What Is Cistanche Tubulosa?
Today we are going to dive into the fascinating world of Cistanche tubulosa! Growing in dry climates, Cistanche is also called “Desert ginseng,” ”Ginseng of the desert” or even “Desert Hyacinth.” Cistanche is something called a holoparasitic plant, and it completely lacks chlorophyll. This means that it actually survives by absorbing nutrients from a host plant. Having been used for generations in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it is well known for its effects on testosterone levels, vitality and energy. However, this amazing plant has so many more benefits than you might initially think!
The main active compounds in Cistanche tubulosa are echinacoside and acteoside. These two are responsible for a large part of Cistanche’s effects. Echinacoside is a glycoside of caffeic acid in the phenylethanoid class. Acteoside, which is also called verbascoside, is also a caffeoyl phenylethanoid glycoside. Both echinacoside and acteoside are present in other plants. However, Cistanche tubulosa is an especially rich source of these phenomenally bioactive compounds so it makes sense that this plant has enjoyed very widespread use for a long time.
Traditional Use of Cistanche Tubuolsa
Cistanche has seen widespread use in China for centuries, first appearing in Shennong Ben Cao Jing, one of the oldest surviving TCM books, which may have been first written almost 2,000 years ago! Modern English translations of this text, say this about Cistanche:
“It mainly treats the five taxations and seven damages, supplements the center, eliminates cold and heat and pain in the penis, nourishes the five viscera, strengthens yin, and boosts the essence qi. In females, it makes pregnancy possible and [treats] concretions and conglomerations. Protracted taking may make the body light. It grows in mountains and valleys.”
The traditional name for Cistanche spp., rou congrong also has some interesting meanings behind it! Rou refers to the meaty root of the plant, while “congrong” quite literally translates to “take it easy!” This is quite a revelation when you consider the positive mood effects we will talk about later! However, within this traditional context, it is more so referring to the fact that the effects of Cistanche are easy going, and gently help tonify the body and brain. From a modern perspective, this definitely seems to be the case, which is why Cistanche tubulosa makes for a great long term supplement!
Like many TCM herbs, traditionally, Cistanche spp. was used alongside a plethora of other herbs. One particular example of one of these blends is Huan Shao Dan, which is also quite fittingly referred to as the “youth returning pill”. This formula is HUGE, and contains 14 different ingredients! The modern version of this formula (Cong Rong Bu Shen Wan) has been simplified quite a lot and includes:
● Cistanche tubulosa
● Schisandra chinensis
● Rehmannia root
How Can You Utilize Cistanche Tubuolsa?
So now that you know a little more about what Cistanche tubulosa is and how it has been used traditionally for potentially thousands of years, the question becomes; how can we utilize this plant in 2022? Let’s translate some of those ancient uses, to modern day problems.
Cistanche tubulosa helps increase testosterone synthesis. This will help improve fertility, as is referenced in ancient uses of this plant too. Furthermore, as we age, testosterone levels drop and Cistanche tubulosa can correct for this, and thus have a youthfulness promoting effect as is also mentioned in traditional uses.
Cistanche tubulosa is gentle! As indicated by the Rou Cong Rong name, Cistanche tubulosa takes things nice and easy. The increase in testosterone levels is profound with Cistanche tubulosa, but it does it in a gentle way, by enhancing the biochemical pathways in our body that are used for producing testosterone. Furthermore, Cistanche tubulosa also balances this testosterone elevating effect with a growth hormone increasing effect. This is not something that is often seen in testosterone enhancers, and because growth hormone has a pleasant calming effect, it takes the aggressive edge off of the testosterone elevating effects. This makes Cistanche a great daily “tonic” for optimizing hormonal profiles without drawing too much attention to itself.
Speaking of the “taking it easy” aspect of Cistanche tubulosa, it also has fantastic mood boosting properties! Cistanche tubulosa pulls this off by interacting with our gut brain axis. Unbeknownst to many people still, there is a major connection between our gut and our brain. In fact, most of the neurotransmitters in our brain, find their origin in our gut! Cistanche tubulosa helps promote this gut-brain axis connection, and through this highly novel pathway produces a very comfortable and pleasant mood boost. For this reason, it has quickly become a mood boosting favorite amongst many of us at Noo-tropics.eu!
Summary of Cistanche Benefits
✔ Promotes Testosterone Levels*
✔ Improves Strength And Endurance*
✔ Supports Balanced Oxidation Levels*
✔ Promotes Cognitive Function*
The biosynthesis of testosterone takes place in Leydig cells. To create testosterone, cholesterol is shuttled into the inner membrane of mitochondria by a transporter called steroidogenic acute regulatory protein (StAR). Once in the mitochondria, the cytochrome P450 enzyme CYP11A1 converts cholesterol to pregnenolone. From there, two things can happen to pregnenolone. The first possibility is that pregnenolone gets oxidized by an enzyme called hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (3-β-HSD). Once oxidized, this yields androstenedione, which is then converted to testosterone by another enzyme called 17-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (17-β-HSD). The other possibility is that pregnenolone is converted to multiple different C19 steroids by the cytochrome P450 enzyme CYP17A1. The incredible thing about Cistanche tubulosa, is that it upregulates all the enzymes and transporters we just discussed. This means that Cistanche tubulosa positively impacts almost every stage of testosterone biosynthesis!
Another interesting aspect of Cistanche tubulosa is that it boosts luteinizing hormone (LH) levels. LH also plays a crucial role in testosterone synthesis, and by increasing its levels, testosterone synthesis can be increased. This is especially the case when Cistanche is combined with tongkat ali, as the extra LH results in even more increased testosterone synthesis when taking tongkat ali!
Cistanche tubulosa has been shown to activate ghrelin receptors, which is also sometimes referred to as the “hunger receptor” because it tells the body when it needs to eat. Echinacoside and acteoside both bind to ghrelin receptors, with echinacoside having the strongest binding affinity. When ghrelin is activated, it also increases the secretion of growth hormones. This is a pretty fascinating effect, and something that is not often seen in nature. Especially not alongside potent testosterone increasing effects!
An interesting thing to note about Cistanche and its effects at the ghrelin receptors, is that it does not always seem to cause the classical hunger effects as are seen in other selective ghrelin agonists. Some individuals do note increased hunger from Ghrelin, like our product specialist Emiel, however, we have seen reports come in from other customers that indicate it actually decreased hunger. Perhaps Cistanche tubulosa exerts somewhat of an “adaptogenic” effect on ghrelin receptors and appetite!
The Gut-Brain Axis and Mood
Cistanche tubulosa has a very interesting effect on mood! It seems to produce this effect by regulating the levels of various bacteria in the gut. This is still a fairly misunderstood mechanism, but interestingly enough most of the neurotransmitters in our brains actually originate from our diet and gut. For example, the bulk of the serotonin in our brains comes from the amino acid L-Tryptophan which we acquire from our diet. L-Tryptophan is then converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) and 5-HTP is then converted to 5-hydroxytryptamine (Serotonin). The fascinating thing is that about 90% of this process occurs in specialized cells in the gut called enterochromaffin cells, and it just so happens that various bacteria help promote the biosynthesis of serotonin in these enterochromaffin cells! Keeping in mind Cistanche tubulosa’s effects on gut bacteria, this may be one of the main pathways by which it helps promote mood.
Further evidence for this has indeed been found, for example, Bacteroides and Parabacteroides both appear to promote serotonin levels, and these are two probiotic taxa which are elevated by Cistanche tubulosa. Furthermore, the bacteria Ruminococcus is negatively correlated with serotonin levels in the brain, and conveniently Cistanche tubulosa actually downregulates the levels of this bacteria. Furthermore, this balancing act that Cistanche tubulosa pulls off is also correlated with better regulation of specific short-chain fatty acids such as acetate, hexanoic acid isobutyrate and isovaleric acid. This likely is also mediated through gut microbiota, and the proper regulation of these short-chain fatty acids also appears to play a big role in mood. This is thus yet another pathway by which Cistanche tubulosa may have a very unique mood promoting effect!
Besides the gut-brain axis effects of Cistanche tubulosa on mood, we also of course cannot forget about its other two main effects, promotion of testosterone and growth hormone levels. These two hormones are also highly involved in mood regulation, and thus Cistanche tubulosa may be promoting mood through testosterone and growth hormone too. Overall, Cistanche tubulosa really took us by surprise with its mood promoting effects, and anecdotal reports from some of us around the office do indeed seem to confirm that Cistanche tubulosa has a fantastic effect on mood, especially after giving it some time!
Focus And Memory
Continuing on with the “Cistanche’s gut benefits impacts literally everything” trend, it also promotes focus and memory! Most of Cistanche’s focus and memory support comes from the same methods as we talked about in the emotional well being section above. By promoting the creation of more neurotransmitters (via modulation of the gut-brain axis), Cistanche is able to help with neural communication, which is a necessary part of sustaining a healthy nervous system.
A study showed that after consistent use of Cistanche, people were able to recall significantly more information and faster than control groups. They also found that Cistanche’s benefits remained consistent throughout testing, without massive jumps or falls in benefits that can be strenuous on the body. People were also easily able to stop taking Cistanche, which shows the effectiveness and usability of Cistanche.
Traditional Uses For Cistanche
What Are The Best Supplements To Stack With Cistanche?
One of the reasons why we love Cistanche so much is because it is a very versatile ingredient for stacking. Sticking with traditional knowledge, as is described in TCM formulas, Cistanche tubulosa would stack great with our Schisandra chinesis! This pairing will result in even more gentle calming and mood boosting properties.
If you want to further enhance the testosterone elevating effects of Cistanche tubulosa, then tongkat ali is certainly the clear choice here. Tongkat ali helps to increase testosterone levels via a different mechanism than Cistanche tubulosa, and it appears that the two are synergistic due to this. Our product specialist, Emiel, utilizes this concept by consistently taking Cistanche tubulosa daily and then when he needs an extra confidence boost, he’ll take a dose of tongkat ali on top of the daily Cistanche tubulosa. For more profound effects, you can take both Cistanche tubulosa and tongkat ali on a daily basis.
When it comes to the unique gut health effects, Cistanche tubulosa can also be combined with other ingredients that have beneficial gut health effects like epicor, functional yeast or immuse. This should help further enhance the gut-brain connection which can then have positive effects for cognitive function and mood, in addition to positive effects on immune health!