No doctor can deny the efficacy of prescription drugs that anyone can buy. However, there has been an interesting catching up in the popularity between those tiny bottles and boxes in the shelves behind the desk that separates the buyer and the pharmacist to those packs with fancy Chinese letters and fancy names in the general or produce section of the store. Although it may not be everyone’s first choice, a lot of people have developed a growing interest in using alternative and herbal medicines as their solution to their everyday health concerns and general wellness due to this growing demand, for so-called ‘miracle herbs.’ One such herb is the group of plants called Cistanche.
Cistanche is the general term used to refer to a genus of parasitic desert plants found around the world, although it became very popular as a medicine and food in China and the Middle East. Among the popular varieties of the genus include the C. Deserticola, the C. Salsa and the C. Tubulosa, which are found across Eastern Asia, particularly in the Taklamakan desert of China.
The plants are very popular in Chinese medicine for their ability to cure and prevent multiple types of ailments including fatigue, erectile dysfunction and Alzheimer’s disease by slowing down the process of apoptosis, or the death of cells; it is also known to improve the general condition of the individual by:
(1) Enhancing neural activity in the brain, thus preventing memory loss and improving an individual’s learning capabilities;
(2) Lowering the level of cholesterol in the bloodstream by quickly breaking down fatty acids;
(3) Preventing or slowing down aging; and
(4) As an aid to improve fertility and the sexual health of its users by increasing their hormone levels.
With the growing demand for the plant, some of the types of Cistanche has been placed on the watch list of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species or CITES, particularly its most popular variety, C desertiloca, although there have been advancements in the establishment of reserves dedicated to the growth of this particular species as well as other rare types of plants. This is exactly why there has been a shift of focus in study and use to its more common relative, C. Tubulosa.
The variety of plants is used extensively in Chinese medicine and is often cited in the Chinese book of traditional medicine known as the Shennong Bencao Jing. Even if it may be hundreds of years old, studies have been conducted that validates the claims of the old Chinese manuscript, and since then have become extremely popular in the world of pharmaceuticals and the development of non-pharmaceutical treatment, often in the form of tablets and emulsions that contain the plant’s extract.
Thanks to tradition, miracle plants such as the C. deserticola and the Cistanche Tubulosa have been extensively studied under the microscope and are currently treating millions of people around the world for their many medical issues. An herb, which became known as an antiquated type of Viagra, now has come its way to solve more dire issues such as cholesterol levels and even Alzheimer’s disease. And who would have thought it would come from what you may call a parasite?