Among the adaptogen herbs from Siberia, Eleutherococcus was the first one that was scientifically investigated using modern methods of chemistry, biology, and pharmacology. The first publication about health benefits of eleutherococcus entitled "A New Medicinal Plant of the Family of Araliaceae -The Spiny Eleutherococcus" was made by professor Israel Brekhman in 1960. Since then, Eleutherocccus remains one of the most widely studied plant remedy in research laboratories throughout the world.
Eleutherococcus is commonly known to exert adaptogen effects. This means that it can enhance physical activity and stamina, increase resistance to stress factors and stimulate immune system. But these effects are very variable. Some persons feel much more stronger and healthier after only one dose of eleutherococcus extract. And there are many others who does not feel anything after even a long course of the eleutherococcus intake. Very often activity of eleutherococcus is related to brain functions. But such effects can be barely seen in humans because of their variability and dependence on multiple factors. That is why scientific evidence of such activity was needed. According to the data published in scientific peer-viewed journals, Eleutherococcus exerts the following effects on the nervous system in humans.
- Improvement of cognitive functions. Active compounds of eleutherococcus have only slight influence on learning, memory, attention and other functions of the central nervous system. These effects were observed only in animal studies. Clinical trials with humans did not give any significant results confirming some influence of eleutherococcus on higher nervous activity.
- Emotional stress. Human body can react on emotional stress with elevated blood pressure and accelerated heart rhythm. A complex of eleutherococcus active compounds can reduce these signs of stress affecting inner brain structures responsible for emotions. This effect is closely related with metabolism of neuropeptide Y. Eleutherococcus stimulates massive release of this peptide resulting in down-regulation of the heart and vessel motor center activity.
- Sleep disorders. Results of the numerous research studies did not show any influence of Eleutheroccocus on the length and structure of sleep patterns in humans. But it was shown that this herb can reduce alterations of the blood system caused by the lack of sleep. It cannot stimulate brain activity and prevent sleepiness. But in the case of the short time for sleep, eleutherococcus may reduce bad consequences of sleep deprivation and protect nervous and cardiovascular systems.
- Protection of nervous system. Eleutherococcus is very good remedy for the nervous system. Today, everyone knows such brain remedies as Ginkgo Biloba or Golden Root, but Eleutherococcus is still forgotten. The results of the research studies evidently show that active compounds contained by roots of this herb such as Eleutherosides B and E directly affect metabolism in brain. They reduce expression of inflammatory factors, prevent oxidative processes in glia cells, strengthen the membranes of neurons. Animal tests showed that mice with brain disorders after injection of eleutherococcus extract performed much better than untreated animals. Generally, their memory was significantly improved. This effect can be considered as a classic adaptogen activity. Healthy animals or humans do not show any alterations of their cognitive functions after eleutherococcus intake. But if these subjects have some problems with nervous system worsening their cognition, eleutherococcus effects become clearly visible.
- Bipolar disorders. Generally, adaptogen cannot be used for treatment of the psychotic diseases like bipolar disorders. And it is even impossible to carry out full scale clinical trials due to the ethical conflict. But in some small scale clinical observations eleutherococcus extract was supplemented to the standard therapy. The main drug purposed for the treatment of bipolar disorders is lithium and its salts. In clinical practice, some anti-psychotics usually supplemented lithium prescription. This makes possible to reduce its dose and lower risk of side effects. When eleutherococcus was given instead of anti-psychotic drug, the results were much better: therapeutic effect was greater and the number of side effects was significantly lower. Due to variability of the effects exerted by eleutherococcus, it is not in use in psychiatric practice. But these results definitely indicate that this herb can affect brain structure, alter metabolic pathways, and improve, even normalize, brain functions.
- Brain activity in elderly. Elder people very often suffer from impaired cognitive functions. Their memory is poor, their attention is distracted, their mental capacity is worse than before. Eleutherococcus has shown very good results when it was given to elderly persons. It helps to prevent age-related loss of memory, mental and emotional impairment. That is why this remedy is so popular in Chinese medicine. Chinese people believe that Eleutherocccus can prolong life. And this assumption is related to its neuroprotective activity. If senior persons taking eleutherococcus keep their mind clear and active, this is a good evidence of the great power of this herb, sometimes named Siberian ginseng
Eleutherococcus is a safe and effective remedy for protection of brain functions. It can be taken for a long time with no risk of adverse effects. At the same time, it prevents a lot of damages of brain microstructures caused by physical factors, infections, chemical agents, and even, aging. Prevention is always much better than treatment, and eleutherocccus is a very good assistant in prevention of brain malfunctions.
Maksim Khotimchenko, Ph.D.
Vladivostok (Russia) – San Diego (USA)