Traditionally referred to as “the elixir of life”, Celastrus paniculatus is used in Ayurvedic medicine to enhance mental function and promote longevity. With no human studies available, its health effects remain elusive. Keep reading to learn more about the possible uses and benefits of this plant along with side effects.

What is Celastrus Paniculatus?

Celastrus paniculatus, also known as black oil plant, jyothismati, or malkanguni is a wild shrub native to India, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. It has been used in traditional Ayurvedic medicine to treat asthma, arthritis, gout, brain dysfunction, and leprosy. Celastrus oil is also used as a massage oil to relieve painful arthritis and skin inflammation [1, 2, 3].

Although many medicinal plants are mentioned in ancient Indian literature as “intelligence promoters”, Celastrus paniculatus is one of the most notable ones. It’s also known both as the “elixir of intellect” and “the elixir of life” [4].

Bioactive Components of Celastrus Paniculatus

The leaves and seeds of the plant are used medicinally or to prepare extracts or celastrus oil. Celastrus seed oil is most commonly used for its cognitive-boosting properties.

The seeds contain celastrine and paniculatin (alkaloids) and are rich in antioxidants. Compounds in the seed extract block acetylcholine esterase, the enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. This increases acetylcholine levels in the brain and is responsible for its nootropic activity [5, 6].

The main active component of celastrus is unknown. However, the following compounds isolated from the fresh leaves of the plant may be responsible for its health effects [1]:

  • Malkangunin
  • Celapanin, celepanigin, celapagin
  • Tannins
  • Flavonoids
  • Saponins
  • Glycosides
  • Cumarines

Snapshot of Celastrus Paniculatus

PROs:

  • Protects the brain and improves memory
  • Has antioxidant effects
  • Reduces inflammation

CONs:

  • No human studies available
  • Might have antifertility effects

Uses & Benefits of Celastrus Paniculatus

1) May Boost Cognition

Long-term stress can trigger anxiety, impair working memory and learning. Celastrus may help protect the brain against the negative effects of stress. In rats, celastrus oil restored working memory and reduced stress [7].

In rats with cognitive impairment, celastrus seed oil improved mental performance and memory [8].

Mechanism

Celastrus has antioxidant properties and protects brain cells by neutralizing free radicals. It also induces antioxidant enzymes [9, 10, 11].

Celastrus paniculatus improves memory by decreasing acetylcholinesterase activity in the brain. This prevents the breakdown of acetylcholine in the brain and increases its levels, thus improving brain function and cognition [6].

2) May Balance Neurotransmitters in the Brain

In rats, celastrus reduced brain levels of noradrenaline, dopamine, serotonin. It also reduced their turnover and elimination via urine, which was altogether linked to improved learning and enhanced memory [4].

This may at first seem contradictory. But in fact, excessive levels of dopamine and other monoamine neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin) have been linked to learning problems. For example, experimental chemicals that act similar to dopamine cause amnesia. Celastrus may help balance these neurotransmitters in the brain to promote memory and learning [4].

Celastrus also reduced HVA, a metabolite of dopamine created by the action of the COMT enzyme. High HVA was linked to mental retardation. In one study from the 70s, Celastrus oil reduced urine HVA levels and improved IQ in mentally retarded children [4].

3) May Relieve Pain and Inflammation

In mice, celastrus extract relieved pain and reduced inflammation. Its effects were comparable to aspirin [12, 13].

Celastrus seed extract also reduced swelling and pain in arthritic mice [14, 15].

Mechanism

Compounds from celastrus extract (sesquiterpene esters) block inflammatory compounds (NF-kB, nitric oxide, IL-6, and TNF-a) [16, 14].

4) Might Improve Gut Health

In one study, rats given celastrus oil had fewer stomach ulcers. It also helped heal ulcers and protect the gut by reducing the levels of TNF-a, an inflammatory cytokine, and increasing antioxidant defense [17].

In human and rat gut tissues, celastrus seed extract reduced gut spasms. Celastrus could potentially reduce spasms in IBS patients or people with stomach pain, but clinical studies would need to confirm this [18, 19].

5) May Help Protect Against Heart Disease

Celastrus paniculatus protected against heart disease in rats by reducing blood lipid levels and cholesterol deposits in the arteries. However, its mechanism is unknown [20].

6) May Enhance Exercise Endurance

In mice, celastrus seed extract enhanced the effects of exercise. The mice exercised for a longer period and had less muscle and DNA damage [21].

7) May Relieve Psoriasis

In mice with psoriasis-like dermatitis, celastrus extract reduced inflammation and other symptoms of skin inflammation [22].

8) Cancer

In a study on breast cancer cells, celastrus extract had antitumor effects. One of its compounds, (a sesquiterpene) induced cancer cell death (via apoptosis) [2].

Celastrus Paniculatus Safety

There are currently no human studies available, so the side effects are unknown. Although not many side effects have been reported in animal studies, exercise caution when taking celastrus supplements or consuming celastrus seeds.

Side Effects

Celastrus Paniculatus May Have Antifertility Effects

In rats, celastrus seed extract stopped sperm formation [23].

The bark of the tree can also induce abortions [24].

Dosage

Since no human studies are available, there is no consensus on the recommended dosage. Anecdotal reviews of traditional use mention that 1 – 2 capsules or 10 – 20 seeds have beneficial effects. Supplements usually contain 400-500 mg of Celastrus Paniculatus powder per capsule.

Reviews & User Experiences

Users either eat celastrus seeds or crush them into powders and make tea. Capsules are also available.

Some people praised the celastrus capsules for their memory-improving effects. They also said that it helped with stress reduction.

However, others said that they did not feel any effect at all.

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