Rou Cong Rong herb extract by Ray Sahelian, M.D.
February 13 2016

The dried fleshy stems of Cistanche deserticola in known in China as Rou Cong Rong. In Japan, the species used is Cistanche salsa. Rou cong rong also grows in Mongolia. According to one Chinese researcher, Rou Cong Rong is one of the commonly used drugs in Chinese traditional medicine. It is used to reinforce the vital function of kidney and to influence fertility, leukorrhea and metrorrhagia in women.

What's in rou cong rong?
Several compounds have been isolated from Cistanche deserticola including cistanosides, beta-sitosterol, tubuloside, daucosterol, succinic acid, triacontanol, acteoside, betaine phenylethanoid glycosides, and polysaccharose.

Rou Cong Rong is an officinal plant that grows in arid or semi-arid areas. The dried fleshy stem has been generally used as a tonic in China and Japan for many years. Modern pharmacology studies have since demonstrated that it possesses broad medicinal functions, especially for use in hormone regulation, aperient, immunomodulatory, neuroprotective, antioxidative, anti-apoptotic, anti-nociceptive, anti-inflammatory, anti-fatigue activities and the promotion of bone formation. The phenylethanoid glycosides (PhGs) have been identified as the major active components.

What does the research say?
Studies in rodents show that administration of Rou cong rong improves energy levels. Mice given Rou cong rong are able to swim for longer periods. Many of the compounds found in Rou cong rong have antioxidant properties and protect the liver from toxins. Rou cong rong extracts can enhance the ability of learning, memorizing, anti-oxidation, and improve immune function. However, I could not find any studies evaluating the role of Rou cong rong in menstrual disorders in women or its effects on fertility in humans.


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Review article
Am J Chin Med. 2012. Cistanche deserticola Y. C. Ma, "Desert ginseng": a review. Cistanche deserticola Y. C. Ma (C. deserticola, "Rou Cong Rong" in Chinese) is an officinal plant that grows in arid or semi-arid areas. The dried fleshy stem of C. deserticola has been generally used as a tonic in China and Japan for many years. Modern pharmacology studies have since demonstrated that C. deserticola possesses broad medicinal functions, especially for use in hormone regulation, aperient, immunomodulatory, neuroprotective, antioxidative, anti-apoptotic, anti-nociceptive, anti-inflammatory, anti-fatigue activities and the promotion of bone formation. The phenylethanoid glycosides presented in C. deserticola have been identified as the major active components.

Side effects of Rou Cong Rong
Increased body temperature has been noted which may limit the use of
Rou cong rong. Another potential side effect is blurred vision that can last a few hours and can be annoying. Individuals report that they have difficulty reading small print for a few hours.
   Increased body temperature
would make it unpleasant to take this herb on days when it is hot and humid. Blurring of vision and sleepiness are potential setbacks to the use of high dose Rou cong rong. Long term studies determining benefits and risks are not available.

Rou Cong Rong research
Anti-nociceptive and anti-inflammatory activity caused by Cistanche deserticola in rodents.
Lin LW. China Medical College, 91 Hsieh Shih Road, Taichung, Taiwan, ROC. J Ethnopharmacol. 2002.
In the present study, the rhizomes of Cistanche deserticola were extracted with 50% ethanol and isolated orderly by ethyl acetate, n-butanol and water. The analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of Cistanche deserticola extract and three layers were evaluated in several animal models. Cistanche deserticola extracts effectively inhibited writhing response induced by 1% acetic acid and biphasic licking responses caused by 1% formalin, and also reduced the edema induced by 1% carrageenan but not zymosan. These results revealed that rou cong rong has analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects, and the butanolic and aqueous layers are mainly active constituents. Furthermore, the analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of the butanolic layer of rou cong rong extract were not related to opioid receptors and immune system.

Anti-oxidative action of the glycosides of Cistanche in the tissue of mice
Wang X, Li L. Xinjiang Medical College, Wulumuqi.
Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 1998
To study the anti-oxidative action of rou cong rong in the tissues of mice. Contents of superoxide dismutase (SOD), malondialdehyde (MDA) and lipofuscin in the heart, liver, brain and kidney of mice were measured: It was found that the rou cong rong had a significantly higher SOD activity and lower MDA contents in brain and kidney than that in control group. The results suggest that Cistanche could increase the antioxidative action in vivo significantly and prevent lipoperoxidative damages in tissues.

Hepatoprotective activity of phenylethanoids from Cistanche deserticola.
Xiong Q. Toyama Medical and Pharmaceutical University, Japan.
Planta Med. 1998.
Four phenylethanoids isolated from the stems of rou cong rong, acteoside, 2'-acetylacteoside, isoacteoside and tubuloside B, significantly suppressed NADPH/CCl4-induced lipid peroxidation in rat liver microsomes.

Kidney reinforcing and yang supporting action of cistanche deserticola Y. C. Ma before and after preparation
He W. China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Beijing.
Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 1996
The weights of seminal vesicle and prostate gland of castrated young rats were significantly increased by administration of alcoholsoluble extract from decoction of rou cong rong. The weights of testes, seminal vesicle and prostate gland in mice and rats were also increased by the extract. The results showed no statistical differences between crude and prepared drugs. The maximum oral tolerance for mouse was 40 g/kg.

Rou cong rong plant is shaped somewhat like a cross between a pineapple and a pine cone, with thick, fleshy stems and large, yellow flowers that grow smaller as the plantís apex. Rou cong rong is collected in the spring, dried in the sun and then sliced for use.

For a list of herbs used in Chinese medicine, see Chinese Herbs.