Cistanche supplements are a medicinal plant grown and extensively used in traditional Chinese medicine. Several studies have claimed that it possesses antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties, hence the increase in the rate of its supplement production by different companies.
One of the goals of the pharmaceutical industry is to stay relevant in the market by manufacturing effective products with the least side effects.
However, because of the trend observed over the years wherein newer synthetic medicines come and go from the market shelves, the competition for innovating traditional medicines has become tighter.
This is because traditional medicine, despite lacking clinical trials, has proven to benefit consumers without unwanted side effects. A case in point is the Cistanche plant which has remained popular due to its numerous health benefits.
In this article, let us learn more about the potential health benefits, uses, and side effects of Cistanche supplements.
Table of Contents
What is Cistanche?
Cistanche or Cistanches Herba is also commonly known as Rou Cong Rong in Chinese. It is considered a parasitic plant because it attaches to the roots of neighboring sand-fixing plants for its survival.
Cistanche is distributed mainly across the boundaries of Europe and Asia, and North Africa. It has a distinctive habitat because its growth and cultivation require severe environmental conditions, such as extreme arid climate, nonnutritive soils, large temperature differences, intensive sunshine, and only a small amount of moisture.
For centuries, the desert ginseng Cistanche, has been used as a tonic in traditional Chinese medicine to treat chronic renal disease, impotence, female infertility, menstruation problems, and constipation.
Thanks to modern pharmacological studies, the diverse application of Cistanche has been explained by the presence of bioactive components with neuroprotective, immunoregulatory, anti-inflammatory, and hepatoprotective properties.
Cistanche’s phytochemical composition mainly consists of volatile oils, non-volatile phenylethanoid glycosides, iridoids, lignans, alditols, oligosaccharides, and polysaccharides.
The demand for cistanche in the global market has grown rapidly. In recent years, different forms have been made available aside from food supplement preparation. It is now also widely used in various food items, tea, drinks, and beverages 
Benefits of Taking Cistanche Supplements
- Anti-inflammatory – The phenylethanoid glycosides constituent of Cistanche has been reported to suppress the activity of the macrophages, which are known key players in inflammation.
- Antioxidant – The glycosides also scavenge free radicals, either by directly removing the free radicals or blocking the enzymes related to the free radical production.
- Anti-aging – Although the anti-aging mechanism of Cistanche is not fully understood, it is believed that the glycosides may play a role in the delay of aging and the prevention and treatment of senile dementia via anti-oxidation.
- Anti-neurodegenerative disease – Studies suggest that glycosides can protect the brain from damage due to the enhanced free removal of enzyme-damaging activities and the inhibition of brain cell death.
- Learning and Memory enhancement – The phenylethanoid glycosides can improve learning and memory via the induction of nerve growth factor, which leads to neuronal cell maturation, neurite outgrowth, and presynaptic formation.
- Immune-boosting – The carbohydrate constituents of the Cistanche (oligosaccharides and polysaccharides) can activate lymphoid cells and increase the killed rate of mutated cells that can later develop into cancer.
- Aphrodisiac – A recent study has demonstrated that the phenylethanoid glycosides could shorten the latent period of penis erection and increase the sex hormone levels by activating the testicular enzymes responsible for hormone production.
Uses of Cistanche
The aforementioned anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities are the most notable pharmacological effects of Cistanche plant extracts. And these are attributed to the phenylethanoid glycosides and carbohydrates, which are the main phytochemical constituents of Cistanche.
- Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder in childhood
- Adolescent chorea
- Lobar atrophy disease
- Senile cerebral arteriosclerosis
- Dementia, other cause
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Cerebrovascular diseases
- Heart disease
- Gastric ulcer
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Liver disease
- Endocrine problems
Cistanche Supplements Side Effects
Cistanche supplement is not FDA-approved. However, research data available on the toxicity and safety evaluation of Cistanche revealed that this plant’s extract is safe for consumption.
Furthermore, the use of this plant in traditional medicine for at least 1000 years in China is undisputed evidence of its safety.
But being a food supplement manufactured from plant extracts still poses risks of side effects to the consumers. Common adverse clinical reactions of preparations of Cistanche are mild and include nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and dizziness. 
Cistanche, also known as Rou Cong Rong in Chinese, is a valuable plant extensively used in traditional Chinese medicine. The several bioactive compounds found in the plant extract, such as the phenylethanoid glycosides, are responsible for the health benefits Cistanche offers.
Pharmacological studies demonstrated that Cistanche exhibited neuroprotective, immune-boosting, hormonal-balancing, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, and antioxidative effects.
Since supplements are formulated differently per manufacturer, it is advisable to read the label of your chosen preparation of Cistanche products to know how much of it you should consume to obtain the necessary dose.
Researchers have listed essential elements found in Cistanche supplements that are beneficial if taken daily. This includes sodium, potassium, manganese, iron, copper, and zinc.
Disclaimer: This article is only a guide. It does not substitute the advice given by your healthcare professional. Before making any health-related decision, consult your healthcare professional.
Editorial References And Fact-Checking
- Zhifei Fu, Xiang Fan, Xiaoying Wang and Xiumei Gao (2018) Cistanches Herba: an overview of its chemistry, pharmacology, and pharmacokinetics property, Journal of Ethnopharmacology, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jep.2017.10.015
- Li, Z., Lin, H., Gu, L., Gao, J., & Tzeng, C. M. (2016). Herba Cistanche (Rou Cong-Rong): One of the Best Pharmaceutical Gifts of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Frontiers in pharmacology, 7, 41. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2016.00041
- Gu, C., Yang, X., & Huang, L. (2016). Cistanches Herba: A Neuropharmacology Review. Frontiers in pharmacology, 7, 289. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2016.00289
- Ko, K. M., & Leung, H. Y. (2007). Enhancement of ATP generation capacity, antioxidant activity and immunomodulatory activities by Chinese Yang and Yin tonifying herbs. Chinese medicine, 2, 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/1749-8546-2-3
- Choi, J. G., Moon, M., Jeong, H. U., Kim, M. C., Kim, S. Y., & Oh, M. S. (2011). Cistanches Herba enhances learning and memory by inducing nerve growth factor. Behavioural brain research, 216(2), 652–658. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2010.09.008
- Lei, H., Wang, X., Zhang, Y., Cheng, T., Mi, R., Xu, X., Zu, X., & Zhang, W. (2020). Herba Cistanche (Rou Cong Rong): A Review of Its Phytochemistry and Pharmacology. Chemical & pharmaceutical bulletin, 68(8), 694–712. https://doi.org/10.1248/cpb.c20-00057