Hebanthe eriantha, commonly known as “Suma” or “Brazilian ginseng,” is a plant found throughout South America.
Suma’s roots have been used in traditional medicine for centuries and have a wide variety of potential health benefits for the brain, immune, and digestive systems. It also boosts energy, protects vital organs, increases hormone synthesis, and may even fight cancer.
Read on to learn more about the potential uses of Suma root and how it may serve you as a nutritional supplement.
What Is Suma Root?
Suma is a plant with deep roots that pull nutrients from the soil. For this reason, suma’s roots are the richest source of its bioactive compounds.
Suma has acquired different scientific names since its discovery, such as Pfaffia paniculata. This can lead to confusion as different sources may refer to the same plant by different names.
Suma is often referred to as “Brazilian ginseng,” although this name is a bit misleading, as the plant is not related to what most people commonly know as ginseng.
Traditional Uses of Suma Root
Suma has been used as a general “cure-all” for many different conditions including:
- Boosting the immune system
- Reducing pain
- Alleviating digestive issues
- Boosting physical energy
- As an aphrodisiac
- Erectile dysfunction
Interestingly, many of the medicinal applications of Suma root in traditional medicine have been validated by modern science.
As a result, Suma products have become popular as nutritional supplements.
Components of Suma Root
Suma is rich in a large variety of nutrients, minerals, and other compounds.
The potent antioxidants in suma root play a key role in protecting the brain and other organ damage and are critical for preventing disease and fighting the long-term effects of aging.
The electrolytes, amino acids, minerals (magnesium, iron, and zinc), and vitamins (A, B1, B2, E, K1, and K2) in suma’s root are crucial metabolic “building-blocks” for the body as a whole. Suma’s nutritional profile helps provide the body with the essential compounds to maintain optimal health.
Germanium is important in maintaining and boosting immune system function [R].
Saponins from Suma roots are pfaffic acids or pfaffosides. Pfaffosides play a role in hormone synthesis, glucose and cholesterol metabolism, cellular oxygenation, and even inhibit the growth of cancer cells [R].
Suma is also rich in ecdysteroids, a family of hormones found in several plants and insects. The ways in which ecdysteroids affect the health of mammals and humans remains unknown. Nonetheless, a large number of beneficial effects of ecdysteroids have been scientifically confirmed [R, R].
Health Benefits of Suma Root
1) Suma Is an Adaptogen
Suma is an adaptogen, which means that it improves the body’s ability to cope with stress and provides resistance against diseases and various other harmful biological and environmental factors [R].
In other words, suma has a restorative and balancing effect on many biological processes throughout the body and brain [R].
2) Suma Protects Against Cancer
Cancerous mice treated with Suma root extract survived significantly longer than untreated mice [R].
Suma root extract decreases the size of breast cancers in mice [R].
Similarly, a controlled study in mice with liver cancer found that mice treated with suma root extract for 27 weeks had significantly fewer cancer cells compared to untreated mice. This treatment did not have adverse side effects on healthy liver cells [R, R].
Similar results have been found in an in vitro study of human breast cancer cells, suggesting that Suma’s anti-cancer effects may also apply to humans [R].
Suma root may kill cancer cells by triggering apoptosis, without damaging healthy cells [R].
Suma root may be a potent anti-cancer supplement. However, in most of the studies, suma generally appears to slow down the rate of tumor growth, but not reverse or cure it altogether. Therefore, while suma may help to prevent cancer and slow its progression, it should not be mistaken for a cancer cure.
3) Suma May Help Build Muscle
Ecdysteroids can enhance physical strength and athletic performance without the negative side-effects associated with traditional steroids [R].
Interestingly, some researchers have cautioned that suma could be considered a “doping” agent in athletic competitions [R].
More recently, ecdysteroids have been found to increase muscle in rats, consistent with an anabolic effect [R].
Ecdysteroids also significantly increase the grip strength of rats [R].
Unfortunately, the only study of ecdysteroids in humans did not find significant effects on muscle growth [R].
However, it is possible that this could have been due to a low dose or the study design.
4) Suma Is an Energy Booster
Even though suma is not a stimulant, it enhances physical energy because of its rich nutritional profile.
Suma contains many different electrolytes, essential amino acids, and minerals [R].
Suma’s high electrolyte and amino acid content helps restore many essential compounds lost through sweating and physical exertion. Suma’s rich vitamin and mineral content provides many of the body’s metabolic “building-blocks” [R].
Vitamin B in suma plays a vital role in many of the energy-producing metabolic pathways in the body and is involved in cellular growth and regeneration.
For these reasons, athletes can benefit greatly from foods and compounds high in vitamin B, such as suma [R].
5) Suma May Boost Testosterone Levels
Mice fed with suma-infused water for 30 days showed significantly higher levels of testosterone compared to a control group [R].
However, the only existing human study on ecdysteroids did not find significantly increased levels of testosterone [R].
Even if suma does not directly increase testosterone levels, many of its nutritional contents are key metabolic building blocks for testosterone synthesis – such as vitamins A and D, and zinc. Supplementation with suma could, therefore, be playing an indirect role in testosterone synthesis and muscle gain, even if it does not have a direct anabolic effect.
6) Suma May Enhance Sexual Performance
Suma extract improved sexual performance in impotent rats, increasing the rates at which they engage in sex, as well as prolonging their ejaculation times [R].
However, It had no effect on rats whose sexual performance was already normal.
While it remains unknown to what extent these findings might apply to humans, they would be analogous to increasing libido and preventing premature ejaculation.
Interestingly, improving sexual performance in this way has been one of the main uses of suma in traditional medicine.
7) Suma May Enhance Fertility In Women
Suma may protect fertility in women. This effect is particularly important in modern environments, where contact with a wide range of hormone-disrupting chemicals and toxins is becoming increasingly commonplace [R].
Sitosterol and stigmasterol, two of the saponins contained in Suma root, increase estrogen levels [R].
Mice fed with powdered suma root for one month showed significant increases of estradiol and progesterone compared to the control group [R]. Estradiol is one of the main estrogen-based hormones involved in female fertility, and progesterone plays a key role in reproductive and sexual function in women.
8) Suma Protects Against Inflammation
In rats with intestinal inflammation, suma root extract not only reduced the scope of intestinal inflammation and lesioning, but also reduced the levels of several metabolic signs of inflammation at the cellular level (pro-inflammatory cytokines and C-reactive protein, or “CRP“) [R].
In rats, suma root extract reduced swelling (edema) for up to 6 hours post-injection [R].
Suma extract also reduced histamine in human skin cells [R].
9) Suma Is Antioxidant
Free radicals (oxidants) are one of the primary causes of long-term damage to the body.
Suma root is rich in ecdysteroids, which remove free radicals throughout the body [R].
Additionally, Suma root extract was shown to increase superoxide dismutase in human skin cells, protecting them from damage [R].
Given its antioxidant effects, suma may help fight the long-term cellular effects of aging, prevent disease, and may even prolong lifespan.
10) Suma Can Improve Your Skin’s Appearance
When applied to the skin, suma root extract can reduce the appearance of “dark circles” under the eyes. These “dark circles” (periorbital hyperchromia) occur as an after-effect of inflammatory activity, which causes blood to become congested in the narrow capillaries around the eyes, leading to a dark or “bruised” appearance [R].
Ecdysteroids from the suma plant can make skin heal at a faster rate [R].
Ecdysteroids inhibit the visible symptoms of psoriasis, which may be due to their ability to enhance the skin’s healing process [R].
Suma root also contains pfaffosides, which decrease the production of melanin in the skin. Melanin is the primary compound responsible for making skin dark.
Overexposure to sunlight increases melanin production, which can have undesired effects, such as freckles or the appearance of patchy, “blotchy-looking” areas of the skin (conditions known as “melasma” or “solar lentigo“).
Suma inhibits melanin production in human skin cells, without causing toxic or disruptive side effects [R].
11) Suma May Protect the Brain from Alcohol Damage
A study found that pretreating rats with ecdysteroids prevented memory loss caused by acute alcohol intoxication [R].
12) Suma May Have Cognitive Effects
A study found that after 150 days of treatment with suma root extract, mature mice displayed enhanced learning rates, as well as a reversal of age-related memory deficits [R].
13) Suma Fights Pain
Suma root has significant pain-killing (analgesic) effects, which may make it helpful in chronic pain [R].
In mice, ingestion of suma root extract inhibited pain responses from experimental injection of pain-causing chemicals [R].
In rats, suma root extract reduced the frequency of behavioral signs of pain in response to experimental injections of acetic acid [R].
14) Suma Protects Against Liver Damage
Ecdysteroids activate a variety of protective mechanisms in the liver, and may help protect the long-term health of the liver when taken regularly.
The ecdysteroids in suma root have a strong antioxidant effect, which is especially prominent in the blood and liver [R].
Ecdysteroids also reduce cholesterol levels in the liver of rats [R].
Finally, ecdysteroids also have a stimulating effect on protein and RNA synthesis for up to a day after ingestion, thereby boosting the natural function of the liver and enabling it to make more efficient use of dietary protein [R, R].
15) Suma Helps Build and Maintain Muscle Mass
Suma’s ability to enhance protein synthesis may account for its beneficial effects on building and maintaining muscle mass.
Ecdysteroids increase protein synthesis in mammalian tissue by up to 20%, while also increasing measures of grip strength in mice [R].
16) Suma Boosts the Immune System
Suma root contains high levels of germanium, which plays an important role in immune system health [R].
17) Suma Helps Manage Blood Glucose Levels and Diabetes Symptoms
Suma contains pfaffic acids, which reduce elevated blood glucose levels [R].
Ecdysteroids also reduce glucose production, thereby preventing blood sugar levels from reaching elevated levels in the first place. These effects have been reported in liver cells (hepatocytes), mice, and rats [R, R, R].
Additionally, ecdysteroids increase the rate at which the liver consumes blood glucose by 44-77% [R].
Interestingly, ecdysteroids reduce blood glucose levels independently of insulin levels [R]. This is especially important in diabetes, where decreased insulin sensitivity makes the body less able to regulate its own glucose levels.
18) Suma May Lower Cholesterol
Saponins in suma – sitosterol and stigmasterol – reduce high levels of cholesterol in the blood [R].
A study in rats found that a daily treatment with ecdysterone reduced cholesterol by nearly 30% after only a few weeks [R].
19) Suma Root May Improve Weight Loss
Treating animals with ecdysterone reduces body fat by up to 10% [R].
Similarly, another study found that mice given ecdysteroid extracts showed lowered insulin levels, improved processing of blood glucose, and a loss of body fat [R].
20) Suma As a Treatment for Sickle-Cell Disease
Traditional healers have used powdered Suma root to treat sickle-cell disease, a condition in which red blood cells are misshapen, which can lead to blood clots.
21) Suma Can Improve Tendon and Joint Health
Ecdysteroids increase the production of collagen, an important protein for maintaining the health and structure of hair, skin, tendons, and joints [R].
22) Suma Helps Digestion (May Help GERD)
23) Suma May Protect Against Kidney Damage
These effects are believed to be due to ecdysteroids.
24) Suma May Prevent Osteoporosis
Beta-ecdysterone, one of the ecdysteroids in Suma, may help prevent the onset and progression of osteoporosis by stimulating the development of new bone cells (osteogenesis) [R].
This effect appears to be mediated by estrogen and, therefore, may be only significant in women due to their naturally higher estrogen levels.
Limitations and Caveats
While the current scientific data on suma’s beneficial effects are quite strong, it is worth noting that most of the existing data about suma come from cell-based or animal studies and there is not much evidence with regard to humans.
However, suma has been used as a traditional medicine for centuries. Interestingly, most of the modern research that has been done on suma has confirmed many of its traditional uses, which lends significant credibility to suma’s beneficial effects [R, R].
How to Take Suma Root
Suma root has traditionally been prepared by crushing the roots into a fine powder, which can then be ingested with other foods or on its own, or made into tea.
More recently, techniques have been developed to extract suma’s nutrients into alcohol or into concentrated powder capsules. These alcohol-based “tinctures” and pills can be consumed as nutritional supplements.
Supplementing with suma in its raw powder form is the best way to ensure that you acquire the fullest dose of the many vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, and amino acids that its roots contain.
In contrast, using chemical extracts of suma – such as alcohol-based tinctures – is better suited for getting the most potent dose of ecdysteroids, pfaffoside, and saponins.
Therefore, people looking to benefit from suma’s energizing, immune-system-boosting, and general adaptogenic effects are probably better off using a powdered root supplement.
Conversely, those who are more interested in its anti-cancer, hormonal, and metabolic effects are more likely to achieve beneficial results from using a tincture-based suma extract.
Most of the studies have used doses which, in humans, are roughly equivalent to between 200 to 600 mg/day.
However, existing studies are inconsistent regarding the dose-dependence of suma’s effects. While some of its effects appear to grow stronger with larger doses (such as the anti-cancer and metabolism-enhancing effects), others appear to be relatively unaffected by the dose.
The few studies that have reported adverse side-effects have often used very high doses, well beyond the typical dose range for humans.
However, suma’s ability to affect hormone production means that it should be avoided by anyone with a known history of diseases involving hormonal dysregulation, as suma supplementation could potentially worsen these conditions or otherwise have unpredictable effects on health.
Additionally, yet-unknown drug interactions remain a possibility, and you should consult with a physician or other specialist before embarking on any new supplementation regimen.
Finally, while many studies have evaluated suma’s safety in the general population, we don’t know what effects it might have on fetal development. Therefore, suma should be avoided during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
“My cousin has stage 4 cancer and takes suma for it. His wife researched the product and has discovered it has some great success in shrinking cancer tumors.
Since taking it, his cancer tumor markers have come down and he has gone from having six months to live to maybe 5 years.
I know it is also used for lowering cholesterol and I am awaiting another chance to purchase some more for my mom and me.“
“I’ve used … Suma root for at least the past 3-4 years, and it is enormously strengthening with no side effects.”
“The suma root product I ordered was for a relative. He claims that it has good results including a much-improved blood/glucose level.”
“Suma is supposed to be a good immunity booster. I have only taken this a couple of months, so that is too soon to know. But it has no side effects.”
“The ‘Russian Secret’ — the nickname says it all. It really boosts my gym sessions … Good stuff!”
“Zero effect, only diarrhea”
“I like this stuff — very subtle [effects,] but seems to be useful.”
“Unfortunately I had an allergic reaction and could not continue taking this.”