Fatigue, poor stamina, and stress intolerance. Used for adrenal support, nervous and mood disorders such as depression, mental fatigue, and poor concentration and is a traditional remedy to improve immune function in both chronic and acute infections.
Mechanism of Action
Much of medicinal actions of Eleutherococcus are credited to the eleutherosides, a group of liposoluble phenylpropanoid and lignin glycosides found in the roots and stems, including syringin (eleutheroside B) and syringaresinol (eleutheroside E),1 schisandrin, and sesamin.2 Species related to E. senticosus have also been found to contain some of the same eleutherosides.3
Eleutherosides are largely credited with the antifatigue effects of Eleutherococcus4; for example, syringin has an insulinotropic effect;5 enhances the secretion of β-endorphin from adrenal medulla; and stimulates peripheral opioid receptors, resulting in a decrease of plasma glucose in insulin-dependent diabetic rats.6 Eleutherosides have also been shown to exert antifatigue effects in a forced swimming test, lowering plasma triglycerides, lactate dehydrogenase, and blood urea nitrogen compared to controls. The lowering of lactate dehydrogenase and blood urea nitrogen suggests a decrease in muscle damage from intense physical exertion.7 Eleuthero improves stamina by enabling skeletal muscle to better use lipids and spare glycogen, thereby reducing lactic acid buildup and increasing oxygen saturation and blood glucose and free fatty acid availability in situations of heavy exertion, improving lipid utilization and boosting cardiovascular metabolism.8,9
Other active compounds include triterpenoid saponins called acanthopanaxosides10 including sessiloside, tauroside, ciwujianosides, and chiisanoside and a sesquiterpenoid saponin called oplopanone B.11 Ciwujianosides are mast cell stabilizers, reducing histamine release provoked by immunoglobulins. One study reported the antihistamine effects to be approximately 6800 times stronger than that of disodium cromoglycate at a similar dosage.12
Eleutherococcus also contains coumarins such as isofraxidin,13,14 and flavones.15 The coumarin isofraxidin, found in Eleutherococcus and other plants, is credited with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune-modulating activities. Isofraxidin inhibits cyclooxygenase expression in the lungs that regulates the production of prostaglandins16 and inhibits nuclear factor-κB (NF-κB) pathways,17 offering tissue-protective effects.
In addition, Eleutherococcus contains immune polysaccharides, a group of water-soluble, acidic, branched-chain heteroglycans compounds with high molecular weights, which show significant immune-stimulatory activities as demonstrated by granulocyte and carbon clearance tests and are noted to protect against pathogens and toxins.18 One mouse investigation showed the polysaccharide fraction to suppress tuberculosis from propagating the lungs.19 Another animal study showed the polysaccharides to inhibit tumor growth.20
The many neuroprotective and antidepressant abilities of Eleutherococcus are based on its antioxidant mechanisms, providing protection from numerous cytokines and inflammatory mediators. Eleutherococcus protects neurons from corticosterone-induced cytotoxicity and protects against lowering of natural killer cell activity seen with physical stress. Different concentrations of Eleuthero (50, 100, 200, and 400 μg/mL) significantly increase cell viability in animals and cell cultures, decreasing lactate dehydrogenase release, suppressing apoptosis of cells, attenuating intracellular Ca(2+) overloading, and up-regulating brain-derived neurotrophic factor mRNA level and cAMP response element-binding protein expression compared equal to that of a corticosterone-treated control group.21 Animal studies suggest that Eleuthero has antidepressant effects at doses of 1000 and 2000 mg/kg/day, via significant elevation in serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine levels in the brain.22,23
Eleutherococcus has fairly extensive molecular, animal, and human research demonstrating antistress, antiulcer, anticancer, antioxidant,24 anti-inflammatory,25 neuroprotective,26,27 hepatoprotective, and cardioprotective28,29 activities.
Eleutherococcus improves basic immune status and has immune-modulating effects, up- or down-regulating various cytokines as appropriate to the situation.30 A human placebo-controlled study evaluated the effects of 10 mL of Eleutherococcus tincture 3 times a day for 4 weeks on immune parameters in healthy subjects. Eleutherococcus was shown to significantly increase the number of immune-competent cells, particularly T helper lymphocytes, as well as cytotoxic and natural killer
cells.31 Eleutherococcus may impact the immune system by helping to protect the body from immunosuppressive and toxic compounds. For example, animal studies show Eleutherococcus restores macrophage and B and T lymphocyte levels when suppressed due to cadmium toxicity32; enhances survival after parathion exposure;33 and protects animals from endotoxic shock, reducing production of inflammatory mediators and NF-κB activation and preventing the infiltration of inflammatory cells into the heart, liver, and lung.34
Eleutherococcus has demonstrated supportive effects on mood and fatigue. The “central fatigue hypotheses” proposes that depression, lethargy, and poor stress tolerance correspond to declining neurotransmitter levels in the central nervous system. Eleutherococcus can mitigate the decline of serotonin and other neurotransmitters and support the levels to recover after physical stress and heavy exertion, as well as psychic stress.35 A single dose of Eleutherococcus to rats is shown to elevate noradrenaline and dopamine and their metabolites in the brain acutely.36 Eleutherococcus has been shown to restore the behavioral changes and hippocampal monoamines in sleep-deprived mice to normal levels.37 Eleutherococcus has demonstrated numerous neuroprotective properties via anti-inflammatory effects and prevents neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss, which may contribute to concentration- and memory-enhancing effects of the plant.38
Eleutherococcus has also demonstrated effects on improving stamina in exhausted patients and vitality in cancer patients,39 as well as increase exercise tolerance in trained athletes. Animal studies have shown eleutherosides to significantly alleviate both physical and mental fatigue in forced swimming tests,40 lowering the corticosterone spike compared with control animals.41 Eleutherococcus improves endurance in healthy athletes compared to placebo in a small crossover study at a dose of 800 mg/day for 8 weeks.42 Another study showed Eleutherococcus to improve exercise performance in middle-aged healthy volunteers.43 Eleutherococcus may increase rather than decrease hormonal indices of stress in athletes, a finding consistent with animal research and suggesting there to be a threshold of stress where Eleutherococcus increases cortisol responses; and when this threshold is exceeded, Eleutherococcus decreases the stress response. One clinical trial on fit endurance athletes showed Eleutherococcus to decrease the testosterone-to-cortisol ratio (increase cortisol), but in a nonsignificant trend.44
Safety in Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
There are no published studies focusing on teratogenicity of the use of Eleutherococcus during pregnancy and lactation. One rat study demonstrated Eleuthero to protect embryos from the toxic and teratogenic effects of ethanol in pregnant rats.45
Human trials have not shown adverse events or significant side effects with the use of 300 mg/day for several months’ time.46,47
This herb is generally considered safe at doses up to 800 mg/day (standardized to >1% eleutheroside content), depending on the strength of the extract and whether it is being used alone or in combination with other herbs.
Many Eleutherococcus coccus (aka Acanthopanax) species grow in Siberia, China, Korea, Japan, and the Philippines; however, E. senticosus is the most well-known and studied species. The plant is known as “Siberian ginseng” in North America, Shigoka in Japan, and Ciwujia in China where is has been widely used to invigorate qi/chi, meaning general energy and vitality. It should be noted that Eleutherococcus is not a true ginseng, but that it does share some similarities as an adaptogen and immune tonic with members of the Araliaceae such as Panax ginseng (aka Chinese or Korean ginseng).
Traditional uses for Eleutherococcus are numerous and include an emphasis for fatigue, poor stamina, and stress intolerance and also nervous and mood disorders such as depression, mental fatigue, and poor concentration. Eleutherococcus is considered a traditional remedy to treat chronic and acute infections and improve immune function and to protect against toxins including hepatotoxins, neurotoxins, and cerebral vascular inflammation. Eleutherococcus has been used to improve cardiovascular inflammation and treat ischemic disorders, hypertension, and hepatitis.
Due to its multitude of tonifying and protective actions, Eleutherococcus is considered one of the most important “adaptogenic” herbs for supporting immunity and improving resistance to stress and fatigue.48 Adaptogens are traditionally used to support health and prevent disease in both sick and healthy individuals through nonspecific effects, which neutralize various environmental and physical stressors while remaining relatively safe and free of side effects.
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2 Nat Prod Res. 2010;24(16):1523–7. A new 3,4-seco-lupane-type triterpenoid from the pulp of Acanthopanax senticosus (Rupr. et Maxim) Harms. Yan ZW, Liu JP, Lu D, et al.
3 J AOAC Int. 2011;94(5):1422–6. Eleutherosides in aerial parts of Eleutherococcus species cultivated in Poland. Załuski D, Smolarz HD, Szpilewska M.
4 Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2008;33(23):2800–2. Determination of eleutheroside B in antifatigue fraction of Acanthopanax senticosus by HPLC. Li C, Wang XY, Hu XW, et al.
5 Neurosci Lett. 2008;445(1):113–6. Role of sympathetic tone in the loss of syringin-induced plasma glucose lowering action in conscious Wistar rats. Niu HS, Hsu FL, Liu IM.
6 Horm Metab Res. 2007;39(12):894–8. Increase of beta-endorphin secretion by syringin, an active principle of Eleutherococcus senticosus, to produce antihyperglycemic action in type 1-like diabetic rats. Niu HS, Hsu FL, Liu IM, et al.
7 Phytother Res. 2011;25(6):940–3. Antifatigue activity of the liposoluble fraction from Acanthopanax senticosus. Huang LZ, Huang BK, Liang J, et al.
8 Chin J Physiol. 2010;53(2):105–11. The effect of eight weeks of supplementation with Eleutherococcus senticosus on endurance capacity and metabolism in human. Kuo J, Chen KW, Cheng IS, et al.
9 Wei Sheng Yan Jiu. 1998;27(6):421–4. Effect of Ciwujia (Radix Acanthopanacis senticosus) preparation on exercise performance under constant endurance load for elderly. Wu Y, Wang X, Li M, et al.
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12 J Pharm Sci. 1992;81(7):661–2. Ciwujianosides D1 and C1: Powerful inhibitors of histamine release induced by anti-immunoglobulin E from rat peritoneal mast cells. Umeyama A, Shoji N, Takei M, et al.
13 Molecules. 2012;17(7):7903–13. Simultaneous quantification of five bioactive components of Acanthopanax senticosus and its extract by ultra performance liquid chromatography with electrospray ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Liu SP, An JT, Wang R, et al.
14 Biol Pharm Bull. 2010;33(10):1716–22. Isofraxidin, a coumarin component from Acanthopanax senticosus, inhibits matrix metalloproteinase-7 expression and cell invasion of human hepatoma cells. Yamazaki T, Tokiwa T.
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18 Arzneimittelforschung. 1985;35(7):1069–75. Immunostimulating action of polysaccharides (heteroglycans) from higher plants. Wagner H, Proksch A, Riess-Maurer I, et al.
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20 Zhonghua Zhong Liu Za Zhi. 1989;11(5):338–40. Immunoregulatory effect of polysaccharide of Acanthopanax senticosus (PAS). I. Immunological mechanism of PAS against cancer. Xie SS.
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25 Toxicol In Vitro. 2007;21(8):1530–7. (+)-Syringaresinol-di-O-beta-D-glucoside, a phenolic compound from Acanthopanax senticosus Harms, suppresses proinflammatory mediators in SW982 human synovial sarcoma cells by inhibiting activating protein-1 and/or nuclear factor-kappaB activities. Yamazaki T, Shimosaka S, Sasaki H, et al.
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28 Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2009;34(19):2489–93. Acanthopanax senticosus saponins ameliorates oxidative damage induced by hydrogen peroxide in neonatal rat cardiomyocytes. Liang Q, Qu S, Yu X, et al.
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30 Phytother Res. 2001;15(3):268–70. The synthesis of Rantes, G-CSF, IL-4, IL-5, IL-6, IL-12 and IL-13 in human whole-blood cultures is modulated by an extract from Eleutherococcus senticosus L. roots. Schmolz MW, Sacher F, Aicher B.
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