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Gynostemma: Fat Loss to Fabulous Figure?

Gynostemma pentaphyllum is a herb that is found in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea Japan, India, Bangladesh, and New Guinea[1]. Gynostemma has 19 species but Gynostemma pentaphyllum is the most popular species of this genus, and is also known as “Jiao-Gu-Lan”. It has a long history and has been used as an edible plant in China as outlined in the book Herbs for Famine, published during the Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644 AD)[2].

The History of Gynostemma

Amazingly, the first officially recorded medicinal use of Gynostemma can be found in Compendium of Materia Medica by a famous Chinese herbalist, Li Shi-Zhen (in 1578). It was used to treat fluid retention, sore throats, and trauma. Of course, Gynostemma is famous these days for fat loss, but in the 16th century, we can assume obesity wasn’t as widespread as it is today.

The history of the herb comes predominantly from its use in South Central China. Here it was used for all sorts of conditions, which highlights the overall beneficial effects of this herb for multiple organs and body systems. Specifically, its main uses included: the relief of heart palpitation, shortness of breath, chest congestion, tingling sensation in the limbs, dizziness, headache, forgetfulness, tinnitus, spontaneous perspiration, general weakness, and swelling of the abdomen[3].

The Biochemistry of Gynostemma – Sirtuin 1 (SIRT1) activation[4]

SIRT1 is a key regulator of metabolism in the body. Think of SIRT1 as a conductor of a big band, and all the instruments are directed by this conductor. If you have a lame conductor, the music sounds pretty bad. But if you can improve the conductor of the band so they are on time and ramp the band up to perform, then the music is spot on. Think of the instruments in the band as the systems in the body and SIRT1 as being the conductor. Gynostemma makes sure the conductor does their job.

SIRT1 Activates Antioxidants in the Body

SIRT1 guards against oxidative stress by activating peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-gamma coactivator via deacetylation, and by regulating transcription of factors such as the nuclear receptor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-alpha, nuclear respiratory factor, and mitochondrial transcription factor A, which are all required to protect us against oxidative stress[5]. Again, it seems that SIRT1 conducts the antioxidant defences of the body.

Weight Regulation using Gynostemma

One of the ‘holy grails’ of ingredients that people are looking for is something that they can take that makes them thin. Such an ingredient doesn’t exist. I am sorry to burst your bubble but ‘The Nutty Professor’ was just a fictional movie and there is no way to take a magical pill and you will be thin! Having said that, many ingredients have been shown to help with fat loss, along with a healthy diet and exercise. One such ingredient is Gynostemma.

In one study, mice were fed a terrible diet, with the sole purpose of making them fat. Yep, rats can get fat especially if they eat bad food (like humans). The good thing about studies on rats is that we can completely control how much they eat and exactly how much they exercise. Along with the terrible diet, some of these rats were supplemented with Gynostemma, but other than that, they were treated identically to the other rats. The rats treated with Gynostemma saw a reduction in body weight, reduced fat mass, and a reduction in white adipose tissue weight.  Then the rats that continued to eat badly, without the Gynostemma, continued to put on weight.

 

Figure 1. Gynostemma regulates SIRT1, which has wide-ranging positive effects on appetite, sleep, inflammation, and fat storage. [7,8]

Human Fat Loss with Gynostemma

Unlike in the 16th century when Gynostemma was first being used in China, obesity is now one of the biggest killers in the Western world. Researchers are desperately looking for drugs and supplements that people can take to help individuals lose weight. Whilst we all know a healthy diet, plus an appropriate exercise program, is key for healthy body weight, the search for supplements that aid this process continues as individuals seek help for losing weight.

In one double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study, 117 adult men and women were given either Gynostemma or a placebo. They didn’t just weigh these participants; they were assessed using x-ray technology to measure their fat mass and their fat distribution. They gave the participants Gynostemma or a placebo for 16 weeks. At the end of the 16 weeks, the lucky ones that received the Gynostemma displayed a reduction in body fat, when compared to the placebo group. But the good news doesn’t stop there. The men in the group that took the Gynostemma also had their dangerous visceral fat levels reduced, whereas in women the subcutaneous levels (gynoid fat) levels were reduced[9].

In another earlier randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, overweight participants were either given Gynostemma or a placebo. The trial was conducted over 12 weeks. Again, for the lucky ones taking Gynostemma, they displayed lowered total abdominal fat area, body weight, body fat mass, body fat percentage, and body mass index. All great results if you are trying to lose weight. On another positive note, there were no reported adverse effects from taking the herb, which is what you would expect from a herb that has been consumed by millions for centuries[10].

 

The Take-Home Message

If you want to lose weight, eat well and exercise. There is no way around this. Let food be your medicine and undertake at least 30 min per day of moderate to strenuous exercise daily. What exercise you do is up to you, but commit to it as it will improve most aspects of your health, including your mental health. The same goes for eating better. Consume a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, salads, nuts, seeds, legumes, and a healthy selection of protein-rich foods. Once you are doing that, you could consider incorporating well-researched and safe herbs such as Gynostemma to enhance your outcomes and fat loss. Whilst Gynostemma may have remarkable effects on its own, making other healthy changes benefits all aspects of your life.

 

References

  1. Chen, S., Lu, A., Charles, J., 2011. Flora of China. Missouri Botanical Garden Press.
  2. Blumert, M., Liu, J., 1999. Jiaogulan: China’s immortality herb – Unlocking the secrets of Nature’s powerful adaptogen and antioxidant. Torchlight Publishing.
  3. Razmovski-Naumovski, V., Huang, T.H.-W., Tran, V.H., Li, G.Q., Duke, C.C., Roufogalis, B.D., 2005. Chemistry and Pharmacology of Gynostemma pentaphyllum. Phytochem. Rev. 4(2), 197-219.
  4. Lee HS, Lim SM, Jung JI, Kim SM, Lee JK, Kim YH, Cha KM, Oh TK, Moon JM, Kim TY, Kim EJ. Gynostemma Pentaphyllum Extract Ameliorates High-Fat Diet-Induced Obesity in C57BL/6N Mice by Upregulating SIRT1. Nutrients. 2019 Oct 15;11(10):2475. doi: 10.3390/nu11102475. PMID: 31618980; PMCID: PMC6835433.
  5. Ren, Z., He, H., Zuo, Z., Xu, Z., Wei, Z., Deng, J. (2019). The role of different SIRT1-mediated signalling pathways in toxic injury. Cell Mol. Biol. Lett. 24, 36. doi: 10.1186/s11658-019-0158-9
  6. Lee HS, Lim SM, Jung JI, Kim SM, Lee JK, Kim YH, Cha KM, Oh TK, Moon JM, Kim TY, Kim EJ. Gynostemma Pentaphyllum Extract Ameliorates High-Fat Diet-Induced Obesity in C57BL/6N Mice by Upregulating SIRT1. Nutrients. 2019 Oct 15;11(10):2475. doi: 10.3390/nu11102475. PMID: 31618980; PMCID: PMC6835433.
  7. Li X. SIRT1 and energy metabolism. Acta Biochim Biophys Sin (Shanghai). 2013 Jan;45(1):51-60. doi: 10.1093/abbs/gms108. PMID: 23257294; PMCID: PMC3527007.
  8. Lou YY, Zheng X, Huang YP, Mu L, Zhang XG, Zhao ZW, Song Z, Zhang J, Yin ZQ, Pan K. New dammarane-type triterpenoid saponins from Gynostemma pentaphyllum and their Sirt1 agonist activity. Bioorg Chem. 2021 Nov;116:105357. doi: 10.1016/j.bioorg.2021.105357. Epub 2021 Sep 15. PMID: 34562675.
  9. Rao A, Clayton P, Briskey D. The effect of an orally-dosed Gynostemma pentaphyllum extract (ActivAMP®) on body composition in overweight, adult men and women: A double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2021 Jul 29. doi: 10.1111/jhn.12936. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34323337.
  10. Park SH, Huh TL, Kim SY, Oh MR, Tirupathi Pichiah PB, Chae SW, Cha YS. Antiobesity effect of Gynostemma pentaphyllum extract (actiponin): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014 Jan;22(1):63-71. doi: 10.1002/oby.20539. Epub 2013 Sep 5. Erratum in: Obesity (Silver Spring). 2015 Dec;23(12):2520. Erratum in: Obesity (Silver Spring). 2020 Sep;28(9):1770-1773. PMID: 23804546.