainly through Trk receptors, and the neurotrophic signaling network is critical to the survival of neurons. However, therapeutic use of neurotrophins in treating neurodegenerative diseases is hampered by a number of pharmacological challenges, and the most significant challenge is their delivery into the central nervous system. Here, we reported that echinacoside, a small natural compound, elicits neuroprotection by activating Trk receptors and their downstream signal pathways. Echinacoside is the major active component of Cistanches Herba, a widely used Chinese herb with nerve cell protecting effects.

Research on the effect of phenylethanoid glycosides (PEG) of the Cistanche deserticola on anti-aging in aged mice induced by D-galactose
Zhong Yao Cai. 2008: Institute of Atomic Energy for Application in Agriculture, Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Science, Nanjing, China.
To investigate the effect of Phenylethanoid glycosides of the Cistanche deserticola on anti-aging in aged mice induced by D-galactose. Compared with the model group, the abilities of learning and memorizing were improved in Phenylethanoid glycosides of the Cistanche deserticola groups. The activity of SOD was enhanced significantly in serum and brain. The MDA content of liver and serum was decreased. Cistanche deserticola can enhance the ability of learning, memorizing, anti-oxidation, and improve immune function.

Asian J Androl. November 2013. Cistanche deserticola decoction alleviates the testicular toxicity induced by hydroxyurea in male mice.

Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2015. Glycosides of cistanche improve learning and memory in the rat model of vascular dementia.

Side effects of cistanche herb, safety, risks
Increased body temperature has been noted which may limit the use of high doses of cistanche. Another potential side effect on high dosages is blurred vision that can last a few hours and can be annoying. Individuals report that they have difficulty reading small print for a few hours.
   Increased body temperature would make it unpleasant to take this herb on days when it is hot and humid. Blurring of vision and sleepiness are potential setbacks to the use of high dose cistanche. Long term studies determining benefits and risks are not available.

Cistanche herb research
Anti-nociceptive and anti-inflammatory activity caused by Cistanche deserticola in rodents.
China Medical College, 91 Hsieh Shih Road, Taichung, Taiwan, ROC. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002.
In the present study, the rhizomes of Cistanche deserticola were extracted with 50% ethanol and isolated orderly by ethyl acetate, n-butanol and water. The analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of Cistanche deserticola extract and three layers were evaluated in several animal models. Cistanche deserticola extracts effectively inhibited writhing response induced by 1% acetic acid and biphasic licking responses caused by 1% formalin, and also reduced the edema induced by 1% carrageenan but not zymosan. These results reveal that Cistanche deserticola has analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects, and the butanolic and aqueous layers are mainly active constituents. The analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of the butanolic layer of Cistanche deserticola extract were not related to opioid receptors and immune system.

Anti-oxidative action of the glycosides of Cistanche in the tissue of mice
Xinjiang Medical College, Wulumuqi. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 1998
To study the anti-oxidative action of Cistanche in the tissues of mice. Contents of superoxide dismutase (SOD), malondialdehyde (MDA) and lipofuscin in the heart, liver, brain and kidney of mice were measured. The results suggest that Cistanche could increase the antioxidative action in vivo significantly and prevent lipoperoxidative damages in tissues.

Hepatoprotective activity of phenylethanoids from Cistanche deserticola.
Toyama Medical and Pharmaceutical University, Japan. Planta Med. 1998.
Four phenylethanoids isolated from the stems of Cistanche deserticola, acteoside, 2'-acetylacteoside, isoacteoside and tubuloside B, significantly suppressed NADPH/CCl4-induced lipid peroxidation in rat liver microsomes. Addition of them to primary cultured rat hepatocytes efficiently prevented cell damage induced by exposure to CCl4 or D-galactosamine (D-GalN). Acteoside further showed pronounced anti-hepatotoxic activity against CCl4 in vivo.

Kidney reinforcing and yang supporting action of cistanche deserticola Y. C. Ma before and after preparation
He W. China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Beijing. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 1996.
The weights of seminal vesicle and prostate gland of castrated young rats were significantly increased by administration of alcohol soluble extract from decoction of Cistanche deserticola. The weights of testes, seminal vesicle and prostate gland in mice and rats were also increased by the extract. The phagocytic function of intra-abdominal macrophage in mice was activated by decoction of Cistanche deserticola. The maximum oral tolerance for mouse was 40 g/kg.

Comparison between Cistanche deserticola Y. C. Ma and Cistanche tubulosa Wight on some pharmacological actions
Institute of Chinese Materia Medica, China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Beijing. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 19967
The weights of seminal vesicle and prostate gland of castrated young rats were significantly increased by administration of alcohol soluble extract from the decoction of Cistanche deserticola, Cistanche tubulosa and soaked Cistanche deserticola. The phagocytic function of intra-abdominal macrophage in mice was activated by the decoction of Cistanche deserticola and Cistanche tubulosa.

For hair growth
Lab Anim Res. 2015. Effectiveness of the combinational treatment of Laminaria japonica and Cistanche tubulosa extracts in hair growth.

Cistanche Plant
Cistanches is shaped somewhat like a cross between a pineapple and a pine cone, with thick, fleshy stems and large, yellow flowers that grow smaller as the plantís apex. It is collected in the spring, dried in the sun and then sliced for use.

Additional articles of interest
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vinpocetine is a vasodilator
nattokinase is an enzyme from fermented tofu

Q. Can you compare cistanches to Cialis?
   A. This is very difficult since we are not aware of human studies with cistanche in relation to sexual function and erection. From feedback by users of both, Cialis is definitely more potent.