Maral Root

Maral root (Rhaponticum carthamoides) is a herbal remedy long used in alternative and folk medicine. Available as a dietary supplement, it is classified as an adaptogen (a non-scientific term used to describe herbs that reduce your resistance to stress). Maral root is widely cultivated in Eastern Europe and Russia and is named after the maral deer that feed on it. The plant is recognized by its thistle-like magenta blossom and deeply incised pointed leaves.

Often used to enhance athletic performance and build muscle mass, maral root is believed to treat a variety of health conditions. The root contains compounds thought to influence health, including antioxidants and plant-based steroids known as ecdysteroids.

Also Known As
Leuzea root
Russian leuzea
Siberian leuzea
Health Benefits
By definition, adaptogens are non-toxic plants marketed for their ability to fight the harmful effects of stress, whether chemical, biological, or physiological. The concept was first introduced in 19471 and is generally regarded as pseudoscience.

With that said, the practice embraces many of the tenets of traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic healing, both of which contend that stress has a direct (rather than instigating or additive) effect on health.

Maral root is thought to possess adaptogenic properties similar to ginseng root (Panax ginseng), replenishing energy reserves, increasing libido, sharpening concentration, promoting lean muscle growth, reducing body fat, improving moods, and stimulating the immune system.

Among some of the conditions maral root is believed to treat are:

Colds and flu
Erectile dysfunction
Metabolic syndrome

To date, there is little evidence to support any of these health claims. While some of the research is promising, it is generally limited by either by the small study size, the poor quality of the research, or both.

Athletic Performance
Maral root is rich in ecdysteroids, a type of plant-based steroid that helps regulates protein synthesis. Proponents believe that maral root has anabolic properties but without the adverse effects of anabolic steroids. The evidence of this lacking.

In fact, a 2012 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition reported that the long-term use of ecdysteroid-containing supplements (including those derived from maral root) trigger hormonal imbalances inconsistent with muscle growth and increased athletic performance.

Of the 23 male athletes involved in the study, 10 had abnormally high levels of progesterone while 15 had abnormally high levels of estrogen. (Both are considered female hormones.) Only two experienced an increase in testosterone levels, albeit in tandem with steep rises in estrogen.

According to the research, these abnormalities would more likely cause long-term harm than good, including reduced testosterone production (hypogonadism), increased breast size (gynecomastia), and a reduction in male fertility.

Among women, an enlarged uterus and menstrual irregularities are major concerns.

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Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome
There is some evidence that maral root can benefit people with diabetes or obesity. A 2012 study in BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine reported that rats fed a high-fat diet containing malar root experience improved glucose tolerance, meaning that they had less fluctuation in blood sugar levels.

In addition, the lab rats had reduced triacylglycerol rates (increases of which are linked to metabolic syndrome). On the flip side, the consumption of maral root has little if any effect on high blood pressure.

According to the research, by improving glucose tolerance and reducing triacylglycerols, maral root can help diabetics achieve better glucose control and enhance weight loss in those with metabolic syndrome.

Further research is needed to establish whether the effects seen in rats can be replicated safely in humans.

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A 2018 study from the University of Lodz suggests that R. carthamoides may help fight certain types of cancers, including leukemia and lung adenocarcinoma.

According to the scientists, maral root contains compounds called caffeoylquinic acid derivatives that act as powerful antioxidants, neutralizing the free radicals that cause molecular damage to cells.

When a maral root extract was inoculated in a series of test tubes containing leukemia and lung cancer cells, it consistently killed all tested cell lines. At the same time, it appeared to enhance the effect of the TP53 gene which regulates a cell's life cycle and suppresses tumor formation.

Whether the same can be achieved in humans is doubtful given that the oral administration of maral root does not target cancer cells in the same way. Even so, the mechanism of action may one day pave the way to the development of new chemotherapy drugs.