Cistanche Benefits, Nutrition, And Side Effects

Cistanche Benefits, Nutrition, And Side Effects

Cistanche, also known as “Desert Ginseng,” is a parasitic plant native to arid regions of Asia, traditionally used in Chinese medicine for centuries. With the nickname suggesting vitality and well-being, the plant has piqued scientific interest, prompting studies into its potential health benefits. In this article, we merge traditional wisdom with scientific findings to explore the promising aspects and benefits of Cistanche plant.

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    About Cistanche

    Cistanche, also known as Rou Cong Rong in Chinese, is a unique plant that flourishes in hot, arid deserts. Embedded in Chinese medicine, Cistanche has been revered for its potential to enhance vitality and overall well-being. Recognizing its adaptogenic properties, traditional practitioners coined the term “Desert Ginseng” to acknowledge its contribution to holistic health [1].

    People have relied on Desert Ginseng for generations to address various health issues, including weak kidneys, impotence, infertility, and age-related concerns like heavy periods and constipation. These desert herbs are indeed nature’s gift for overall well-being!

    Cistanche deserticola and Cistanche tubulosa are the two primary species of Cistanche used in herbal supplements and extracts. While they have slight differences in their chemical makeup, they are generally similar and can be used interchangeably. Cistanche tubulosa is more readily available as a supplement compared to Cistanche deserticola.

    Cistanche, also known as Rou Cong Rong in Chinese

    Cistanche Nutrition

    The Cistanche plant is a treasure trove of nutrients, boasting various chemical constituents. This plant is brimming with essential compounds, from volatile oils to non-volatile phenylethanoid glycosides (PhGs), iridoids, lignans, alditols, and oligosaccharides. It also contains vital vitamins, such as vitamins A and C, alongside cholesterol and polysaccharides [2].

    Table 1. The content of general nutrients and trace elements in Cistanche

    Nutrient Content (per 100 g of original fruit)
    Moisture (g) 7.16
    Fat (mg) 12
    Cholesterol (µg) 102
    Ash (g) 0.24
    Dietary fiber (g) 0.19
    Reducing sugar (mg) 7.34
    Total acid (g) 1.56
    Element Content (µg/g original fruit)
    K 7.60 × 10^4
    Na 1.14 × 10^5
    Ca 3.63 × 10^4
    Fe 1.05 × 10^4
    Mg 9.09 × 10^3
    Mn 2.02 × 10^2
    Zn 1.07 × 10^2

    Phenylethanoid Glycosides

    Phenylethanoid Glycosides take center stage in Cistanche’s nutritional lineup, showcasing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Their potential in combating oxidative stress and inflammation contributes to the plant’s health-promoting effects [3].


    Cistanche houses complex sugars known as polysaccharides, wielding immunomodulatory and adaptogenic effects. These compounds may enhance the body’s resilience to stress, showcasing Cistanche’s adaptogenic potential.

    Additional Bioactive Compounds

    Beyond the spotlighted compounds, Cistanche may harbor alkaloids, saponins, and amino acids, each carrying potential health benefits that merit further exploration. These constituents add layers of complexity to Cistanche’s nutritional composition [4].

    Cistanche medicinal flower

    Cistanche Benefits

    Pharmacological research reveals a myriad of benefits associated with extracts from Cistanche plants. These include alleviating kidney deficiency and senile constipation, improving cognitive function, combating Alzheimer’s disease, boosting immunity, and even combating aging and fatigue. It’s truly a powerhouse of wellness waiting to be explored. Some of the most significant health benefits of Cistanche are as follows:

    Antioxidant And Anti-Inflammatory Properties

    Studies suggest that Cistanche contains compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, offering potential benefits in addressing chronic inflammation and age-related diseases.

    Additionally, modern research has revealed that Cistanche’s phenylethanoid glycosides (CTPG) possess anti-tumor effects and have shown promise in combating various types of cancer cells. This highlights the potential of Cistanche not only as a source of antioxidants but also as a natural remedy with anti-cancer properties [5].

    Improved Energy And Fatigue Reduction

    Animal studies hint at Cistanche’s ability to enhance energy levels and combat fatigue, potentially influencing energy metabolism and reducing oxidative stress. Cistanche has been historically associated with promoting vitality and overall well-being, suggesting potential adaptogenic properties that could enhance stamina. While research in this area is limited, some studies propose adaptogenic effects that might contribute to improved energy levels and reduced fatigue [6, 7].

    Cistanche tubulosa

    Potential Reproductive Health Benefits

    Traditional use for fertility aligns with early research suggesting improvements in sperm quality and function in animals. However, human studies are lacking [8].

    Bone Health Support

    Some studies propose that Cistanche may support bone health by inhibiting bone breakdown and stimulating bone formation. Nevertheless, further research is needed to confirm these findings [9, 10].

    Improved Brain Function

    When we think about learning and memory, it’s not just a simple process – there are three levels of mechanisms at play. Firstly, there’s the ability to acquire memory, which is essentially our learning ability. Then, there’s the ability to store that memory, known as consolidation. And finally, there’s the ability to recall the information we’ve memorized when needed. 

    What’s fascinating is that research has shown that Cistanche extract can significantly impact all three of these mechanisms. This process prevents brain neuron apoptosis, which is the death of brain cells, by regulating the expression of specific factors associated with cell death and factors that promote brain cells’ growth and vitality.

    Cistanche not only helps us learn better but also ensures that we can retain and recall that information more effectively, making it a promising ally in the quest for improved cognitive function [11].

    Immune-Boost Effect

    Cistanche doesn’t just stop at being a traditional remedy—it’s also a powerhouse when it comes to boosting the immune system. This herb has been found to have far-reaching effects on various aspects of our body’s immune response, from the organs involved in immunity to the cells and factors that play a crucial role in fighting off infections and diseases.

    Interestingly, in certain regions of China and Japan known for their longevity, daily consumption of Cistanche is believed to be a key factor contributing to the residents’ extended lifespans. And it’s not just about living longer—studies have shown that Cistanche extract can kick our immune cells into gear, activating them to better defend against threats like cancer cells.

    With its ability to enhance our body’s natural defense mechanisms, Cistanche proves to be a valuable addition to our daily wellness routine, potentially offering protection against a range of illnesses and contributing to overall longevity and vitality [1].


    Treatment Of Intestinal Dysfunction

    Cistanche has a long history in Traditional Chinese Medicine as a remedy for chronic constipation and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Studies have shown that consuming Cistanche extract can help shorten the time it takes for bowel movements and increase the frequency of bowel movements. It also improves the movement of the small intestine and makes stools heavier, which can make it easier to pass them. This suggests that Cistanche could be a helpful natural solution for improving digestive health and easing constipation [12].

    Neuroprotective Activity

    Cistanche’s ability to protect the nervous system makes it an excellent option for treating neurological conditions, particularly Parkinson’s disease. Its neuroprotective properties help safeguard brain cells from damage, which is crucial in managing conditions like Parkinson’s. This suggests that Cistanche could offer promising therapeutic benefits for individuals affected by neurological disorders, providing hope for improved quality of life and symptom management [13].


    In an article published in Frontiers in Pharmacology, lesser-known benefits of Cistanche are explored, shedding light on its potential antidepressant-like effects. Specifically, researchers have found that extracts from Cistanche can help alleviate symptoms of depression by restoring balance to the gut microbiota. 

    Microbiota refers to the community of microorganisms that live in and on our bodies, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other tiny organisms. These microorganisms play a crucial role in various aspects of our health, including digestion, immune function, metabolism, and even mental health.

    This fascinating discovery suggests that Cistanche may offer a natural approach to managing depression by targeting the health of our gut bacteria, highlighting the interconnectedness of our gut and mental well-being.

    Cistanche flower

    Cistanche Flower

    Cistanche Benefits For Female

    Cistanche has been traditionally used for potential health benefits for women’s health. However, it is crucial to approach this information with caution and a critical eye. The current evidence regarding its specific benefits for women is limited and requires further research before drawing definitive conclusions.

    Hormonal Regulation

    Traditional uses of Cistanche suggest potential benefits for hormonal imbalances in women. However, the scientific evidence behind these claims is scarce and inconclusive. Research on specific hormonal conditions like Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or menopausal symptoms is not available [14].

    Bone Health

    Chinese herbal medicine Cistanche deserticola could control bone metabolism by promoting osteoblast activity and inhibiting osteoclast activity with low poisonousness and contrary reactions. So, it has therapeutic potential for postmenopausal osteoporosis [15].

    Cistanche Benefits For Male

    Cistanche has a longstanding tradition in Chinese medicine, with historical uses encompassing various aspects of men’s health. While traditional wisdom extols its virtues, it is essential to consider the information with discernment, considering the current limitations in scientific evidence. Here is a comprehensive exploration of what we currently know about the potential benefits of Cistanche for men, incorporating both traditional beliefs and emerging research.

    Prostate Health Support

    Certain compounds in Cistanche are believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, contributing to overall prostate health. While preliminary, research suggests potential benefits for prostate health, emphasizing the need for further exploration and human studies [16].

    Potential Libido Boost

    Traditional Chinese medicine has often linked Cistanche to fertility and reproductive health. Limited research hints at a positive impact on reproductive health in animal models, opening avenues for future studies on its potential libido-enhancing effects in men [17].

    Cistanche tubulosa benefits

    Cistanche Side-Effects

    Cistanche, revered for centuries and considered generally safe, presents users with both benefits and potential side effects. To ensure informed use, let’s explore possible side-effects of Cistanche comprehensively [18, 19]:

    Gastrointestinal Issues

    Commonly reported side effects of cistanche include mild digestive problems such as diarrhea, stomach upset, and nausea, particularly at higher doses or in those with sensitive stomachs. Managing dosage and opting for gradual increases can mitigate these effects. Individuals prone to digestive sensitivity should be cautious.


    Some users may experience headaches after Cistanche consumption, although the exact cause remains unclear.  Monitoring individual responses and adjusting dosage may help manage or prevent headaches.


    Rare cases report dizziness, especially at elevated doses. Individuals experiencing dizziness may consider lowering the dosage or seeking guidance from healthcare professionals.

    Hormonal Changes

    Cistanche’s potential hormonal effects warrant caution, especially for individuals with pre-existing hormonal conditions. Those with conditions like endometriosis or hormone-sensitive cancers should avoid Cistanche unless advised by healthcare professionals.

    Allergic Reactions

    Although rare, allergic reactions like rashes, difficulty breathing, or swelling can occur. Immediate discontinuation and seeking medical attention are advised in the presence of allergic reactions.

    Interactions with Medications

    Cistanche may interact with medications, potentially affecting efficacy or causing adverse reactions. Before using Cistanche, disclose all medications to healthcare professionals to ensure safety and minimize potential interactions.

    Cistanche side-effects

    Important Considerations

    According to the Chinese Pharmacopoeia 2010, Cistanche dried stem is recommended for medicinal use at doses ranging from 6 to 9 grams per day for humans, with no reported adverse effects. When this dosage is adjusted based on individual body weight, it equates to a relatively large amount, exceeding 10 grams. However, it’s important to note that while this recommended dose may seem high, it actually indicates a strong safety profile for Cistanche, suggesting that adverse effects are unlikely, even at lower, more common dosages.

    Dosage And Quality

    The risk of side effects rises with higher doses and lower-quality products. Adhering to recommended dosages, choosing reputable brands, and consulting healthcare professionals ensure responsible usage.

    Individual Sensitivities

    Individual responses vary, necessitating a cautious approach. Starting with small doses and gradual increases allows users to assess their tolerance levels.

    Pre-Existing Conditions

    Individuals with pre-existing conditions should seek professional advice. Consulting healthcare professionals before Cistanche use ensures alignment with overall health goals.

    Pregnancy And Breastfeeding

    Insufficient safety data advises pregnant and breastfeeding women to avoid Cistanche. Prioritizing safety and consultation with healthcare professionals is vital during these periods.

    desert hyacinth (Cistanche tubulosa)

    How To Eat Or Use Cistanche?

    Cistanche, often hailed as the “Desert Ginseng,” offers a range of potential benefits, and understanding how to incorporate it into your routine is key. Below is a guide on how to eat or use Cistanche for optimal results [20]:

    Powder Form

    Add to Smoothies: Blend a recommended dosage of Cistanche powder into your favorite smoothies for a nutritious kick.

    Mix with Beverages: Stir the powder into juices, herbal teas, or even water for a convenient daily intake.

    Combine with Foods: Sprinkle Cistanche powder onto yogurt, cereals, or other dishes for a subtle addition.

    Capsules or Tablets

    With Meals: Take Cistanche capsules or tablets with meals, preferably at the same time each day for consistency.

    Water Intake: Swallow the capsules or tablets with ample water to ensure smooth ingestion.

    Tinctures or Extracts

    Sublingual Consumption: Place the recommended number of drops under your tongue for sublingual absorption.

    Mix with Beverages: Dilute the tincture or extract in water or juice for flavored consumption.

    Whole Herb

    Herbal Tea: Infuse dried Cistanche herbs in hot water to create a soothing herbal tea.

    Cooking: Include Cistanche in soups, stews, or broths during the cooking process.

    How To Eat Cistanche?


    The majority of studies exploring Cistanche benefits for men have been conducted in animals or in vitro. Robust human studies are imperative to validate its effectiveness and safety for specific men’s health conditions.

    Quality Matters: Opt for high-quality Cistanche products from reputable sources to ensure purity and potency.

    Consistency is Key: Whether in powder, capsule, tincture, or whole herb form, maintaining a consistent intake helps maximize potential benefits.


    Promising findings mark Cistanche’s journey from traditional medicine to scientific exploration. Cistanche plant offers a range of health benefits, including antioxidant effects, energy enhancement, support for reproductive health, immune-boosting properties, potential benefits for Parkinson’s disease, anti-depressant effects, improvement of digestive health, and support for bone health, all of which present promising prospects However, responsible use is paramount. As we await more robust human studies, consulting with healthcare professionals ensures informed decisions, maximizing the potential benefits of this intriguing “Desert Ginseng.”

    Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult with a healthcare professional before consuming Cistanche or any other herbal supplement.

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