Ashitaba has long been used in cuisine and traditional medicine for infections, healing wounds, and improving digestion. However, proper clinical data are lacking to back up these uses. Scientists are meanwhile investigating if ashitaba can affect weight and heart health. Read on to find out if the purported benefits of ashitaba have scientific ground.
What is Ashitaba?
Ashitaba (Angelica keiskei) is a green, leafy herb and is part of the carrot (Apiaceae) family. It is also called “tomorrow’s leaf” because of its rapid growth and alleged regenerative properties. All parts of the plant, including the roots, are edible.
Native to the coastal regions of Japan, Ashitaba is commonly used as a food and folk remedy on the Izu Islands and the Izu Peninsula. Ashitaba is a cold-hardy plant that also easily is grown in partially-shaded garden beds.
Japanese people traditionally used the plant for the flu, liver problems, arthritis, indigestion, fever, and infections. However, proper clinical data is still lacking to back them up .
Ashitaba is eaten as a fresh vegetable, dried into leaves for teas, entrees, and soups, and ground into powder for supplementation. Tea is traditionally made after 15 minutes of steeping dried leaves in hot water .
Additionally, ashitaba supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. Supplements generally lack solid clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but don’t guarantee that they’re safe or effective. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.
- Chalcones, including isobavachalcone, xanthoangelol, and 4-hydroxyderricin
- Alpha-carotene and beta-carotene
Mechanism of Action
Scientists hypothesize ashitaba may act by:
- Increasing adiponectin, a hormone that contributes to reducing glucose levels and increasing fat breakdown .
- Decreasing levels of a receptor called PPAR-γ, which might play a role in fat cell creation (adipogenesis) .
- Blocking the activity of the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), which might, theoretically, lower blood pressure .
- Increasing levels of the antioxidants glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase [9, 10].
- Blocking the activity of monoamine oxidase (MAO), an enzyme that breaks down dopamine and serotonin .
- Decreasing levels of the protein plasma plasminogen activator inhibitor-1 (PAI-1), which might decrease the risks of blood clotting .
These proposed mechanisms remain unexplored and unproven in humans.
Claimed Health Benefits of Ashitaba
Insufficient Evidence for:
The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of ashitaba for any of the below-listed uses.
Remember to speak with a doctor before taking ashitaba supplements. Ashitaba should never be used as a replacement for approved medical therapies.
1) Weight Loss
There is insufficient evidence to support the use of ashitaba for weight loss.
Only a couple of low-quality human studies have been published. In one small study of 15 healthy weight and 25 overweight people, ashitaba reduced waist width, stomach fat, and body weight after 8 weeks .
In a pilot trial of solely nine people, ashitaba reduced stomach fat (visceral), total body fat, BMI, and body weight in people with metabolic syndrome at both 4 and 8 weeks .
We can’t draw any conclusions from these studies that included only 24 people in total. Both trials were 100% financed and sponsored by companies that make ashitaba supplements in Japan (Takara Bio Inc and Japan Bio Science Laboratory Co), which creates a large conflict of interest and risk of bias.
2) Liver Damage from Alcohol
There is insufficient evidence to support the use of ashitaba for liver damage from alcohol.
In a study of 82 heavy alcohol drinkers, 12 weeks of supplementation with ashitaba reduced gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT), a marker of liver damage .
3) Antioxidant Effects
There is insufficient evidence to suggest that ashitaba can reduce oxidative damage. Its antioxidant effects were only researched in one small open-label study; the findings of this study have not yet been replicated.
In the study, an ashitaba-based juice (240 ml daily) over 8 weeks reduced DNA damage in 20 smokers .
In a pilot study of 10 healthy adults, ashitaba powder increased antioxidant levels .
The effects of ashitaba on the above-parameters have not been researched in humans.
Scientists are investigating whether ashitaba can protect DNA from compounds that cause mutations (mutagens) in cells .
No valid clinical evidence supports the use of ashitaba for any of the conditions listed in this section.
Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.
There is no evidence to suggest that ashitaba should be used to improve symptoms in people with diabetes.
Only animal studies have been published. In diabetic mice and rats, ashitaba reduced fasting blood sugar and insulin levels. The herb reduced blood sugar levels, insulin, and triglycerides in rats fed a high-sugar diet. Whether or not these findings will translate to humans is completely unknown [18, 19, 20, 21].
In rats fed a high-diet, ashitaba helped prevent weight and fat gain. Scientists hypothesize that two of the active compounds in ashitaba (4-hydroxyderricin and xanthoangelol) act by increasing adiponectin, a hormone that improves insulin sensitivity. However, their theory remains clinically unproven .
Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) is an enzyme that plays a role in blood pressure control. Drugs that block the activity of ACE (ACE inhibitors) are used to treat high blood pressure. Ashitaba reduced blood pressure in rats by blocking the activity of ACE. Whether or not it affects ACE and blood pressure in humans is unknown .
- Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha (TNF-alpha)
- Interleukin 6 (IL-6)
- Cyclooxygenase 2 (COX-2)
- Mitogen-Activated Protein Kinases (MAPKs)
- Nuclear Factor Kappa Beta (NF-kB)
- Endothelin 1
Fibrin is a protein that is involved in blood clots. Scientists are wondering if ashitaba extract in dishes can reduce levels of plasma plasminogen activator inhibitor 1 (PA-1), a compound that prevents the breakdown of fibrin clots (fibrinolysis) .
Platelets are one of the main components of blood clots and the grouping together of platelets is one of the key steps in the clotting process. Some researchers believe 4-hydroxyderricin and xanthoangelol may reduce the grouping together of platelets (platelet aggregation), but this is still being explored in cells only .
Effects on Bacteria & Liver Health
Effects on Neurotransmitters
One class of antidepressants act by blocking the activity of the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO). Ongoing cellular research is investigating whether xanthoangelol and 4-hydroxyderricin can also block the activity of MAO, though both animal and human studies are still lacking .
Yet, moderate and high amounts of ashitaba powder did not improve blood cholesterol in rats fed a high-fat diet .
Ashitaba Supplementation & Side Effects
There is not enough data about the safety and side effects of ashitaba. However, some users have reported mild stomach upset.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women and children should avoid ashitaba due to a lack of safety data.
Ashitaba leaves, stems, and the roots are traditionally eaten either raw, cooked, or dried. Ashitaba extracts are available in tablet, capsules, tea, and powder form for supplementation.
There is not enough clinical data to determine ashitaba dosage.
Doses ranging from 200 to 500 mg of ashitaba extract have been used in clinical trials.
Some users of ashitaba found improvements in blood pressure, well-being, energy, and digestive pain.
Others found that it kept them from getting gout symptoms.
As a tea, users state that it tastes nutty, like green tea, or has a pleasant taste. Others find it is bitter in taste.
The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of the users who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.
Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on SelfHacked. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.