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Cistanches Herba: A Neuropharmacology Review Professional

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Cistanches Herba: A Neuropharmacology Review

Cistanche extract products (family Orobanchaceae), commonly known as “desert ginseng” or Rou Cong Rong, is a global genus and commonly used for its neuroprotective, immunomodulatory, anti-oxidative, kidney impotence, laxative, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-tumor effects in traditional herbal formulations in North Africa, Arabic, and Asian countries. The major bioactive compound present in this plant is phenylethanoid glycosides. In recent years, there has been great important in scientific investigation of the neuropharmacological effects of the bioactive compounds. The in vitro and in vivo studies suggests these compounds demonstrate neuropharmacological activities against a wide range of complex nervous system diseases which occurs through different mechanisms include improving immunity function and kidney aging, anti-lipid peroxidation, scavenging free radical, inducing the activation of caspase-3 and caspase-8. This review aims to summaries the various neuropharmacological effects and mechanisms of Cistanches Herba extracts and related compounds, including its efficacy as a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease with reference to the published literature. Which provides guidance for further research on the clinical application of Cistanches Herba.


Cistanches Herba, the dried stem of Cistanches species Cistanche deserticola Y.C.Ma (Figure 1) and Cistanche raw materials, is recorded in the Chinese Pharmacopeia (Committee, 2015). Other non-official species, such as C. sinensis Beck and C. salsa (C. A. Mey) Beck, are also used as Cistanches Herba in certain regions of China due to resource shortage. Cistanches Herba is one of the most valuable herbal drugs in traditional Chinese medicine, which supplements kidney functions, boosts the essence of blood, and moistens the large intestines to free stool (Medicine, 2005). Therefore, it is called “desert ginseng” in China because of the excellent medicinal functions and nourishing effects (Wang et al., 2012). Cistanches Herba, a global genus of holoparasitic desert plant, which is primarily endemic in North Africa, Arabic, and Asian countries (Nan et al., 2013). The primary producing areas of Cistanches Herba in China are Inner Mongolia and the provinces of Xinjiang, Gansu and Qinghai.

Several chemical groups were isolated from Cistanches Herba, including PhGs (Figure 1), lignans, iridoids, and polysaccharides (Chen et al., 2013). Pharmacological studies demonstrated that Cistanches Herba exhibits neuroprotective, kidney impotence, laxative, anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, immunomodulatory, anti-oxidative, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-tumor effects (Hu and Feng, 2012). And our previous studies have distinguished Cistanches Herba from different geographic origins using a combination of DNA barcoding and UPLC-Q-TOF/MS technology.

The Consumer Price Indexdatabase of China reports that 58 drugs from 12 different groups, including glycosides of Cistanche capsules and compound Cistanche Yizhicapsules, are authorized for the treatment of AD. Cistanches Herba wine and tea are produced in Alashan, Inner Mongolia, China, which might assist in Runchang catharsis and enhance the immune, endocrine regulation, and anti-aging systems of the body. Boschnalosides used as a therapeutic agent in Japan to treat sexual dysfunction and amnesia, and echinacoside is used in healthcare products in the United States to improve immunity (Cheng et al., 2005).

Some researchers recently focused on the neuroprotective effects of Cistanche health products, but these effects have not been studied thoroughly (Table 1). This review presents and analyzes recent developments in the neuropharmacology of Cistanches Herba and provides a reference for the further study and clinical application of this medicinal plant.