Sarsaparilla (Smilax Glabra Rhizome) Extract Inhibits Cancer Cell Growth by Promoting Apoptosis


Smilax glabra, commonly known as sarsaparilla or Chinaroot, is a plant species in the genus Smilax.  It is native to China, the Himalayas, and Indochina.  The genus Smilax contains about 300–350 species, and are found in temperate zones, tropics and subtropics worldwide. 

Smilax glabra is the Smilax species that is used in Chinese herbology.  The Chinese name of the plant is 土茯苓, and the pinyan name is Tu fu ling.


Dried Smilax Glabra Rhizome

Smilax glabra is oftentimes confused with two other species of Smilax:

  • Smilax officinalis
  • Smilax aristolochiifolia

Smilax aristolochiifolia is also known as:

  • Gray sarsaparilla
  • Mexican sarsaparilla
  • Sarsaparilla

It is native to Mexico and Central America.  Smilax aristolochiifolia root has a long traditional history of medicinal use.  2  

Smilax glabra contains some interesting active ingredients.  The following Dihydro-flavonol glycosides have been identified in the rhizome of Smilax glabra:   1

  • astilbin
  • neoastilbin
  • isoastilbin
  • neoisoastilbin
  • (2R, 3R)-taxifolin-3′-O-beta-D-pyranoglucoside

The following flavanonol rhamnoside has been identified in the rhizome of Smilax glabra:  

  • smitilbin

Smilax glabra has been studied in vitro and in animal studies (but it has not been studied in clinical trials) as a potent botanical plant in the following areas:

  • anticancer properties  3  4  5 
  • anti-inflammatory  6  7 
  • antioxidant  8  9
  • antiviral  10
  • hepatoprotective  11
  • immunostimulatory  12
  • renoprotective  13 

In a study published in March 2015 in the Journal Cancer Prevention Research, researchers found that Smilax Glabra Rhizome Extract Inhibits Cancer Cell Growth by S Phase Arrest, Apoptosis, and Autophagy via the Redox-Dependent ERK1/2 Pathway.  14

The researchers surmised that Sarsaparilla (Smilax Glabra Rhizome) has growth-inhibitory effects on several cancer cell lines in vitro and in vivo, with little toxicity on normal cells. What was uncertain to the researchers was the underlying functional mechanism of Smilax Glabra Rhizome against several cancer cell lines.

Their study examined the anticancer activity of the supernatant of the water-soluble extract (SW) from sarsaparilla.

Smilax Glabra Rhizome (SW) was shown to markedly inhibit the growth of a broad spectrum of cancer cell lines in the in vitro and in vivo assays. Responsible for SW-induced growth inhibition was any or all of the following:

  • apoptosis
  • autophagy
  • S phase arrest

The researchers concluded:

“Together, our results provide a molecular basis for sarsaparilla as an anticancer agent.”  15

Informational References:

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center – Smilax glabra


Tu fu ling (Chinese smilax rhizome)

SUN TEN – Smilax Tu Fu Ling Concentrated Granules 100g S1870 by Baicao

Tu Fu Ling Liquid Extract, Tu Fu Ling, Glabrous Greenbrier (Smilax Glabra) Root Tincture Supplement 2 oz