Pfaffia paniculata syn. Pfaffia paniculata
- Brazilian Ginseng
Suma (botanical name, Pfaffia paniculata syn. Hebanthe paniculata) is a considerable, sprawling, shrub-like vine that grows along the ground possessing a complicated, deep and widespread root system. This plant is native to the Amazon basin as well as other tropical regions of southern Brazil, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Venezuela. From the time this plant was first recorded by botanists in 1826, suma has been called by a number of botanical names, including those mentioned above. In fact, the genus Pfaffia is very familiar to people in South and Central America, where one can find more than 50 species growing in the comparatively warm tropical climatic regions.
The native tribes in Brazil are known to mention suma as ‘para toda’ denoting ‘for all things’. This plant was actually introduced into this South American country just a few years back as Brazilian ginseng, apparently with a view to trade on the repute of an herb that is well-established. Nevertheless, suma is not even vaguely related to ginseng in any manner. People supporting the use of suma have been promoting this plant as an adaptogen or an herb that enhances the immune system. In other words, they have been asserting that this herb assists the body to adjust to different types of stress and strain by means of reinstating or augmenting the natural immune system of the body.
It may be mentioned that usually when any recommendations that are yet to be established are made regarding any herb or herbal medication, it is likely that people would be cheered up to realize that at least the plant has been used as a traditional medication for centuries, if not several thousand years, devoid of having any obvious unfavourable side effects. Nevertheless, it is not irrational to take for granted that any such herb is perhaps safe for internal use by any normal individual. However, suma is different and, hence, the above mentioned perception is not applicable in its case.
The natives of the Amazon basin who have christened this herb as ‘para toda’ have been using the roots of suma for several generations to cure an assortment of health conditions, including using the root extract as a common tonic, a tonic to enhance sexual drive, a tonic to invigorate as well as enhance the energy levels and also as a common medication to treat several different kinds of ailments. It may be further noted that these people have been traditionally using suma as a magic potion (aphrodisiac), a comforting remedy as well as an herbal medication to treat ulcers for over three centuries now. Even to this day, suma is an important traditional herbal medication for numerous Indian tribes inhabiting the rainforest.
Presently, suma is deemed to be an effective herbal tonic as well as an adaptogen or immune enhancer all over the globe. An herbal adaptogen can be defined as a plant whose use augments the resistance of the body to all unfavourable influences of an assortment of physical, biochemical and chemical factors and, at the same time, has a stabilizing or curative impact on the body all together. In the contemporary herbal medicine practices in Brazil, the root of the suma plant is used as an oxygenator for the cells and is consumed to arouse appetite and circulation. In addition, the suma roots are also taken to enhance production of estrogen, regulate the blood sugar levels, augment/ reinforce the immune system, improve memory and also to reinforce the muscular system.
Herbal medicine practitioners in North America use the roots of suma for several health purposes. Besides using the herb’s roots as an adaptogenic and reformative tonic to control several bodily systems, they also use them to stimulate the immune system, cure fatigue and incessant weariness, impotence/ infertility, anemia, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, tumours, high blood pressure (hypertension), mononucleosis (presence of an exceptionally great number of mononuclear leukocytes in the bloodstream), hormonal disorders, menopause and PMS (premenstrual syndrome) as well as different types of stress. On the other hand, practitioners of herbal medicine in Ecuador presently consider suma to be a tonic as well as a stabilizer for the cardiovascular system, the reproductive system, the central nervous system and the digestive system. In addition, they also employ the herb to treat sexual dysfunction and infertility, hormonal disorders, diabetes, rheumatism, circulatory and digestive problems, bronchitis and even arteriosclerosis (degenerative alterations in the arteries, distinguished by thickening of the walls of the vessels and build-up of calcium with resultant loss of suppleness and reduced flow of blood).
In Europe, herbalists use suma as a restorative tonic for the nervous and glandular functions. In addition, they also use the herb to stabilize the endocrine system, to treat impotency, menstrual and menopausal symptoms, to reinforce the immune system, to diminish the unfavourable effects of birth control medication, to cure high cholesterol levels in the bloodstream, to combat toxic substances within the body and also as a common restorative tonic after any ailment.
Long back, researches had confirmed that suma encloses pfaffic acids possessing anti-cancerous properties. More recently, in 2000 researchers in Japan have also confirmed that the natural root of the suma plant has anti-cancerous activities. The powdered suma root was administered orally in dosages of 750 mg/ kg to the subjects in this in vivo study. The researchers reported that the powdered suma root slowed down the production of lymphoma and leukemia in mice and, if not, helped to delay their death owing to the disease. What is, however, significant is that the research showed that the use of powdered suma root only helped to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells and impede the death of the subjects, but the medication could not eliminate the cancerous cells or the disease itself. These Japanese researchers hypothesized that the slowing down of the growth of cancerous cells owing to the use of the suma root powder, which was proved during the study, may possibly be owing to the augmentation of the vague and/ or cellular immune systems.
A patent was filed in the United States in 1995 and this provided a precise number of useful results of using the suma root to cure sickle-cell anemia (an inherited form of anemia happening generally in blacks). Following a double blind placebo study on human subjects, they provided details that 15 patients who were given suma root for a period of three months in dosage of 1000 mg thrice every day experienced an augmentation in their hemoglobin levels, slowing down the breakdown of the red blood cells and, in general, enhanced their physical condition by lessening the side effects during the course of the treatment. Statistically, these results were much better compared to those of the 15 patients who were on placebo. However, it is unfortunate to note that when the treatment was stopped, the symptoms reappeared and so did the blood parameters to the condition prior to the treatment within just three to six months of discontinuing the treatment.
Nevertheless, it was documented that numerous patients who participated in the study continued to take the suma supplement for three years or even a longer period. These patients apparently sustained a steady improvement and experienced a superior quality of life without experiencing any unfavourable side effects of taking the suma supplement. In 2000, other researchers in the United States also studied the precise mechanism of the suma root in its competency in re-sickling blood cells and made their finding public. The findings of their in vitro research also corroborate that the suma root possessed anti-sickling properties as well as a rehydration impact on the sickled cells.
Researchers in Japan have undertaken chemical analysis of the suma root. In effect, they have been successful in isolating as well as distinguishing a new nortriterpene and named it pfaffic acid. In addition, they isolated six new saponin derivative offshoots of the pfaffic acid and designated them pfaffosides A, B, C, D, E and F. Initial experiments showed that specific pfaffosides had the aptitude to slow down the growth of melanomas, a cultured tumour cell. This initial hint of cytotoxicity (cell destruction due to cytotoxic substances) is remarkable, but, in no way, an indication that the suma plant is an effective anti-cancer agent in humans. In fact, further studies are necessary to establish if these elements of suma have an adequately discerning measure of toxicity to consider them safe and useful medications.
Looking from the nutritional view point, the root of the suma plant encloses 19 dissimilar amino acids, vitamins A, B1, B2, E, pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) and vitamin K, a great number of electrolytes, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Most possibly the high germanium content in suma root is responsible for its attributes as an oxygenator at the cell level. In addition, suma root is rich in iron content and this is possibly responsible for the herb’s traditional use to cure anemia. Moreover, the suma root also encloses new phytochemicals, counting pfaffic acids, saponins, nortriterpenes and glycosides.
In addition to the above mentioned chemicals, the root of the suma plant is extremely rich in saponin content – approximately 11 per cent. According to phyto-chemistry, it has been recognized that plant saponins have a wide range of activities, counting slowing down the growth of caner cells, lowering cholesterol levels in the bloodstream, functioning as anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agents. Plant saponins are also distinguished as natural detergent as well as foaming agents. According to phytochemists, saponins have the aptitude to work by binding with bile acids and cholesterol – an action that helps to lower the level of LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol or ‘bad’ cholesterol in the bloodstream. It is believed that these chemical substances help to cleanse or purge the fatty compounds from the body. Digitalis, which is obtained from common plant garden foxglove, is one of the most well known saponins. This plant saponin has been employed as a medication for heart ailments for more than a century now.
The particular saponins present in the suma roots comprise a group of new phytochemicals which has been named pfaffosides by the scientists. These specific saponins have clinically shown the aptitude to facilitate regulation of blood sugar levels (in vivo). In effect, the pfaffosides as well as the pfaffic acid derived from the roots of the suma plant have been patented in the form of anti-tumour compounds in numerous patents in Japan during the mid-1980s. Researchers have mentioned that when an oral suma saponin dosage of 100 mg/ kg was administered to rats it was found that the chemical was vigorous against cancer of the abdomen. Other Japanese researches as well as patents mention that pfaffic acids present in the root of the suma plant possess a potent in vitro actions against melanoma (numerous types of skin tumours distinguished by the cancerous growth of melanocytes), liver carcinoma (also known as malignant hepatoma) as well as lung carcinoma (cancer of the lung) cells when administered in small dosages of 4 mcg to 6 mcg of pfaffic acids.
Nevertheless, it ought to be mentioned that this actually is equivalent to taking 400 g to 600 g (approximately one pound) of natural suma root every day to reach the remedial dosage of pfaffic acids, which is reported to have shown toxic activity against these types of cancer cells. In any way, it is most likely to depend on the pharmaceutical companies to offer synthesized or man-made forms of these chemicals in remedial quantities.
Before concluding, it may be reiterated that the primary chemical substances enclosed by the root of the suma plant includes pfaffosides A to F, saponins, nortriterpenoids, allantoin, beta-ecdysterone, beta-sitosterol, iron, germanium, silica, magnesium, zinc, pantothenic acid, polypodine B, vitamins A, B1, B2, E and K, daucosterol, stigmasterol-3-o-beta-d-glucoside and stigmasterol.
In Brazilian traditional herbal medicine, a decoction is prepared by boiling 10 gm of suma root in one litre of water. For best results, generally two cups of this decoction is consumed every day. Herbal medicine practitioners as well as herbalists in Brazil also use the root powder of the suma herb in capsules, as the decoction has a bitter taste and not everyone can take it. The standard dosage of the suma root powder capsule is taking two to four grams every day. The daily dose of capsules is actually taken in two to three divided doses all through the day. However, this dosage largely depends on the body weight as well as the health condition of the patient. If you are using any standardized or liquid extracts products prepared with suma, it is advisable to follow the dosage instructions mentioned on the product label.
Side effects and cautions
It has been recognized that the herb suma encloses substantial quantity of plant sterols, counting a significant quantity of beta-ecdysterone as well as little quantities of stigmasterol and beta-sitosterol. These sterols may possibly possess estrogenic properties or have activities and/ or result in an augmentation in production of estrogen, since this herb has been traditionally used to control the menstrual process and also cure menopausal symptoms, PMS and other hormonal maladies. However, these attributes of suma are yet to be proved scientifically (clinically). Here is a word of caution for women who are enduring estrogen-positive cancers. Such women should strictly avoid the use of this herb for their other conditions.
Inhaling the powdered root of suma is known to have resulted in asthmatic allergies. Therefore, one needs to exercise caution to avoid inhaling the suma unrefined root powder while handling it or preparing decoctions with it. In addition, generally consumption of excessive amounts of saponins – the chemical substance that is naturally present in suma, has been found to occasionally result in gentle gastric problems, counting stomach cramping and nausea. In case you notice any side effects of using this herb, it is advisable to lower the dosage of your medication.