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Suma Root Potential Benefits, Side Effects + How to Use

Written by Matt Carland, PhD (Neuroscience) | Last updated:
Evguenia Alechine
Puya Yazdi
Medically reviewed by
Evguenia Alechine, PhD (Biochemistry), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Matt Carland, PhD (Neuroscience) | Last updated:

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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?

Hebanthe eriantha, commonly known as “Suma” or “Brazilian ginseng,” is a plant found throughout South America. 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.

Snapshot

Proponents:

  • Improves skin appearance
  • May support fertility and sexual function
  • May stimulate bone and muscle growth
  • May have anticancer effects
  • May protect the brain and liver
  • May improve metabolic health

Skeptics:

  • Clinical evidence is scarce
  • Most studies tested purified components
  • Long-term safety is unknown

Traditional Uses

Suma’s medical properties were originally discovered by indigenous cultures throughout South and Central America [1, 2, 3].

Suma has been used as a general “cure-all” for many different conditions including:

  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Reducing pain
  • Alleviating digestive issues
  • Boosting physical energy
  • As an aphrodisiac
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Ulcers
  • Stress

Interestingly, some of the medicinal applications of Suma root in traditional medicine have been confirmed by modern science, but strong clinical evidence is lacking.

Components & Mechanism of Action

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 [4].

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 [4].

Suma is also rich in ecdysteroids, a family of hormones which may impact reproductive health [5, 6].

Herbalists consider suma an adaptogen, which means it improves the body’s ability to cope with stress and provides resistance against diseases and various other harmful biological and environmental factors [4, 5].

According to preliminary research, this root has potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties [7, 8, 1, 9, 10].

Health Benefits of Suma Root

Please note: The health effects of isolated components may not translate to whole suma root consumption.

Insufficient Evidence:

No valid clinical evidence supports the use of suma root for any of the conditions in this section. Below is a summary of up-to-date animal studies, cell-based research, or low-quality clinical trials which should spark further investigation. However, you shouldn’t interpret them as supportive of any health benefit.

1) Skin Appearance

Dark circles around the eyes (periorbital hyperchromia) occur as an after-effect of inflammatory activity, which causes blood to become congested around the eyes and form “bruises” [11].

Topical administration of suma root extract improves the appearance of “dark circles” in 19/21 users and significantly reduced inflammation. However, the study lacked a control group [11, 9].

Ecdysteroids from the suma plant can make skin heal at a faster rate. They may reduce the visible symptoms of psoriasis, likely due to their ability to enhance the skin’s healing process [12].

Suma inhibits melanin production in human skin cells, without causing toxic or disruptive side effects. Melanin is the primary compound responsible for making skin dark [13].

Animal and Cellular Research (Lacking Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of X for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based studies. They should guide further investigational efforts but should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

2) Anticancer Effects

Native Americans have traditionally used suma root for cancer prevention, among others. However, the clinical trials on its purported anticancer effects are lacking.

Cancerous mice treated with Suma root extract survived significantly longer than untreated mice. Suma root extract decreased the size of breast and liver cancers and prevented leukemia in studies on mice [14, 15, 16, 17, 18].

In test tubes, suma root killed human breast cancer cells, but this doesn’t imply the same effect in the human body [19].

Suma’s potential anti-cancer effects are believed to come from pfaffic acid in roots. However, the specific mechanisms by which these compounds may affect the development and progression of cancer are still being researched [20, 4, 21, 22].

Suma root may kill cancer cells by triggering apoptosis, without damaging healthy cells. It may also help the immune system to target and eliminate cancer cells early in tumor formation [23, 16, 7].

However, in most of the studies, suma generally appeared to slow down the rate of tumor growth, but not reverse or cure it altogether. The complete lack of clinical data is another major limitation.

3) Muscle Growth

Ecdysteroids from the Suma plant act like anabolic steroids, the hormones involved in building muscle [4, 6, 24, 25].

In animal and cell-based studies, they enhanced muscle growth and strength [26, 27, 25, 28]

Ecdysteroids may enhance physical strength and athletic performance without the side effects associated with traditional steroids, but the research is still young [29].

Interestingly, some researchers have cautioned that suma could be considered a “doping” agent in athletic competitions [26].

However, the only study of ecdysteroids in humans did not find significant effects on muscle growth [30].

4) Energy Levels

Even though suma is not a stimulant, it might enhance physical energy because of its rich nutritional profile. It contains different electrolytes, essential amino acids, and minerals, which are lost through sweating and physical exertion [4].

Germanium, found in suma roots, helps distribute oxygen to the body – a particularly important factor in athletic performance/ Vitamin B in suma plays a vital role in many of the energy-producing metabolic pathways in the body [4, 31].

However, no studies have investigated the effects of suma root on energy levels and physical performance.

5) Sexual Performance

Researchers observed the potential of suma extract to improve sexual performance in impotent rats. However, It had no effect on rats whose sexual performance was already normal [32].

Interestingly, improving sexual performance has been one of the main uses of suma in traditional medicine. Clinical studies are needed to evaluate its effects in humans.

6) Testosterone Levels

Mice fed with suma-infused water for 30 days showed significantly higher levels of testosterone compared to a control group [33].

However, the only existing human study on ecdysteroids, active components from suma roots, did not find significantly increased levels of testosterone [30].

7) Female Fertility

Impaired fertility is a growing issue in modern environments, with everyday contact with a wide range of hormone-disrupting chemicals and toxins [34].

Sitosterol and stigmasterol, two of the saponins contained in Suma root, increase estrogen levels. Mice fed with powdered suma root for one month showed significant increases of estradiol and progesterone compared to the control group [4, 33].

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.

According to preliminary research, ecdysteroids stimulate the production of prostaglandins, which are involved in ovulation and the menstrual cycle [5].

8) Inflammation

Suma root has shown potent anti-inflammatory effects in animal and cell-based research [7, 8].

In rats with intestinal inflammation, suma root extract reduced intestinal inflammation (pro-inflammatory cytokines and CRP) and lesioning [1].

Suma root extract reduced swelling (edema) for up to 6 hours post-injection in another study on rats [35].

It reduced histamine, a major pro-inflammatory component, in human skin cells [9].

9) Brain Alcohol Damage

The anti-oxidizing effects of ecdysteroids in suma root may play an important role in protecting the brain from accumulated damage from free radicals [5].

A study found that pretreating rats with ecdysteroids prevented memory loss caused by acute alcohol intoxication [36].

However, suma root may not have the same effect, and its potential ability to shield the brain has yet to be studied.

10) Cognitive Effects

Ecdysteroids appear to impact the synthesis and action of neurotransmitters such as glutamate, GABA, and acetylcholine [5, 37].

A study found that after 150 days of treatment with suma root extract, mice displayed enhanced learning rates, as well as a reversal of age-related memory deficits [38].

11) Blood Sugar and Diabetes

One of the historical uses of suma root in traditional medicine has been to alleviate the symptoms of diabetes [2, 3, 39].

Suma contains pfaffic acids, which reduced elevated blood glucose levels in some preliminary research [4].

According to the observations in liver cells (hepatocytes), mice, and rats, ecdysteroids may reduce glucose production [40, 5, 41].

Additionally, ecdysteroids increased the rate at which the liver consumes blood glucose by 44-77% in test tubes [40].

12) 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 reduce their function and lead to blood clots.

Suma root extract has been found to improve the shape and flexibility (deformability) of red blood cells in the samples from sickle-cell disease patients [42, 43].

13) Indigestion

In a study on rats, suma extract reduced the production of stomach acid and prevented the development of stomach ulcers and heartburn [44].

14) Kidney Damage

Studies in rats with acute kidney damage found that dietary supplementation with suma improved kidney function [5, 24].

Once again, these effects are believed to be due to ecdysteroids.

15) Pain

In studies on rats mice, researchers noticed that the ingestion of suma root extract inhibited painful responses and reduced the frequency of behavioral signs of pain [3, 45].

16) Liver Protection

Ecdysteroids from suma root may have a strong antioxidant effect, especially prominent in the blood and liver [10].

In one study, they also reduced cholesterol levels in the liver of rats [5].

Ecdysteroids stimulated protein and RNA synthesis, thereby boosting the natural function of the liver, in a couple of animal trials [46, 47].

17) Cholesterol Levels

Saponins in suma – sitosterol and stigmasterol – reduced high levels of cholesterol in preclinical research [4].

A study in rats found that daily treatment with ecdysterone reduced cholesterol by nearly 30% after only a few weeks [48].

The cholesterol-reducing effects of ecdysteroids are particularly prominent in the liver, where they help transform cholesterol into bile acids [5].

18) Fat Burning

Treating animals with ecdysterone reduces body fat by up to 10% [28].

Similarly, another study found that mice given ecdysteroid extracts showed lowered insulin levels, improved processing of blood glucose, and a loss of body fat [41].

19) Bone and Joint Health

Ecdysteroids increased the production of collagen and relieved the symptoms of osteoporosis in one study on mice [49].

Limitations and Caveats

Most of the existing data about suma come from cell-based or animal studies. Additionally, the majority of studies have tested isolated compounds, not the whole suma root. Valid clinical evidence is lacking for all suma root uses.

Suma Root Side Effects

Keep in mind that the safety profile of suma root is relatively unknown, given the lack of well-designed clinical studies. The list of side effects below is not a definite one, and you should consult your doctor about other potential side effects, based on your health condition and possible drug or supplement interactions.

Most studies have reported no apparent negative side effects of suma or its components [49, 33, 29].

The toxicity of ecdysteroids in mammals is believed to be extremely low [50, 51, 52, 12, 5].

The few studies that have reported adverse side-effects have often used very high doses, well beyond the typical dose range for humans. Even in these cases, the side effects were relatively rare and included mild nausea and temporary indigestion [51, 53].

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.

We don’t know what effects suma might have on fetal development. Therefore, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid it.

How to Take Suma Root

Suma root supplements have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. In general, regulatory bodies aren’t assuring the quality, safety, and efficacy of supplements. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

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.

Dosage

The below doses may not apply to you personally. If your doctor suggests using suma root, work with them to find the optimal dosage according to your health condition and other factors.

Most of the studies have used doses which, in humans, are roughly equivalent to between 200 to 600 mg/day. This extrapolation from animals to humans depends on different factors and may not be correct.

User Reviews

The opinions expressed in this section are solely from the users who may or may not have a medical background. 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 because of something you have read on SelfHacked.

Here’s what different users have to say about suma:

“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.”

Where to Buy

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About the Author

Matt Carland

Matt Carland

PhD (Neuroscience)
Matt received his PhD at the Université de Montréal in Neuroscience.
Matt holds multiple degrees in psychology, cognitive science, and neuroscience. He has over a decade of experience in academic research and has published a number of articles in scholarly journals. He currently works as a neuropsychologist in Montreal, where he performs research on the links between personality traits and the development of clinical disorders such as addiction, compulsive gambling, and disordered eating.

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