Cistanche deserticola May Extend Life Span (At Least in Mice)


Cistanche deserticola is a holoparasitic member of the Orobanchaceae family of plants.  It is primarily found in China’s deserts including the provinces of Gansu, Shaanxi, and Qinghai, and the Autonomous Regions of Xinjiang, Ningxia, and Inner Mongolia.


Cistanche deserticola

Cistanche deserticola has been widely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine as the herbal medicine called Rou Cong Rong.

In China, it has been used in treating various age-related disorders, including:  1

  • Senile dementia,
  • Impotence
  • Infertility
  • Chronic infection
  • Hematopoietic disorders in the elderly

There are two principal types of compounds isolated as the main active ingredients of Cistanche deserticola:

  • Phenylethanoid glycosides
  • Oligosaccharides

Cistanche deserticola and its extracts have been studied intensively and have been shown to have the following health benefits:

  • Protecting neurons from injury induced by neurotoxins  2
  • Inhibiting carbon tetrachloride induced hepatotoxicity  3
  • Promoting the recovery of bone marrow cells from radiation damage  4
  • Anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antiaging effects  5

A group of Chinese researchers published a study on January 9, 2014 which demonstrated that Cistanche deserticola possesses significant effects in extending life span and suggest this is achieved by antagonizing immunosenescence.  6

Immunosenescence refers to the gradual deterioration of the immune system brought on by natural age advancement.  Immunosenescence creates the environment for increased susceptibility in the elderly to:  7

  • Infections
  • Cancer
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Autoimmune diseases

In addition to an reduction in the level of immunity that is evident in aging (Immunosenescence), an increase in chronic inflammation is apparent in aging and manifested as increased levels of proinflammatory cytokines, including IL-6, TNF-α, and IL-1β.  8

The most damaging inflammatory cytokines is IL-6.  IL-6 increases with aging and age-related diseases.  9  10  11  As demonstrated in the study, supplementation with Cistanche deserticola was able to reduce peripheral IL-6 concentrations.  12 

The Chinese researchers took eight-month-old male SAM-P8 mice and treated them with oral administrations of Cistanche deserticola for 4 weeks. The researchers stated that:

“The results showed that dietary supplementation of 150 mg/kg and 450 mg/kg of Cistanche deserticola (ECD) could extend the life span measured by Kaplan-Meier survival analysis in dose-dependent manner. Dietary supplementation of SAM-P8 mice for 4 weeks with 100, 500, and 2500 mg/kg of ECD was shown to result in significant increases in both naive T and natural killer cells in blood and spleen cell populations. In contrast, peripheral memory T cells and proinflammatory cytokine, IL-6 in serum, were substantially decreased in the mice that ingested 100 and 500 mg/kg of ECD daily.”  13

The study revealed that the average life span was significantly increased (by 15.4%) in the Cistanche deserticola supplemented mice:  14

  • Control mice averaged about 325 days
  • Cistanche deserticola supplemented mice averaged about 375 days



Figure 1: The effects of extracts of Cistanche deserticola (ECD) on life span of SAM-P8 mice. Eight-month-old male senescence-accelerated mouse/prone 8 (SAM-P8) mice were randomly divided into 4 groups (in each group, ): 3 treatment groups, and a no treatment control group. The nonsenescent substrain (SAM-R1) of mice was used as an experimental control. The food intake of all of animals was monitored throughout the experiment at 3-day intervals. The 3 treatment groups were fed ad libitum on diets supplemented with low (50 mg/kg), medium (150 mg/kg), and high (450 mg/kg) doses of Cistanche deserticola extract (ECD). The two control animal groups were fed with the same diet without ECD supplementation. (a) Kaplan-Meier survival curves of SAM-P8 mice dieted ECD or vehicle control. The Kaplan-Meier survival analysis was conducted using the Log-rank (Mantel-Cox) and Gehan-Breslow-Wilcoxon tests. (b) Histogram of the average life span of the groups of mice. The error bars show that the standard deviation from the mean and statistical significance was carried out using ANOVA analysis followed by post hoc -test. SAM-P8 versus SAM-R1; high dose treated group versus SAM-P8; medium dose treated group versus SAM-P8 (in each group, ).  (Source:  Extracts of Cistanche deserticola Can Antagonize Immunosenescence and Extend Life Span in Senescence-Accelerated Mouse Prone 8 (SAM-P8) Mice, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 601383, 14 pages)

The results and conclusion of the study found the following promising health benefits of Cistanche destericola:  15

  • Induced a significant reversal of age-related immunosenescence alterations
  • Reduction in peripheral and spleen cell populations of naive T cells and NK cells
  • Reduction in redundant memory T cells
  • Suppression of necrosis in peripheral lymphocytes
  • Suppression of the proinflammatory cytokine, IL-6
  • Prolonged the life span of senile SAM-P8 mice


Life Extension Standardized Cistanche Capsules, 30 Count

Swanson Health Products – Cistanche Tubulosa Extract

Life Extension – Immune Senescence Protection Formula™

Rou Cong Rong

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