Benefits of Jiaogulan, The Stress-Fighting Adaptogen best known in Asia
Benefits of Jiaogulan, The Stress-Fighting Adaptogen best known in Asia
Sometimes called southern ginseng, Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum) is recognized in Asia for its ability to promote longevity. Used as a tonic its beneficial effects on the human body are system-wide.
By Mark Zuleger-Thyss
According to Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, corn is a very needy plant. It is so helpless that it relies entirely on humans for its propagation. Without a farmer’s intervention, corn could not even reseed itself.
In return, corn rewards those who plant it with phenomenal amounts of food.
There is a relationship here, one of mutual dependency, and this makes it evident that if humans quit supporting corn and other organisms, these plants would cease to exist.
The Neolithic Revolution was one of the most drastic periods of change in human history. It was when Old Word nomadic hunter/gatherers became farmers and adopted a more settled, agrarian-based way of life dependent on animals and plant species available in their immediate vicinity.
The term “Neolithic Revolution,” also known as the Agricultural Revolution, describes this radical period of change in which humans began cultivating plants – and forging a relationship with them.
This relationship defines the symbiotic nature of our planet.
Over thousands of years, humans identified and raised plants to harness their healing medicinal qualities, and this is how Herbalism became a primary form of medicine throughout much of the world.
Our plants have awe-inspiring power and are in service to us. They are Mother Earth’s medicine. They are imbued with the ability to combat any ailment that might arise in all other living beings.
How long have people been using plants as medicine? There is evidence of plants being used for various healing therapies dating as far back as 60,000 years ago.
Our Relationships with Plants define our Existence
There is one plant, Gynostemma pentaphyllum, or Jiaogulan, that is so versatile it was rated among the ten most important plant herbs at the 1991 International Conference on Traditional Medicine.
People who sing its praises believe it contributes to a long and disease-free life by way of its potent anti-aging effects. In fact, Jiaogulan possesses the broadest spectrum of health benefits of any plant known to science.
In 1976, a Japanese scholar discovered ginseng constituents in Gynostemma, and since then, attention to it has soared. Over 40 scientific studies have shown that Jiaogulan benefits most major organs, can regulate blood sugar, and improve energy levels and sleep. As with most adaptogenic herbs, the effects are system-wide and tonic overall.
Some people claim Jiaogulan gives them increased stamina, concentration, and focus. Other potential long-term benefits of taking adaptogenic herbs like Jiaogulan include increased immunity, modulated inflammatory response, hormone balancing, and enhanced cardiovascular and cognitive function.
"The Herb of Immortality"
Gynostemma pentaphyllum, or Jiaogulan, is a type of leaf native to Asia and historically from the mountainous region of Guizhou, China.
Gynostemma pentaphyllum has a long history of use in traditional systems of medicine in Asia, where it is revered for its ability to promote youthfulness and longevity.
Gynostemma is widespread and native to the mountainous regions of southern China and other parts of Asia, such as India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
Gynostemma pentaphyllum is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes cucumbers and melons.
People mostly use Jiaogulan for high cholesterol, diabetes, liver disease, obesity, and many other conditions, but without sound scientific evidence, the extent of Jiaogulan's benefits are unknown.
"When health is absent, wisdom cannot reveal itself, art cannot manifest, strength cannot fight, wealth becomes useless, and intelligence cannot be applied."
Jiaogulan is pronounced Jow-Goo-Lan, and its meaning is something like “winding climbing orchid,” aptly named given it is a creeping vine. Jiaogulan is considered a vulgar term rather than its scientific name, Gynostemma pentaphyllum.
Jiaogulan was initially served as a wild vegetable used during times of Famine. The first descriptions of the herb date back to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). And the 16th-century Chinese medicine book, Compendium of Materia Medica, recorded Gynostemma's first use for therapeutic benefit.
Gynostemma pentaphyllum is an additive in drinks, beer, bread, and noodles and is used in many commercial products, including teas and beverages.
Jiaogulan is available as an alcohol extract or in capsule/pill form, but most people drink it as tea. It is an adaptogen and antioxidant and has been found to increase superoxide dismutase (SOD), a potent endogenous cellular antioxidant. Studies have found that Jiaogulan increases the activities of macrophages, T lymphocytes, and natural killer cells and acts as a tumor inhibitor.
One beneficial use of products containing extracts of the herb is for managing hyperlipidemia. However, with the popularity of drugs like statins, the use of traditional Chinese herbal lipid-lowering medicines like Gynostemma has dropped drastically.
Active Ingredients in Gynostemma
Adaptogenic plants increase the resistance and defenses of an organism in a nonspecific manner, stimulating it to react positively to stressful situations.
Jiaogulan acts like an adaptogen to increase energy and fight fatigue. The Gynostemma herb is a very potent adaptogen comparable to the more celebrated Korean Ginseng and Ganoderma lucidum (Reishi mushroom).
Jiaogulan is described in many texts as one of the most validated adaptogens, due to its anti-aging effects and ability to increase physical strength. These findings are evidenced by pharmacological studies conducted on the raw extracts of the herb.
The herb’s ability to stimulate the immune system is due to abundant triterpenoid saponins and to the diverse flavonoids and gypenosides that make up its Phyto complex. Gynostemma contains over 230 of these different compounds in various classes, such as sterols and many others.
Jiaogulan, one of the mightiest adaptogenic herbs, benefits the body in two ways:
- By directly nourishing the internal organs by increasing the blood supply through enhanced cardiac output.
- By normalizing the nervous and hormonal systems in the body when they are adversely affected by stress.
Gynostemma supplies antioxidants and enzymes that can help counteract oxidative stress and promote heart, metabolic and respiratory health.
Many of these nutrients have demonstrated anti-cancer activities against diverse cancer types. For example, gynostemma also contains flavonoids and carotenoids, which have cancer-fighting properties in vitro.
Jiaogulan's Cancer-Fighting Actions
Believers in Jiaogulan's benefits claim that it can improve your circulation and lower your blood sugar. Studies reviewed in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine suggest it can help treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
The Jiaogulan plant contains hundreds of bioactive compounds, many of which have been studied and found to have anti-cancer activities.
In cell culture models, Jiaogulan has been shown to stop the growth and spread of cancer, cause cancer cells to die off, and help the immune system attack cancer. Jiaogulan acts by modulating the activity of several cellular signaling pathways tied to cancer formation and progression.
Use of Gynostemma pentaphyllum in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
G. pentaphyllum (Jiaogulan) belongs to TCM's 'Tonic Herbs for Qi Deficiency' category. When deficiency patterns occur, the patient is said to lack one of the 'Four Treasures' (Qi, Blood, Yin, and Yang).
Qi tonics are typically sweet and tend to enter the spleen and lungs because these organs are most involved with the production of Qi.
G. pentaphyllum is cold in nature which helps people who have too much 'Heat' in their bodies. Too much heat is a Yang Excess (because Yang is Hot in nature) or a Yin deficiency (Yin is Cold in Nature). Depending on your condition, Jiaogulan can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.
The 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter constituents like Jiaogulan tend to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing heat, drying dampness, and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements.
In Chinese Medicine, the main actions of Jiaogulan are to clear heat and detoxify. It relieves cough, moistens the lungs, and eliminates phlegm. Jiaogulan nourishes the heart and soothes the nerves while at the same time tonifying Qi and promoting essence.
Safety, Precautions, and Side Effects
There currently is little evidence about the side effects of Jiaogulan. Although the most common ones are diarrhea and nausea, excessive intake may cause an upset stomach.
Jiaogulan should not be used by those having immune-related disorders. People with blood conditions, i.e., blood clotting disorders or taking anticoagulants or antiplatelet agents (blood thinners), should exercise caution.
If you have diabetes, Jiaogulan may decrease insulin levels and insulin index scores. Caution is advised here, too.
The leaves of the Jiaogulan plant are used to make tea, and you drink it the way you would drink any other infused tea. Also known as Amachazuru, Jiaoguan is endemic to the southern regions of Asia. The herb is not as popular as other botanicals like ginseng, as it has never been distributed widely.
Jiaogulan is safe when taken by mouth in a tea for up to 3 months. The extract can be used for up to 4 months. Jiaogulan could be helpful in diabetes when 6 grams of the leaves are used to make the tea. The powdered herb can also be blended in smoothies.
Jiaogulan is caffeine-free and has a slightly bittersweet taste.
There are many ways to reap the benefits of Gynostemma. It is available in the natural health marketplace as extracts in powder, liquid, or capsules. There also are numerous supplements and herbal formulas that contain the herb.
Do not use Jiaogulan while Pregnant
Certain compounds in the herb have been linked to an increased risk of fetal abnormality, and, therefore, pregnant women should avoid its use. Mothers who are breastfeeding should not drink Jiaogulan tea due to insufficient data regarding its safety.
An Exchange of Mutual Benefit
Perhaps, long ago, our ancestors gleaned there was something essential plants and people shared that was magical. Plants communicated all the ways they could be helpful to humans, that there was something each could receive from the other.
From there, the relationship expanded, and they both learned ways to nourish, bring enjoyment, heal, calm, and uplift each other. The relationship blossomed, and an exchange of mutual benefit continued.
One can imagine this is how humans came to discover the healing properties of Jiaogulan.
Summing Up Gynostemma pentaphyllum
Scientific & Other Names
Amachazuru, Cucurbitaceae (family), dammarane-type saponins, Gynostemma pentaphyllum, gypenoside XLIX, Vitis pentaphyllum, and xianxao.
Sometimes called southern ginseng, Gynostemma is known by more than one name. Jiaogulan, "miracle grass," poor man's ginseng, and Makino are just a few.
Throughout history humans have cultivated plants to harness their healing qualities, which is how Herbalism became a primary medicine in so many parts of the world.
Because of their efficacy with fewer side effects, traditional Chinese medicines (TCM) have attracted attention for their potential application in treating many ailments.
Jiaogulan and its extracts contain hundreds of compounds demonstrating healing effects for various illnesses.
Regarded as an adaptogen herb, it improves circulation, strengthens the immune and nervous systems, stimulates liver function, reduces blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and lowers blood pressure. It is generally taken as tea but can be used in capsules, tablets, and tinctures. The leaves can also be eaten fresh, having a slightly bitter cucumber flavor.
Jiaogulan also shows anti-cancer potential against various human cancer types. For example, the herb might have effects against leukemia, colon cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and more.
Today most people use Jiaogulan to activate cellular AMPK, suppressing excess mTOR1, enabling some people to lose excess belly fat.
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