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Happy and healthy woman taking cistanche for brain health

Cistanche Promotes Overall Healthy Aging

Cistanche, the ancient Chinese herb, has been shown in animal studies to provide neuroprotective and immunomodulatory properties.

Scientifically reviewed by: Gary Gonzalez, MD. Written by: Laurie Mathena.

Cistanche is a medicinal herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to support many different functions, including brain health.1-3

More recently, scientists have identified Cistanche's potential for fighting cancer, reversing bone loss, and even boosting lifespan.

Together, this research adds to the growing body of evidence that oral intake of Cistanche could promote healthier aging.4-6

Optimizing Immune Function

Maintaining healthy immune function is one of the best ways to enhance health and longevity.7

Immune function begins to malfunction as we age. Called immune senescence, this dysfunction increases the risk of infections and cancer, while also reducing the effectiveness of vaccines.8

One prime cause of the immune dysfunction suffered by the elderly is a marked decrease in naïve T cells9-11 and functional natural killer cells,11,12 along with an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines.11

In human cell and animal studies, Cistanche has been shown to target these aspects of immune senescence:4,13

  • It increased naïve T cells and natural killer (NK) cells, and
  • Decreased memory T cells and the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin 6.

An animal study demonstrated that injection of a Cistanche extract along with a seasonal influenza vaccine helped improve the immune response to the vaccines. The addition of the Cistanche extract resulted in more rapid antibody production and more effective T-cell response to the flu antigens.14

This indicates that Cistanche extract has the potential to increase the immune response to an influenza vaccine.

Finally, there's evidence from preclinical studies that Cistanche may have anti-inflammatory activity15 that could support proper immune system function.6,13

Potent Cognitive Protection

While Cistanche has been studied in multiple preclinical settings for its potential immune health benefits, a human study revealed that it could be an unsung hero for brain health as well.

In a placebo-controlled pilot study, 26 men and women with moderate Alzheimer's disease were randomized to three groups. Two treatment groups received either Cistanche extract capsules or Donepezil (prescription medication to improve cognition in Alzheimer's patients), the third group received a placebo. The Cistanche treatment group, took 300 mg of Cistanche three times daily for nearly a year.16

Compared to the untreated group, those taking Cistanche had significantly lower levels of certain inflammatory factors in the fluid surrounding their brain and spinal cord.

Cistanche also appeared to protect the brain from shrinkage.

In the untreated subjects, hippocampus volume shrank by 4.2%. This is concerning, since this area of the brain plays a key role in cognition, memory, and learning.

The Cistanche group, on the other hand, had no change in the volume of their hippocampus.

Consistent with these findings, the Cistanche group performed significantly better on cognitive tests at the end of the study.16

These benefits could be due in part to a beneficial polyphenol in Cistanche called echinacoside.13,17 In a rat model of Alzheimer's, echinacoside and other bioactive components of Cistanche were found to pass through the blood-brain barrier.2

There, Cistanche's anti-inflammatory activity helps protect against the damaging effects of neuroinflammation.18

Cancer-Fighting Potential

Preclinical research suggests Cistanche has activity against numerous types of cancer. Studies have demonstrated that Cistanche:

  • Inhibits growth of tumor cells in breast cancer,19
  • Inhibits growth of colorectal cancer cells,13 and
  • Induces apoptosis and cell cycle arrest in esophageal cancer cells.20

In hepatocellular carcinoma, the most common type of liver cancer, a mouse study showed that Cistanche increased levels of cancer-fighting CD8+ T cells, inhibited the growth of liver cancer cells, and greatly improved the rodents' survival rate.21 Another rat study showed beneficial effects of Cistanche for hepatocellular carcinoma by inhibiting cancer cell growth in a dose-dependent manner.22

In an impressive lab study, Cistanche inhibited the growth of colon cancer cells by 60% within just 72 hours of treatment. This included primary and metastatic colon cancer cells.23

Longevity Effects

Cistanche has been shown to significantly boost lifespan in fruit flies and roundworms. Scientists use these species because their short lifespan allows them to quickly test lifespan effects of a compound.

In one study, when adult fruit flies were given Cistanche extract for 20 days, it extended their average lifespan by as much as 18.9%.5

In another study, the echinacoside found in Cistanche increased the average lifespan of roundworms by 13.64%, compared to an untreated group.24

Cistanche has also been shown to boost the secretion of growth hormone in rat pituitary cells. This could impact lifespan since growth hormone declines with age.25

Latest Studies

Research continues to reveal new and diverse benefits of Cistanche. In just the past six years alone, animal studies and preclinical research studies have revealed Cistanche's potential ability to:

  • Reverse bone loss and improve bone density,6,13,26 
  • Improve insulin resistance and promote healthy blood sugar levels,6
  • Treat or prevent depression,27
  • Lower cholesterol,6
  • Combat physical fatigue,3,6,13,28
  • Support reproductive health,6,13,28
  • Alleviate constipation,6,13,28 and
  • Reduce the severity of cataracts.6,13,28


Extracts of the herb Cistanche contain bioactive compounds that could support immune function, protect brain health, help fight cancer, reverse bone loss, and more.

Exciting studies also show the potential of Cistanche to impact longevity factors and increase lifespan.

Together, this research adds to the growing body of evidence that oral intake of Cistanche may promote healthier aging.

If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension Wellness Specialist at 1-866-864-3027.


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