(NaturalNews) Gynostemma pentaphyllum or Jiaogulan is a member of the cucumber family and grows wild in Southern China where it is popular for its sweet taste and the belief that it contributes to longevity. It is an adaptogen (one of those special plant based substances which help increase the body's resistance to stress by gently restoring its balance) and an antioxidant. It also contains amino acids, vitamins and trace minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, and zinc. Often referred to as "magic grass" gynostemma is a well known folk remedy. However, in recent years it has also been the subject of scientific studies which support its effectiveness for a variety of different purposes especially cardiovascular health.
Scientists first studied gynostemma because its taste made it a candidate for a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners. In the process they discovered it had over 100 different saponins, the same chemical which is the active ingredient in ginseng and gives cholesterol lowering qualities to grapes and red wine. While some of the saponins are similar to those found in ginseng, gynostemma has nearly four times as many of them making it potentially a much more powerful herb.
When it comes to cardiovascular health, a big plus for gynostemma is that it appears to reduce both cholesterol and triglycerides. It works in part by binding to cholesterol and preventing it from being absorbed by the body. Studies show that it also helps the body make carbohydrates available to the muscles directly as a source of energy, rather than first converting them to triglycerides and storing them as fat. In addition, it may help increase HDL cholesterol while lowering the LDL variety. For example, in a Japanese study of gynostemma 30 participants experienced as much as an 85% reduction in LDL cholesterol.
Gynostemma may support the heart in other ways as well. For example, it seems to strengthen the heart helping it beat more powerfully. A Chinese study of 220 athletes found that it helped increase cardiac efficiency without a concurrent increase in the heart rate or blood pressure. Participating athletes were able to produce more blood flow and send more oxygen to their muscles, without forcing their hearts to work harder, thus boosting their endurance.
People with elevated blood pressure or those who are prone to arteriosclerosis may also benefit from gynostemma. A Vanderbilt University study found one of its saponins facilitated the release of nitric oxide by the blood vessels; this in turn caused them to relax permitting increased blood flow. In addition, studies show it has blood thinning properties, reducing the aggregation of blood platelets and ameliorating the build up of plaque. For this reason, if you take blood thinners, it is recommended that you first consult your doctor before trying gynostemma.
Gynostemma also benefits heart health by improving metabolism and facilitating weight loss when it is used in conjunction with exercise and healthier diets. Today it is popular as part of weight loss programs, especially in Asia. However its adaptogenic qualities mean it can also be helpful for people who are too thin and want to gain weight as well as for athletes wanting to put on muscle.
While it is available in capsule form, the traditional way to enjoy gynostemma is to sip it as a tea. It has a slightly sweet, appealing taste and has long been a part of the daily ritual of people of southern China who refer to it as the "immortality herb."
Jiaogulan: The Herb that Makes Stress Roll Right Off You, as published in Insiders Health, November, 2008, www.insidershealth.com
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