The Herb of Immortality
Optimize Your Health and Performance with Gynostemma
By Anthony Ricciuto
For those of you who have read my articles over the years, you know that I am just as passionate about optimizing an athlete’s health as I am about improving their performance. Going back close to twenty years ago when I began writing for Powerlifting USA magazine, there was no one in the strength scene writing about nutrition and supplementation for competitive strength athletes. Fast forward two decades later and now the tide has changed, where this topic once obscure and even mocked at is now commonplace. From the beginning, I always looked upon different natural means to improve an athlete’s performance, but also to improve their long-term health as well. As I have said many times, “You are only as strong as your weakest link”. With this being said, I have always looked outside the box on different supplements, modalities, and obscure herbs from far-reaching places around the globe to bring you information that has yet to be introduced to our strength culture. Since I always try and bring cutting-edge info, I know you will like what I have in store with this series.
I Love Gynostemma Tea!
One of My Favorite Teas
Even since the early 2000’s I pushed hard for strength athletes to get on the green tea wagon due to the numerous health benefits it can offer. Today I want to cover another tea which I haven’t discussed before in any of my previous articles. This tea is not popular in Western countries but a hit in Asia. For those of you that might not know, I studied acupuncture along with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) after university. As much as I like jabbing people with needles, the herbal component of TCM is my favorite. This is where I get many of the interesting and non-conventional herbs and adaptogens that I discuss in my articles. Now the tea that I am going to tell you about today is Jiaogulan, or what is known as Gynostemma Pentaphyllum.
Is Gynostemma the Fountain of Youth?
Now like I said before you most likely are not familiar with this tea but when you see all that it offers your performance, health, and longevity you will want to make friends with it right away. In fact, in TCM it is known as the “Herb of Immortality”. Now with a name like that you might be thinking it’s some type of fountain of youth. What you need to know is that in areas where the inhabitants drink this tea daily as part of their culture, they are known to have some of the longest lifespans. You see in TCM many of the herbs that would be promoted at expanding your life would have these very unique names. People would consume them due to the results they would see over hundreds, if not thousands of years. This is before science could pinpoint exactly what compounds in the plant could be playing a role in it. It’s similar to medical cannabis. For thousands of years it has been used as a healing plant, but only in the last few decades has science backed up the truths that have been noted but couldn’t be proven from a scientific angle.
Science Has Proved the Healing Properties of Cannabis!
Gynostemma is actually one of my favorite all-time herbs. Not only do I like the numerous benefits, but the taste is amazing. I do also like green tea but to be honest I would much rather drink Gynostemma especially a high-quality one. It really is one amazing-tasting tea. Its subtle yet sweet flavor is one that you will find not only palatable but enjoyable. So now that you know how much I like it, you must be wondering what the hell does it actually does? Well, listen up because I am going to lay down all the different qualities it possesses and how you can start incorporating it into your daily plan.
So What Makes Gynostemma So Special?
Gynostemma is also known as “Magical Grass” and for good reason. It offers so many diverse health benefits that you will wonder how the hell it could offer so much in one plant. The first thing that makes it so special is the saponins that it contains. The saponins in Gynostemma are known as gypenosides. There are close to 150 different gypenosides in Gynostemma which are responsible for adaptogenic properties that allow for optimal stress modulation in the body. Gynostemma is also considered dual-directional in nature. What this means is that it can take one health condition and fix the problem in both directions. So one example would be blood pressure which I will discuss more in-depth later in this series. If you suffer from high blood pressure it can help lower it. If you are on the other end of the spectrum and suffer from low blood pressure it can help raise it to a healthy range. This dual-directional healing ability of Gynostemma makes it applicable for just about everyone and helps the body to reach homeostasis on many levels.
Gynostemma is a Potent Adaptogen
The first thing you should know about Gynostemma is that it is an amazing adaptogen. For those of you not sure what that is exactly listen up. Adaptogens are herbal pharmaceuticals that contain compounds that counteract the different forms of stress that can damage the health of the human body. Now, this doesn’t just mean the stress of having to take a Calculus exam, or dealing with an ex-wife that is driving you up the wall for her alimony check. No, not at all. This also relates to the stress we put on our bodies as hard training athletes. When you are in the gym clanging and banging those heavy weights over and over, you are placing stress on your body as well as your Central Nervous System (CNS). As we already know a training program is only as effective as the quality of your restorative practices. This is one thing the Soviets of years past knew very well and helped them to create some of the best athletes in the world.
Soviet Coaches Knew the Importance of CNS Recovery!
Now one of the most common issues faced by the general public as well as strength athletes is that of Type II Diabetes. For the large majority, this is due to the fact of improper diet and lifestyle. But this can also hit strength athletes that they may be eating clean carb sources like rice, potatoes, oatmeal, etc, but because of the sheer volume of the amount consumed daily, it can lead to issues longterm. This is caused by insulin resistance where the body doesn’t upload glucose into the muscle cell efficiently due to a decrease in insulin receptors present to do their job. Another issue is that of those using synthetic Growth Hormone to increase their performance. GH can cause insulin resistance and for some more than others. So with this combination, it is imperative for the strength athlete to keep an eye on his insulin sensitivity with blood work like an oral glucose tolerance test along with an HB-A1C test. I also push for my athletes to check their glucose reading with a glucometer daily as well.
Athletes Need to Monitor Blood Glucose Levels!
The good news is that Gynostemma has a positive effect on increasing your insulin sensitivity. A recent study conducted in Vietnam showed that those that consumed Gynostemma for even just 4 weeks had a significant decrease in their HB-A1C blood values. The test subjects also found a decrease in their fasting plasma glucose scores as well. So what does this tell us? Gynostemma increases insulin sensitivity quite nicely. Remember the more insulin sensitive you are the better nutrient partitioning you will get when you consume your meals. This leads to increase storage of nutrients in your muscle cells and not your fat cells. Gynostemma is a tea that is consumed heavily by the Vietnamese population and is grown in abundance there leading to why many medical studies are coming from this part of the world.
Gynostemma can also increase insulin concentrations in the bloodstream. This occurs by its ability to stimulate the pancreas to increase insulin production which then leads to improved glucose metabolism. One thing that is really amazing about Gynostemma is the fact that studies have shown that it won’t cause hypoglycemia. It will only lower blood glucose levels if they are elevated. This goes back to the fact that it is a potent adaptogen that works in sync with the body to provide it what it needs to work in harmony.
Now when it comes to dropping fat Gynostemma also can help. Like I mentioned above, it does have a positive effect on increasing insulin sensitivity. What you need to know is that when you increase your insulin sensitivity it will have a positive effect on body composition. It will help you build muscle much more easily and drop unsightly body fat. These glycometabolic changes can then lead to physique improvements as well. Gynostemma has been shown in medical studies to help reduce body adipose mass, which is fat tissue. It is believed that Gynostemma can stimulate AMPK (Activated Protein Kinase) which is a fuel sensing enzyme present in all cells. Its job is to regulate cellular energy homeostasis where it can activate glucose and fatty acid uptake.
Isn’t it Time for Gynostemma?
One 12 week study showed that those that supplemented with Gynostemma lost close to three pounds of pure fat while not changing anything in regards to diet and exercise. I know this doesn’t sound crazy but if you can drop 12-15 pounds of pure fat per year by not doing much more than just drinking Gynostemma tea daily, I think that’s pretty good. Now you may think that Gynostemma’s fat loss benefits are only linked to its ability to improve insulin sensitivity and its effects on AMPK. But science has shown there is another angle from which these fat loss benefits can take place. There is a protein known as Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase, Non-Receptor Type 1 or for short PTPN1. Now, this is something that we don’t want flowing in abundance through your system. This is because it has been shown to reduce insulin sensitivity and even promote fat tissue storage. I think with most strength athletes we can pack on fat easier than others so we don’t need the help of PTPN1 making things even more complicated. Where Gynostemma shines in this area is the fact that it can dramatically reduce the production of PTPN1. By doing so it can shut down fat storage and insulin resistance from another angle.
One of the benefits of Gynostemma is its potent anti-inflammatory effects. If you have read my articles before you know that chronic inflammation can wreak havoc on the body and organ systems on so many levels. In fact, it is the root of so many different diseases and this is why making sure to keep it at bay is a must for long-term health. Scientists have found that specific saponins contained within Gynostemma possess anti-inflammatory effects that can benefit a wide variety of health issues. One study showed much promise in its ability to help those suffering from Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). They noted that Gynostemma suppressed macrophage activation and cytokine production. They also found that it could help mitigate the shortening of the colon and rapid weight loss that is commonplace with Colitis. Now you may be wondering how does this “Miracle Grass” cuts inflammation? I thought you would never ask. Science has shown that Gynostemma modulates inflammation by inhibiting Nuclear Factor Kappa B. Now you may be wondering what the hell is that? NF-kB is a protein transcription factor that regulates numerous cellular behaviors. This includes inflammatory responses in the body, cellular growth, and even cell death or what is known as apoptosis. It is also related to the initiation and progression of asthma, arthritis, and even cancer. To make this simpler to understand, NF-kB is the master switch and the most important factor in how inflammation is regulated. This means that Gynostemma can help reduce inflammation by inhibition of this powerful protein transcription.
Chronic Inflammation can Wreak Havoc on Your Health!
Now one health issue I address frequently is that of cardiovascular disease due to the fact it is very common not only in the sedentary population but also in strength athletes. Gynostemma has been shown to prevent damage to the arterial lining (endothelium) of the heart from dangerous free radicals. This is very important due to the fact that this is a primary factor that can contribute to numerous cardiovascular issues. Now even better is the fact that it can help prevent the narrowing and even the hardening of arteries which is another major factor that leads to this condition. Now if you thought that was all it had to offer your heart then think again. In fact, this amazing tea can help lower your LDL cholesterol and increase your HDL cholesterol. It also has a lowering effect on triglycerides which can contribute to not only metabolic syndrome but cardiovascular disease as well. Not to be forgotten is its effects on nitric oxide production which I will cover more in-depth later. This basically widens the blood vessels through what is known as vasodilation allowing increased blood flow thereby improving the body’s circulation.
Another important fact you should be aware of is Gynostemma’s ability to prevent platelet stickiness and the formation of deadly blood clots. It can also protect individuals from cardiomyopathy which is a condition that is common in many heavier strength athletes. One of the reasons why Gynostemma can help those who suffer from congestive heart failure is because it optimizes the efficiency of the hearts pumping action. This thereby reduces the heart’s effort to oxygenate the body with maximum blood flow to working muscles and organs with less strain.
Gynostemma is Healing For Your Heart!
So in the first part of this series I wanted to touch on a few of the hot topics that are affecting the health of not only a large portion of the general population but the strength community as a whole. With cardiovascular disease taking the forefront, I thought it would very beneficial to highlight all the important areas Gynostemma can positively affect in this regard. Diabetes and obesity are two other major areas of concern for the majority of those around the world. Not to be forgotten is the role of chronic inflammation and how it can contribute to a myriad of diseases and conditions, not forgetting its toll on reducing the quality of your life as well. Gynostemma is an amazing herb that has so much to offer even though it is widely ignored in the West. In the next installment, I will not only cover some of the other main health benefits of consuming this “Miracle Grass”, but also how it can improve your performance as well.