What is Gynostemma pentaphyllum?
Gynostemma pentaphyllum (Southern Ginseng) is an herb attributed with having ginseng status. Although it’s not botanically related to Panax ginseng or other ginsengs, Gynostemma pentaphyllum contains some of the same compounds (e.g., ginsenosides). It also contains other ginseng-like saponins. Collectively, the ginsenosides and other ginseng-like saponins are called gypenosides. They are the main active principle and the basis for standardization of this herbal adaptogen.
Until fairly recently Gynostemma pentaphyllum was used primarily in mountainous regions of southern China and northern Vietnam. It’s been described as the "immortality herb,” because people within Guizhou Province, where herbal teas made from the plant are consumed regularly, are said to have a history of unusual longevity.
It’s been described as the "immortality herb,” because people within Guizhou Province, where herbal teas made from the plant are consumed regularly, are said to have a history of unusual longevity.
Benefits of Gynostemma pentaphyllum
Gynostemma pentaphyllum was on our initial list of ingredients to research for possible inclusion in Qualia Life because of its growing reputation for activating AMPK, a molecule that acts as a “metabolic master switch” of cellular energy (i.e., ATP). AMPK was important to us because it senses and responds to low ATP levels. When AMPK is activated, it turns up processes in cells and mitochondria that enhance conversion of food into ATP. This helps restore ATP levels.
Restoring ATP is important. Being able to make more if it’s needed in the future might be even more important. The science of complex adaptive systems informs us that living systems are experts at learning and adapting: they anticipate and prepare for the future. AMPK is part of the adaptive response to circumstances that deplete ATP, like intense exercise. In addition to restoring ATP, AMPK adjusts gene expression in ways that result in increased capacity to make more cellular energy in the future. It’s this adaptive response that is why it’s so important for supporting healthy aging and cellular (and mitochondrial) function.
We read the research on Gynostemma pentaphyllum and AMPK; and then we kept reading about this herb. What did we find? It does a lot more than simply activate AMPK. Some of the responses it has produced included promoting antioxidant defenses, upregulating the sirtuin cell adaptational response, stimulating mitochondrial energy production (Krebs cycle, OXPHOS), enhancing insulin signaling, and acting as neuroprotective support. We uncovered that feeding Gynostemma to animals has shifted the gut microbiota in ways that have been associated with better shape and weight, acting a bit like a prebiotic. And, while it did this, not surprisingly, it produced a healthier metabolism. Lastly, we found a study where it showed a synergistic response with a keystone ingredient in the formulation, grape extract.*
The bottom line is that we went looking for information on one thing, but found much more to like about Gynostemma pentaphyllum than we expected. We opted for an extract standardized for gypenosides because these (1) are thought to be responsible for much of the plants functional benefits, (2) have been the focus of the majority of the research, and (3) show additive effects with grape seed extract.
We consider both Gynostemma pentaphyllum and its gypenosides to be adaptogenic, and to follow dosing principles that would generally apply to herbal adaptogens. These include principles like there being a “just right” range which produced the most favorable responses and the importance of periodically taking time off to support long-term adaptation.
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