Gynostemma pentaphyllum, also called jiaogulan (is an herbaceous vine of the family Cucurbitaceae (cucumber or gourd family) indigenous to the southern reaches of China, southern Korea and Japan. Jiaogulan is best known as an herbal medicine reputed to have powerful antioxidant and adaptogenic effects that increase longevity.
Jiaogulan is consumed primarily as a tea, and is also used as a natural sweetener in Japan. It is known as an adaptogen and antioxidant and has been found to increase superoxide dismutase (SOD) which is a powerful endogenous cellular antioxidant. Studies have found it increases the activities of macrophages, T lymphocytes and natural killer cells and that it acts as a tumor inhibitor. Due to its adaptogenic effects it is frequently referred to as "Southern Ginseng," although it is not closely related to true Panax ginseng. Its adaptogenic constituents include the triterpenoid saponins gypenosides which are closely structurally related to the ginsenosides from the well-known medicinal plant ginseng. It has been shown to lower cholesterol levels in human studies.
The plant is best known for its use as an herbal medicine in traditional Chinese medicine, although its inclusion in Wu Qi-Jun's 1848 botany book Zhi Wu Ming Shi Tu Kao Chang Bian discusses a few medicinal uses and seems to be the earliest known documentation of the herb. Prior to that, Jiaogulan was cited as a survival food in Zu Xio's 1406 book Materia Medica for Famine. Until recently it was a locally known herb used primarily in regions of southern China. It is described by the local inhabitants as the immortality herb, because people within the Guizhou Province, where jiaogulan tea is drunk regularly, have a history of living to a very old age. Most research has been done since the 1960s when the Chinese realized that it might be an inexpensive source for adaptogenic compounds, taking pressure off of ginseng stock.
Adaptogenic herbs are nontoxic in normal doses, produce a nonspecific defensive response to stress, and have a normalizing influence on the body. They normalize the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis). As defined, adaptogens constitute a new class of natural, homeostatic metabolic regulators. However they are also functional at the level of allostasis which is a more dynamic reaction to long term stress, lacking the fixed reference points of homeostasis. Jiaogulan is a calming adaptogen which is also useful in formula with codonopsis for jet lag and altitude sickness.
Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum), is a plant that grows wild in China, as well as many other countries throughout Asia. In China, it has been used for many years as a medicinal and energizing tea in the local regions where it grows. Jiaogulan is sometimes called "Southern Ginseng", since it grows in south central China and because of its similarity to ginseng in chemical composition and function. It is also praised as Xiancao, "Immortality" Herb, because it grows wild and has many health-giving qualities and anti-aging effects.
In the late 1970s, Japanese scientists began discovering jiaogulan's illness-prevention and therapeutic qualities. What they uncovered was an herb very similar in quality to ginseng, yet in some ways superior. They found jiaogulan to function as both an adaptogenic herb and as an antioxidant herb, containing many health-giving saponins (chemical compounds having a soapy characteristic), as well as trace minerals, amino acids, proteins, and vitamins.
Jiaogulan contains a large quantity of these saponins, known also as gypenosides. The structure of the gypenosides is very similar to the panaxosides (also known as ginsenosides) found in ginseng. There are four times as many saponins in jiaogulan as there is in ginseng. Some of those saponins are identical to the panaxosides in ginseng and some of them turn into panaxosides when taken into the body. This results in a greater number of saponins than ginseng, which may translate into a more powerful regulatory effect on a number of bodily systems; like blood pressure, the reproductive system, the digestive system, the immune system, mental functions and more. 1, 2
Wild Jiaogulan Herb
Scientific research studies in China have shown that jiaogulan decreases cholesterol by improving the liver's ability to send sugar and carbohydrates to the muscles for conversion to energy instead of turning the sugar into triglycerides which the body stores as fat. 3 It lowers LDL's (bad cholesterol) while raising HDL's (good cholesterol). It improves fat metabolism, reduces blood fat levels and depresses lipid peroxide and fat sediment in the blood vessels. 4
While it is great for rectifying high cholesterol and obesity problems, it can also improve and strengthen the digestion, allowing an underweight person to increase absorption of nutrients and gain weight in the form of lean muscle mass. This regulatory effect on bodily functions is the hallmark of an adaptogen. 5
A study at Guiyang Medical College in China has shown that a jiaogulan recipe increased strength and endurance in the body. Considering the above statements overall, jiaogulan becomes the perfect herb for anyone who wants to improve their competitive edge in any field of athletic performance. 6
Adaptogenic functions of jiaogulan are demonstrated in its biphasic effects on brain functions, which energize or calm the system depending upon the body’s need. 7 Jiaogulan also aids the regulation of hormonal functions in both men and women. The healthy maintenance of these physiological actions plays a major role in the body's ability to cope with stress. 8 Jiaogulan has also shown its effectiveness, in clinical research studies, in helping the body resist depression of the immune system and other stress-related symptoms. It increases the production of Lymphocytes, Phagocytes and serum IgG, but not to an excess. 9
Jiaogulan has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory activities through its many saponins. 10 Jiaogulan also helps the body to resist depression of the immune system and other stress-related symptoms. 11, 12 Furthermore there are other clinical research studies, which indicate jiaogulan's ability to reduce tumor size. 13,14 It can even lower high blood pressure. 15
In China jiaogulan is praised as the “Herb of Immortality,” due to its many health giving qualities and anti-aging effects.
1. Song, W.M., et al. “Comparison of the adaptogenic effects of jiaogulan and ginseng.” Zhong Cao Yao. Chinese. 1992; 23(3):136.
2. Wei, Y., et al. “The effect of gypenosides to raise White Blood Count.” Zhong Cao Yao. Chinese. 1993; 24, 7, 382.
3. Kimura, Y., et al. “Effects of crude saponins of Gynostemma pentaphyllum on lipid metabolism.” Shoyakugaku Zasshi. Japanese. 1983 (Rec’d 1984); 37(3):272-275.
4. Yu, C. “Therapeutic effect of tablet gypenosides on 32 patients with hyperlipaemia.” Hu Bei Zhong Yi Za Zhi. Chinese. 1993; 15(3):21.
5. Zhou, S., et al. “Pharmacological study on the adaptogenic function of jiaogulan and jiaogulan compound.” Zhong Cao Yao. Chinese. 1990; 21(7):313.
6. Zhou, Ying-Na, et al. “Effects of a gypenosides-containing tonic on the pulmonary function in exercise workload.” Journal of Guiyang Medical College.1993; 8(4):261.
7. Zhang, Yi-Qun, et al. “Immediate effects of a gypenosides-containing tonic on the echocardiography of healthy persons of various ages.” Journal of Guiyang Medical College. 1993; 18(4):261.
8. Zhou, Ying-Na, et al. Influence of kiwifruit/jiaogulan recipe on the lung function and exercise endurance under exercise workload. Journal of Guiyang Medical College. 1993; 18(4):256.
9. Liu, Jialiu, et al. Overall health-strengthening effects of a gypenosides-containing tonic in middle aged and aged persons. Journal of Guiyang Medical College. 1993; (3):146.
10. Li, Lin, et al. Protective Effect of Gypenosides Against Oxidative Stress in Phagocytes, Vascular Endothelial Cells and Liver Microsomes. Loma Linda University, Calif. Cancer Biotherapy. 1993; 8(3):263-272.
11. Hou, J., et al. Effects of Gynostemma pentaphyllum Makino on the immunological function of cancer patients. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine. (K9K). 1991; 11(1):47-52
12. Qian, Hao, et al. Protective effect of jiaogulan on cellular immunity of patients with primary lung cancer treated with radiotherapy plus chemotherapy. Acta Academiae Medicinae Shanghai. 1995; 22(5):363-366.
13. Han, M.Q., et al. Effects of 24 Chinese medicinal herbs on nucleic acid, protein and cell cycle of human lung adenocarcinoma cell. Chung Kuo Chung His I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih (BIF). Chinese. 1995 Mar; 15(3):147-9.
14. Wu, J.L., et al. Influence of gypenosides on thrombosis and synthesis of TXA2 and PGF1a. Zhong Yao Yao Li Yu Lin Chuang. Chinese. 1991; 7(2):39.
15. Lu, G.H., et al. Comparative study on anti-hypertensive effect of Gypenosides, Ginseng and Indapamide in patients with essential hypertension. Guizhou Medical Journal. Chinese. 1996; 20:1.