The legendary longevity of residents of the Guizhou Province, who consume jiaogulan in the form of tea, led to the herb’s designation as the immortality herb.
Modern investigation of jiaogulan’s composition has identified the flavonoids rutin and ombuoside, as well as malonic acid as present in the plant.1 Compounds known as saponins, which include gypenosides occurring in jiaogulan, were shown to have a “bidirective” immunomodulatory action by their ability to normalize immune indices from those that were excessively high or low in a study involving immune impaired mice.2 The authors concluded that jiaogulan’s action as an immunomodulator seemed to be similar to that of Panax ginseng and Astragalus membranaceus.
Jiaogulan saponins’ antioxidant effect suggests it could be valuable for the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis, liver disease and inflammation.3Gynostemma pentaphyllum has also been shown to have a more potent anti-inflammatory effect than the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) indomethacin in research involving rats.4
Jiaogulan on the Brain
Jiaogulan may benefit the brain by improving memory and learning deficits, if research involving mice is an indication. Animals given the drug scopolamine, which impairs memory, experienced a reversal of their impairment when given gypenoside 74.5
In a study in which mice were given a toxin that induces a Parkinson’s disease-like condition, coadministration of gypenosides protected the substantia nigra (the area of the brain impacted by Parkinson’s disease) from oxidative stress, loss of neurons and motor dysfunction, which the researchers involved in the experiment attribute to an increase in anti-oxidation as exhibited by elevated glutathione levels and greater superoxide dismutase activity in this area.6
In an experiment with brain hippocampal slices exposed to a short period of low oxygen and glucose, an extract of jiaogulan protected the cells from functional injury when administered during restored blood flow.7 Authors L. Schild and colleagues predicted that Gynostemma pentaphyllum should be beneficial as prophylactic nutrition supplement and during revascularization of arterial blood vessels from stroke and other ischemic events such as coronary occlusion.”
Jiaogulan shows promise in the prevention of dementia induced by chronic poor circulation to the brain, which has been associated with white matter lesions. In rats in which cerebral hypoperfusion was induced by bilateral common carotid artery occlusion, spatial learning and memory was better, and oxygen free radicals, lipid peroxide production and oxidative DNA damage were lower in animals that received the higher of two daily doses of jiaogulan in comparison with those that received saline.8 In a model of stroke, in which cerebral ischemia was induced by middle cerebral artery occlusion, pretreatment with gypenosides reduced the area of damage and improved motor function, which the authors suggest could be mediated through the enhancement of neurogenesis.9
Heart Health, Diabetes, Cancer, and more
In human blood samples, jiaogulan has been shown to decrease the activity of multiple coagulation factors, which suggest its use as an antithrombotic agent.10 Other research has shown a reduction in cholesterol and triglycerides in association with the herb.11 In experimental research, jiaogulan has shown promise for the prevention of fatty liver disease.12
In a trial of 24 type 2 diabetics who were not being treated with drugs, 12 weeks of Gynostemma pentaphyllum tea resulted in reduced glucose, hemoglobin A1c (a marker of long term glucose control) and insulin resistance in comparison with subjects who received a placebo.13 “This study shows a prompt improvement of glycemia and insulin sensitivity, and thereby provides a basis for a novel, effective, and safe approach, using Gynostemma pentaphyllum tea, to treat type 2 diabetic patients,” authors V. T. Huyen and associates conclude.
In another study conducted by Dr Huyen’s team, the addition of jiaogulan to a sulfonylurea drug resulted in lower fasting plasma glucose, hemoglobin A1c and lower oral glucose tolerance test values in comparison with drug treatment alone.14
Like most plants, jiaogulan has been the subject of research concerning an ability to combat cancer. An evaluation of the effects of 24 Chinese herbs suggests that jiaogulan could strengthen the body’s resistance to the disease.15 In an investigation that involved rats injected with a carcinogen, pretreatment with a jiaogulan solution delayed the initiation of esophageal cancer and was associated with a trend toward fewer tumors in comparison with rats that did not receive jiaogulan.16 In human lung cancer cells, gypenosides induced cell cycle arrest and apoptosis (programmed cell death) indicating a chemopreventive role.17
Similar effects have been observed in a study involving human tongue cancer cells,18 in human prostate cancer cells19, and in human20 and mouse leukemia cells, while improving survival in mice injected with the latter.21 Gypenosides has also triggered apoptosis in human liver cancer cells22 and glioma cells,23 and inhibited invasion and migration of human oral cancer cells.24
While it looks as though jiaogulan could help with conditions related to aging, we are particularly fascinated with its actions on AMPK. Jiaogulan (G. pentaphyllum) has been shown to activate this important enzyme.24 The AMPK enzyme serves as the body’s master regulating switch. Increased AMPK activity helps to revitalize aging cells. The promise shown in these and other studies suggests that there’s more to this heretofore unknown herb to be revealed in further research.
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